Monday, July 14, 2014

St. Kateri Tekakwitha: Proud To Be...

Today, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Cannonized by Pope Benedict in November 2012, she is a great many things—convert, patroness of the environment and ecology (like Francis!), virgin and the first Native American to be declared a saint. Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," St. Kateri is the daughter of a Mohawk Warrior. However there is one thing she is not, and that's something that is part of public discourse in the wide world of sports today. She is not a "Redskin."

A number of collegiate and professional sports teams have changed their mascot out of respect for native peoples. Stanford University, once the Indians, is now the Cardinal. Seattle University—the Chieftains are the Redhawks, and today the St. John's Redmen are the Red Storm. Other teams however, have yet to do so. And it's a question they have had to answer. Should they? To what degree does a mascot marginalize a group of people? Does it promote or compromise human dignity? 
But a small sampling of sports teams with Native Peoples as mascots.
I'm sure the public relations people at the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves (baseball), Chicago Blackhawks (Hockey), Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins (football) have an answer. This brief video however, shared with me by my friend Craig proved to be thoughtful, important and it reinforced my understanding that racism can be underhanded and insidious. Unless we are taught about perceptions amidst misconceptions, what may appear to be innocuous—like a mascot—can only reinforce misunderstandings, hurt and lies. "Change the Name" is seeking to put an end to this. 
SFGate reports that “The R-word is as derogatory a slur as the N-word,” Marshall McKay, chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation said in an online video. “When this name first came to be, it was a vehicle for people to bring the victims of violence into an office so they could collect a bounty.”
"The NFL and the Washington team have faced increased scrutiny to change the name. Recently, several prominent national media outlets said they would refuse to refer to the team by the epithet it uses for a mascot."
An interesting alternative that has been offered...
Like many native people, St. Kateri suffered a great deal in her life. She contracted small pox, a disease which took her mother's life when she was just four years of age; it left her face transfigured with scars. She suffered greatly for her faith by her own people. But, devotion to her is also responsible for establishing Native American ministries in Catholic Churches throughout the US and Canada.
Today, we celebrate and honor her dignity. Let's do what we can for all Native Americans as well.

Photo Credits
Washington Warriors
Proud to Be

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