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Harriet Bedell aided Native Americans.


Sainthood granted to Buffalo native

By Jay Tokasz
July 19, 2009, 7:29 AM /


Buffalo native Harriet Bedell is now a saint in the Episcopal Church.

Bedell, who was born in 1875 and grew up on Amherst Street, was recognized as a saint for her missionary work among Native Americans in Oklahoma, Alaska and the Florida Everglades.

In the Episcopalian church, sainthood is bestowed on those who exemplify what it means to be a Christian. Unlike the Catholic church, Episcopal Church USA doesn’t require the confirmation of two miracles in the saint’s name.

While virtually unknown in Buffalo—her work focused mostly out of state—she was well respected by Episcopalians and Native Americans for her ability to cross cultural lines and improve the quality of life of thousands of American Indians.

Bedell was first listed in 2006 on a trial basis on the Lesser Feasts and Fasts, a calendar of saints celebrated each year by Episcopalians. She was elevated to the calendar during the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., which concluded Friday.

Inclusion on the calendar is temporary for four years and becomes permanent unless objections arise during that time.

“There wasn’t any bone of contention about that at all,” said Laurie Wozniak, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York.

Bedell was nominated for the honor by the Episcopal Women’s History Project.

During her younger years in Western New York, Bedell worked as a public school teacher in Buffalo. At 32, she embarked on missionary work, first among the Senecas in Cattaraugus County and later among the Cheyenne in Oklahoma, where she was given the name “Bird Woman.”

In 1916, at the request of the Alaskan bishop, she moved to Stevens Village, Alaska. But feeling she wasn’t helping the most needy, she asked to go farther north, just 40 miles below the Arctic Circle, to a small village on the Yukon River. Confronted with the difficulties of providing nursing supplies and food to remote villages, she solved the problem by learning to drive a dog sled.

Set apart as a deaconess in 1922, she spent most of her ministry in Florida working among the Miccosukee Indians, who were impoverished and long-ignored by the federal government. She helped them gain tribal status and hold on to 200,000 Everglades acres for hunting and fishing. She also helped revive their interest in handmade crafts, which they began selling to boost their incomes.

She ended her mission in 1960, at the age of 85.

Bedell is commemorated on the Lesser Feasts and Fasts annually on Jan. 8, the anniversary of her death in 1969 at age 93.