MONTREAL // A Mohawk woman will on Sunday become the first Native American to be canonised a Catholic saint, in a ceremony in the Vatican 300 years after her death.
Fifteen hundred Canadians were expected to attended the ceremony for Kateri Tekakwitha, known as "Lily of the Mohawks", who was born in 1656 in what is now town in the US state of New York. She died while serving the church in Kahnawake in what is now Canada's Quebec province.
For centuries she has been a symbol of hope for Native Americans, despite the grim details of her short and painful life.
Converted by Jesuits, the young woman who was left scarred and partially blind from smallpox devoted her life to God to an extent that stunned even European missionaries.
She died at 24, after years of self-flagellation and deteriorating health, but according to tradition among some believers her scars disappeared, leaving her skin smooth and her face beautiful.
Tekakwitha was declared "venerable" by the church in 1943 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Her qualifying miracle for sainthood, according to the Vatican, was curing a boy of a flesh-eating disease.
In Canada, many Native Americans see Tekakwitha's canonisation as a step towards healing old divisions between North America's original inhabitants and European settlers.
But in the United States, Native Americans are split.
Alicia Cook from upstate New York told The Post-Standard newspaper: "The church has been telling us for years we're heathens. The white man has hurt us enough."
But former altar boy Doug George-Kanentiio said: "I had a lot of anger at the church at the things they had done to the native people and the world and the moral compromises they made.
"It took me a while to begin to adopt a different approach to this."