[Marxism] To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far From Saint

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 22 08:12:49 MST 2015

(I can't say that I am totally surprised by this given Argentina's 
indifference to the genocide against its own native peoples, 
including--sadly--some on the Peronista left.)

NY Times, Jan. 22 2015
To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far From Saint

SAN FRANCISCO — For generations, fourth graders in California’s schools, 
often with a parent’s touch, built models of church missions out of 
poster board or sugar cubes to celebrate the Rev. Junipero Serra and the 
religious communities he established along the West Coast in the late 1700s.

Last week, Pope Francis announced plans to canonize Father Serra, 
putting “the evangelizer of the West in the United States” closer to 

These days, the pious preacher who once walked much of what is now 
California, bringing Christianity to the American Indians, is viewed in 
less benevolent terms.

Prominent Native Americans see Father Serra as far from saintly. Their 
reaction is as visceral as a dispute over occupied territory in the 
Middle East. Indian historians and authors blame Father Serra for the 
suppression of their culture and the premature deaths at the missions of 
thousands of their ancestors.

“I had high hopes for this pope, who has been making some very 
pro-social-justice statements,” said Deborah A. Miranda, an Ohlone 
Costanoan Esselen Indian and an American literature professor at 
Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

“Serra did not just bring us Christianity. He imposed it, giving us no 
choice in the matter. He did incalculable damage to a whole culture,” 
Ms. Miranda, the author of “Bad Indians,” said of her ancestors and what 
she called “the mission mythology.”

“If he is elevated to sainthood,” said Nicole Lim, the executive 
director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa 
Rosa, “then he should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly 
treatment of native people.” Ms. Lim, a Pomo Indian, runs a website for 
students that she said aimed to correct the misinformation.

Born in Majorca in 1713, Father Serra joined the Franciscan order in 
1730. He became an eminent theological professor before relinquishing 
his comfortable life to evangelize in the Americas. From 1769 to 1835, 
90,000 Indians were baptized along the West Coast, from San Diego to San 
Francisco. Once baptized, they were not allowed to leave the missions, 
and those who did escape were rounded up by soldiers and returned.

The Indians were forced to shed their languages, dress, religion, food 
and marriage customs. Thousands died from exposure to European diseases 
to which they had no immunity. Of the approximately 310,000 Indians in 
1769 in what is now California, only one-sixth remained a hundred years 
later, according to a University of California historian.

Native Americans have complained about not only the cultural sabotage 
but also what they call the romanticization of the missions’ true 
history by schools, churches and the news media.

They were especially upset when, in 1986, the Catholic Diocese of 
Monterey, Calif., where Father Serra is buried at the Carmel Mission, 
released a report that found no evidence of Indian mistreatment. While 
diocesan researchers released statements from historians and clergy, no 
Indians were interviewed.

Historians have since done more research. Steven W. Hackel, a history 
professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of 
“Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father,” said that Father Serra 
“was a man of his age” who considered Indians incapable of governing 
themselves or, for example, selecting a spouse.

The Franciscans made those decisions for the Indians, Mr. Hackel said. 
“They were forced to stay or were brought back by soldiers,” he said. 
“The Indians felt it was a coercive, disruptive form of slavery. The 
Franciscans saw it in a different light.”

Albert Camarillo, an American history professor at Stanford, said many 
Catholics saw “thousands of Indians who were Christianized and 
‘civilized’ ” as a history of “benevolence, kindness and altruism.” Many 
Indians see “colonization characterized by the brutal treatment of 
native people, of forced labor and racial oppression,” he said, adding 
that the canonization of Father Serra would not put the debate to rest.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who credited Father 
Serra with bringing “Christianity to this part of the world,” said he 
understood why Indians were upset, acknowledging the whippings and 
coercive environment. But missionaries also taught school and farming, 
he said.

Throughout history, a more powerful civilization “will dominate and seek 
to transform the weaker one,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “European 
powers were going to discover this continent and settle here. Were the 
indigenous people better off with the missionaries or without the 
missionaries? I would say they were better off with the missionaries.”

Mission Dolores, in San Francisco’s Mission District, was founded by 
Father Serra in 1776. Made of adobe and wood, the simple, white church 
abuts a garden and cemetery of slanting tombstones of people with 
Spanish and Irish names. In the middle of the courtyard is a statue of a 
pensive Father Serra. On a recent day, two cousins, both Ohlone Indians 
and Catholics, sat nearby in the shade of an olive tree. Andrew Galvan, 
a historian and the mission’s curator, and Vincent Medina, his younger 
cousin and assistant, offered contrasting views of Father Serra.

Mr. Galvan said he might be the only Indian in California who was 
ecstatic about the prospect of sainthood for Father Serra. Mr. Medina, 
on the other hand, said he was angry that a pope he admires would 
elevate someone responsible for what Mr. Medina called atrocities.

The two agree on the facts: More than 5,700 Indians, many of whom died 
prematurely, are buried at the mission. In one unmarked trench are the 
remains of 363 Indians who contracted measles from the Europeans and 
died within three days of one another in 1806. All are buried under what 
is now church offices, a school and a parking lot. The only indicator of 
their deaths at the mission is one thin, wooden gravestone the cousins 

“If I know what happened to my ancestors, how can I be devoted to 
Junipero Serra?” Mr. Galvan asked. “I know that because of colonialism, 
the traditional ways of my ancestors are gone.”

And yet, he said, “my family first became Christian” at the mission. Mr. 
Galvan acknowledged that cruelty had been meted out there, citing a 
letter in which Father Serra ordered whips for disobedient Indians. But 
Father Serra, he said, remains “my inspiration.”

Mr. Medina was less forgiving. “Father Serra could have gone against the 
policy of the church and advocated for Indian people,” he said. 
Canonizing “the leader of the disastrous, genocidal California mission 
system is a way that the church further legitimizes the pain and 
suffering of Ohlone and countless other California Indians.” 
Canonization would only deepen the divide between Native Americans and 
the Roman Catholic Church, he said.

When he gives tours, Mr. Medina tells students to “imagine walking home 
from school, and people have taken the things you care about and make 
you change your name, your religion and your language.” He spares them 
the more brutal information, such as how girls and unmarried women were 
pulled from their families and forced to sleep in tight quarters until 
they were married off.

Many missions do not like to address the Indian issue and are even 
hostile toward Indian visitors, Mr. Galvan said.

Robert M. Senkewicz, a history professor at Santa Clara University, said 
the history of the missions had been somewhat distorted.

“These were largely Indian communities,” said Mr. Senkewicz, a co-author 
of “California, Indians and the Transformation of a Missionary,” to be 
published next month. “The way contemporary missions are presented, the 
Indians are absent.”

Ms. Lim, the Indian museum director, agreed that the history was 
inaccurate. “It saddens me. It angers me,” she said. “When I hear the 
pope has done this, it makes me think that people aren’t ready to accept 
the truth we have. It’s disheartening.”

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