This past week, I had chosen to focus on a unique primary source that provides an insightful reflection of the history of Catholicism and Native Americans through the voices of Catholic Indians in PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly episode on the sainthood of Kateri Tekakwitha.
Who created the primary source?
This primary source was created by Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a television news-magazine program aired by PBS. The focus of the program, as alluded by its title, seems to be the relationship between ethics and religion. In the case of American Indians and the Catholic Church, this relationship could not have found a better platform as enriched with the subject. This program being broadcasted by PBS has special meaning to me being that I had grown up watching its various programs. What I enjoyed, and to do this day enjoy, about PBS is that it prides itself on airing educational content. In my opinion, this episode stays true to their message.
Where/when is it from?
This episode aired on 13 November 2015. The month in which it aired is significant in that November is Native American Heritage Month which was declared during George H. W. Bush’s presidency in 1990. Twenty-five years later, this episode represents the all too overdue recognition of the legitimacy of American Indian culture through looking at the past, learning from it, and moving forwards.
Although no primary source is without bias, PBS being a non-profit broadcasting service that relies on public support for the continuation of its programs leads me to believe that there exists somewhat of less of a bias to this source. If this program were funded by private funders, then there would be more of a possibility that they would have more influence in the content that is being aired and the way in which it is projected.
A major point of bias that I observed with this program is that those Indians that were Catholic, whether lay people or belonging to a religious profession, seemed to express the same sentiment: they acknowledged the history of their people with the Church, but they believed that the way to move forwards was through reconciliation. The only Indian that had reflected an opposing view was one that had rejected the Catholic faith completely. I find that it would have been more insightful to include Catholic Indians that had differing views regarding the Church, reflecting the fluidity of the faith.
This program’s main strengths lie in that the majority of the interviewees in this program were American Indian. History tends to be written from a Western perspective. Through the power of television, we are able to gain a first-hand account of the views of those that are at the other end of history.
I was most surprised by the fact the sainthood process for Kateri coincided with the establishment of the Catholic mission schools. I believe that this was a tactic by the Church to get possible converts and students to feel more at home with them – if the Church held up an American Indian to the status of a saint, than other Catholic Indians would have someone to look up to and feel that they were an integral part of the institution.