Native American Catholics focus of new Knights of Columbus documentary airing this Saturday

The historical and contemporary witness of Native American Catholics are the subject of a Knights of Columbus-produced documentary set for broadcast in upcoming weeks.

“It is impossible to fully understand what it means to be a Catholic in North America without a sincere appreciation for the Catholic tradition among so many native tribes,” the Knights of Columbus website said. “Few people realize that Indigenous communities throughout the continent were sincerely practicing their faith centuries before the founding of the United States.”

The Catholic fraternal organization characterized the documentary as offering “a missing piece to the greater story of Catholicism in America.” It combines the history of Native American Catholics and their continuing contributions, with commentary from present-day Native Americans and other Catholic leaders.

Among those who speak in the documentary is Deacon Andrew Orosco, who on his father’s side is descended from the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians of the Ipai clan of Kumeyaay. Their traditional lands are in what is now the San Diego area.

“Christ reveals himself through the beauty of each and every one of our cultures,” said Orosco, a Catholic deacon of the San Diego diocese. “We are vibrant. We are alive. We are still here. And our voices need to be heard.”

The documentary, “Enduring Faith: The Story of Native American Catholicism,” will air on ABC TV affiliates as part of a partnership with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission. Broadcasts first began in some localities on May 16 and will generally air on Sundays.

A trailer and broadcast schedule are available at the Knights of Columbus website. It will air in Denver on KMGH this Saturday, May 29 at 11 a.m.

“The history and deeply ingrained traditions of Native American Catholics demonstrate how Christ reveals himself through the uniqueness of every culture,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said May 13. “Our hope is that this film will inspire a greater appreciation of the faithful witness of Native American Catholics.”

Father Henry Sands, executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office, is another commentator for the documentary. Sands, a priest of the Detroit archdiocese, belongs to three tribes: Ojibway, Odawa, and Potawatomi. He is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of the Odawa Indians in Michigan. His organization, the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, was founded in 1874 to serve Native American Catholics and to act as their advocate with the federal government.

“We know that there is a lot of negative history in the interaction between the native people and the peoples who came from Europe,” he said. “At the same time, one of the positive things that took place is that the gospel did come to the people of the Americas. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been thriving among native peoples since it was first brought here.”

The Knights of Columbus said they aim for the documentary to “inspire in viewers a deeper appreciation for the spiritual and cultural gifts of Native American Catholics, a greater awareness of the wrongs inflicted upon them by the unjust policies of the British and American governments, and a sense of hope at how Native American Catholics continue to live out their faith in fully enculturated ways today.”

The documentary covers history like the 1531 apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec native. The miraculous Marian image which appeared on his tilma portrays the Virgin Mary as an indigenous woman wearing native dress. The apparition and image led to the mass conversions of many Native American communities to Catholic Christianity.

Then there is the story of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born in 1656 in a Mohawk village in part of the Iroquois confederacy, the area that is now upstate New York and southern Canada. She converted to Catholicism at age 19 and sought to live a life of holiness and virtue, despite obstacles and opposition within her tribe. She died at age 24. She was canonized by Benedict XVI in 2012, the first Native American to be declared a saint.

Nicholas Black Elk, a convert to Catholic Christianity, was born sometime between 1858 and 1866. He was a prominent Lakota medicine man who was present at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 and wounded at the Wounded Knee Massacre. He joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which toured Europe, including a performance before Queen Victoria.

He became a catechist in 1907, chosen for his enthusiasm and his excellent memory for learning Scripture and Church teaching. His work brought over 400 people into the Catholic Church. He was one of the signatories of the cause of canonization for St. Kateri Tekakwitha. He died Aug. 19, 1950 in Pine Ridge, S.D.  

“Our faith is deep. Our faith is long-standing. And that story needs to be told, if you’re going to tell the story of Catholicism in the Americas,” said Patrick Mason, Supreme Secretary of the Knights of Columbus and a member of the Osage Nation. “But more importantly, that faith needs to be shared, and people need to know that we are here, and we’re here to share our faith with you.”

Carl Anderson, past Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, discussed the need to learn from Native Americans. He said there is “a need for reconciliation with Native Americans” and this need is “often hidden from many Americans by the fact that so many native communities are isolated.”

“We need to get to know each other better,” he said.

The documentary is part of the Knights of Columbus’ Native Solidarity Initiative, announced in 2019. The initiative began as a partnership between the Catholic organization, the Diocese of Gallup, and the Gallup-based Southwest Indian Foundation to build a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha in the southwest U.S.

The Knights of Columbus noted their outreach to native and indigenous communities in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Hawaii during the coronavirus epidemic. The organization is collaborating with the Black and Indian Mission Office and the native-run Life is Sacred nonprofit.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s fraternal organization, has over 2 million members in over 16,000 councils worldwide.

COMING UP: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash