The California Indian community in recent days has shared a multitude of expression regarding Pope Francis’ decision made on January 15th, 2015 to make a saint of Junipero Serra, the founder of the California Mission System.
We continue to be amazed by the thought, intelligence, grace and dignity by those in Native California who continue to speak out and share their reflections through social media, Facebook posts, media interviews, and beyond. As the canonization unfolds, we at News from Native California will continue to share the courageous and diverse stories, feelings, and experiences of our beautiful community.
Deborah Miranda (Esselen/Chumash) Professor and Author “We are told that Junipero Serra is being canonized because he brought Christianity to California Indigenous peoples. If that were all he had brought to us, perhaps I could find it in my heart to forgive Pope Francis’ decision. If Serra had brought us the choice of Christianity – with no punishment for choosing to remain faithful to our own religions – perhaps I could understand the Pope’s decision. But Serra did not just “bring” us Christianity; he imposed it, he forced it, he violated us with it, giving us no choice in the matter. Missionization, for California Indians, was more like indoctrination in an abusive cult than spiritual grace. Natives who resisted or refused conversion were beaten, imprisoned, starved, exiled or driven from their homelands – usually by soldiers, at the behest of priests. Catholicism was the stealth weapon of Spanish colonization; a “moral” reason for conquest, to protect lands Spain wanted for itself from Russians moving south from Alaska. In addition to Christianity, Spanish missionaries and soldiers brought disease, including their own special brand of syphilis that not only sterilized Native women but caused birth defects, blindness and death. A pre-contact population of one million dropped by half in less than 70 years. These numbers, these statistics, are human beings. Our ancestors. Our relatives. Our families. The missionaries’ efforts directly caused generations of Historical Trauma to California Indians from which we still have not recovered (loss of indigenous religion, culture, languages, art, land, health, psychological well-being and sovereignty were direct results of Serra’s missionization efforts). In other historical contexts, this kind of abuse of power is called genocide, a crime against humanity. It is certainly about as far away from sainthood as anything I can imagine, and the Catholic Church’s stated intentions to honor Serra with canonization indicates that it has learned nothing, and does not understand that it needs to learn: violently enforced religion is not missionization, it is terrorism.”
Nicole Meyers-Lim (Pomo), Executive Director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center “There is a great deal of romanticism that surrounds the legacy of Father Junipero Serra. If he is elevated to symbolize sainthood and civilization in California, then his legacy must also be accountable for disease, starvation, indenture, extermination, violence, rape, infant mortality and other heinous impacts of the Spanish Mission system upon California Indians. Regardless of his stature or intentions, we cannot turn a blind eye to historical facts and population decline. It is time that we reframe his legacy to include the discourse of the indigenous people of California.”
Terria Smith (Cahuilla), Journalist “As a proud California Native American woman – and mother of two beautiful, culturally-aware Native American girls – I am disturbed by the perpetual glorification of unworthy malefactors like Junipero Serra. However, I am equally grateful for the legacy of my ancestor’s strength and endurance. They are the real heroes who truly deserve regard and respect. We, as descending survivors, also deserve reverence – for it is a ‘miracle’ that we are still alive. My honor is not given to figures like Serra who brought death, imprisonment, illness and despair along with his message. My respect is for people that carry the legacy of resistance such as my mother, Mary Belardo, who while she was Chairwoman lead the fight to erase the imposed word “mission” out of title of our tribal reservation and restore our name to who we really are: Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla. So the church can make a saint out of Serra for their followers to pray to. But my children and grandchildren will know better.”
Vincent Medina (Ohlone), Asst. Curator, Old Mission Dolores and News Contributing Editor “As a member of the Catholic Church, an employee at Mission Dolores, and a huge fan of Pope Francis, I should say I am extremely disappointed with the announced canonization of Junipero Serra today. We can’t blindly follow a party line, and not be critical of institutions we are a part of. I am not writing this as a “disgruntled Indian,” but rather that I believe a canonization of the leader of the disastrous, genocidal California Mission system is a way that the Church further legitimizes the pain and suffering Ohlone, and countless other California Indians endured during the Mission period. This canonization furthers the divide between many Natives and the Church. This canonization lessens the chance for healing and is divisive and pointless. This canonization is painful. With this said, we must stay rational. Anger is justified, but I believe we need to channel this anger into positive change where we empower each other with the truth and honor those ancestors before us who endured, but most importantly persevered throughout the Mission era. We are strong. Makkin mak tuye.”
Links to blog posts, and news articles that give insight into the diverse and dynamic perspectives of the canonization:
1) Cutcha Rising Baldy (Hupa) posts on criticism of the canonization http://www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/blog/pope-francis-decides-to-make-father-junipero-serra-a-saint-or-in-which-i-tell-pope-francis-he-needs-to-take-a-native-studies-class-like-stat
2) Los Angeles Times editorial piece titled What California Indians lost under Junipero Serra, soon to be Saint http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-serra-saint-20150116-story.html
3) New York Times article titled To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far From A Saint, featuring the voices of Deborah Miranda (Esselen/Chumash), Nicole Lim (Pomo), Andrew Galvan (Ohlone), and Vincent Medina (Ohlone) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/us/to-some-indians-in-california-father-serra-is-far-from-a-saint.html
4) The Guardian, the United Kingdom’s largest publication, published an article title Junípero Serra’s Road to sainthood is controversial for Native Americans featuring Deborah Miranda (Esselen/Chumash) and Ron Andrade (Luiseño) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/25/pope-francis-junipero-serra-sainthood-native-american-controversy
5) Ursula K. Le Guin’s piece on our blog titled Common and Institutional Saints http://newsfromnativecalifornia.com/blog/common-and-institutional-saints/
We will continuously update this page with news, different perspectives, and resources.