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