Cal Poly ethnic studies assistant professor Kathleen Martin recently co-authored a book about the use of Native American symbols in Catholicism, which will be used in her general education course “Native American Cultural Images.”
The book, “Indigenous Symbols and Practices in the Catholic Church: Visual Culture, Missionization and Appropriation,” addresses the Roman Catholic Church’s appropriation and use of Native American symbols. It claims the oppression of visual messaging continues to frame the lives of indigenous peoples in the United States, despite the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act of 1978.
The 300-page book is an extensive compilation of photos, images, stories, personal narratives and data analysis. It contains the work of many Native American writers, many of whom are members of the American Academy of Religion. Martin co-authored and edited the book and took 600-700 photographs, conducted interviews and visited 50- to 60- reservation churches.
“The main purpose of the book is to examine the appropriation of things that are indigenous or native and their use in a context that is often inappropriate,” Martin said.
Angela Blaver, Ph.D, contributed a chapter and co-wrote the book’s conclusion with Martin. She said the book addresses the use and effect of symbols in the human experience and that each chapter deals with colonization and/or missionization to some degree.
“Ultimately, people are social beings, and this book shows a variety of ways that distinct groups have combined, tolerated, collided and even rejected one another’s understanding of the world,” Blaver said. She added that the book discusses symbolism from a wide variety of angles, including personal experience, historical context, religion, education and socialization.
Ethnic studies assistant professor Elvira Pulitano, who works with Martin, said the book would be an interesting read even for people unfamiliar with the subject.
“This is a book that might educate readers on an aspect of U.S. history not frequently taught in our curricula and/or known among the general public,” she said.
The book developed out of Martin’s interest in the cross between Catholicism and Native American symbolism. Her father was part Dakota, and some members of her family were Catholic.
“I got really interested in the use of native symbols in the Catholic church. I have a number of aunts who were nuns,” Martin said.
Martin, a native of Minnesota, has taught at Cal Poly since 2002 and holds dual master’s degrees in Native American Traditions and Confluent Education, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Organizations. She has a background in indigenous history, education, religious studies and sociology.
In addition to teaching at Cal Poly, Martin is the advisor of the American Indian Student Association (AISA) on campus. AISA co-president, earth science junior Colin Lawson, said Martin is well-suited to the topic.
“The main thing I’ve noticed about Kate is she’s really passionate about Native American issues and Native American culture,” Lawson said.
Lawson recently took an AISA field trip to a New Mexican mission and said they discussed the way the mission blended Native American art and symbolism in the colors, shapes and symbols that were used in the decor.
“If they use it correctly, it’s kind of a sign of respect,” Lawson said. “But if the symbol is used in a way that totally defeats the purpose of what it means, that would be bad.”
The book was published Feb. 1 and will be available in El Corral Bookstore Feb. 19.