For the last 30 years, mothers and daughters have been bonding in a special way in Cherry Hill.
The Kateri Maidens, an informal group of more than 100 members, is an alternative to Scouting that has no outside affiliations.
There are eight tribes within the nation currently, said nation chief and Seneca chief Liz Stakenburg.
Often, moms join a tribe when their daughters reach kindergarten. The moms and daughters stay in the tribe until the daughters graduate from high school.
Presently, the tribes include Adobe, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Shawnee, Iroquois, Hopi, Miami and Seneca.
“We try to make it very respectful of the whole Native American culture,” said Stakenburg.
The group is named after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized last October by Pope Benedict XVI, according to Catholic Online, and was a Mohawk.
“Anybody can join at any time,” Stakenburg said, and the hope is for the group to spread out to include members from more of the township and surrounding areas.
The idea is “pretty remarkable,” Stakenburg, who has belonged to the Kateri Maidens for 12 years, said.
As an added bonus, she has formed deep bonds with other mothers.
“Now these women are good friends of mine. They’re almost like substitute mothers for my daughter,” Stakenburg said.
“Our goal is really just to make strong mother/daughter bonds,” she added.
Community service is a main component of membership, and the girls involved have volunteered making dinners at the Ronald McDonald House, singing at nursing homes, hosting collections for animal welfare groups and conducting homeless outreach.
“The tribes plan what they want to do,” said Stakenburg, and each service activity is a lesson for the girls.
Many ceremonies are performed throughout the year.
During an annual camp out in May, if there are girls who are graduating from high school, they, along with their moms, participate in the burning feather ceremony, telling how the group has been important to them over the years.
Sitting by the campfire, the girls burn the feather as an illustration of leaving the group permanently.
“It’s very moving and very touching,” she said.
There are currently 115 members — 50 moms and 65 daughters.
“The commitment is there for the moms that really want to do this with their daughter,” she said.
There are tribal and nation activities throughout the year. Many times, younger girls will see their older counterparts as role models.
In Stakenburg’s tribe, Seneca, all seven mothers joined when their daughters were in kindergarten. Through the years, there have been ups and downs, she said, but neither she nor her daughter ever wanted to leave the group.
But, she said, each tribe is different, scheduling its own plans, earning patches and beads, creating banners and wearing distinct uniforms.
“The idea is to get to know different people,” she said, and to show that girls of all ages can spend time happily with their moms.
“It’s very informal, it’s very easy,” she said.
For more information on the Kateri Maidens or to join, call Stakenburg at (856) 751–7449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kateri Maidens’ goals:
The “AIMS” of the Kateri Maidens, which are recited at meetings and other ceremonies are provided by nation chief Liz Stakenburg.
To be clean in body and pure in heart.
To be friends always with my mother/daughter.
To love the sacred circle of my family.
To be attentive while others speak.
To love my neighbor as myself.
To seek and preserve the beauty of the Great Spirit’s work in forest, field and stream.