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Native Hawaiian and Catholic Community Disagree with AOC’s Complaints about the St. Damien of Molokai Statue

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is receiving criticism from the Catholic and Native Hawaiian community after she said the St. Damien of Molokai statue of Hawaiʻi represents “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.”

Hawaiʻi chose to honor the statues of St. Damien of Molokai and Kamehameha I at the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection, according to Catholic News Agency (CNA).

St. Damien was a Belgian religious priest who spent years caring for lepers in the Hawaiian Kingdom in the 1800’s.

AOC posted an Instagram story last week, criticizing the Hawaiian community’s choice of statue, reported The Week.

“This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!” AOC said. “It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture and how it impacts the present day.”

AOC also noted that in colonized places like Hawaiʻi the stories of colonizers and settlers are told more than the stories of those who are native to the land.

Some Catholics and Native Hawaiian’s have criticized AOC’s comments and defended St. Damien’s legacy.

“Any Hawaiian here who is aware of their history– which most Hawaiians are– would absolutely, Catholic or not, defend the legacy of Damien as a man who was embraced by the people, and who is a hero to us because of his love for the Hawaiian people,” Dallas Carter, a Native Hawaiian and catechist for the diocese of Honolulu, told CNA.

Carter told CNA that St. Damien was embraced by Native Hawaiians because the Hawaiian government at the time did not know how to deal with leprosy, but St. Damien volunteered himself because “he fell in love with the people.”

He added that Damien’s legacy is not judged by the color of his skin.

“We did not judge him by the color of his skin,” Carter said. “We judged him by the love that he had for our people.”

In Oahu, HI, Damien Memorial School is founded by the Congregation of Christian Brothers and honors the history of St. Damien until today.

Former U.S. President and Hawaiʻi born Barack Obama honored St. Damien on the occasion of canonization, according to CNA.

“Fr. Damien has also earned a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians. I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there to care for those suffering from leprosy who had been cast out,” Obama said.

AOC’s office, according to CNA, acknowledged the good that St. Damien did, but argued it is still important to realize the patterns that emerge from the statues that are chosen to honor at the Capitol.

“Fr. Damien conducted acts of great good, and his is a story worth telling,” her office said to CNA. “It is still worthy for us to examine from a U.S. history perspective why a non-Hawaiian, non-American was chosen as the statue to represent Hawaii in the Capitol over other Hawaiian natives who conducted great acts of good, and why so few women and people of color are represented in Capitol statues at all.”

AOC suggested that a statue of Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaiʻi might be a better figure to honor at the Capitol because she was a Native Hawaiian and the only queen regnant of the Aloha State.

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