Californians grow up in an atmosphere of reverence for Father Junipero Serra—there is, however, a different perspective among the descendants of the land’s original people. Their viewpoint will be difficult for many to accept, but open your heart and mind as you read excerpts from an open letter the leader of our area’s tribal band recently sent to Pope Francis. I met the author when he spoke to the Gilroy Historical Society, and I am tremendously impressed by his intellect, his sincerity and his wisdom. The letter begins:
His Holiness Pope Francis,
My name is Valentin Lopez and I am the Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band [descendants of local native peoples taken to Missions San Juan Bautista and Santa Cruz].… We are writing…to voice our disbelief and objection to your intent to canonize Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra.
Lopez describes the Amah Mutsun’s optimism when Francis was selected as Pope, and details letters they wrote to the Roman Catholic pontiff about their ancestors’ experiences and the aftermath, such as “….life expectancy was less than two years at some missions….Tribal members continue to suffer from the impact of cumulative emotional and psychological wounding”, how psychiatrist Dr. Donna Schindler explained “historic trauma”, and Bishop Emeritus of Sacramento Quinn said, ‘…
although the language of these letters is sometimes very intense, he supports the basic message’.
The Amah Mutsun find, in Fr. Serra’s own writings, how “….the violence, intimidation and terror which was sponsored and ordered by Fr. Serra clearly set the policy and foundation for all future brutal acts at the missions.” They strongly believe Serra has a large degree of responsibility, “…for the death of approximately 100,000 California Indians and the complete extermination of many Native tribes, cultures and languages.”
Lopez cites contemporaries of Fr. Serra such as, “Father Boscana, who wrote…’the Indians of California may be compared to a species of monkeys’”; Father Mariano Payeras, who wrote the Church, “…had to come up with an alibi when people started asking where all the Indians had gone.” because ‘All we have done to the Indians is consecrate them, baptize them and bury them’; and how in 1809 a commander ordered soldiers to massacre 200 women and children who wouldn’t march to Mission San Juan Bautista. “These women and children were cut into pieces with sabers.” And “Fr. Antonio de la Conception Herra wrote in 1799 that ‘The treatment of the Indians is the most cruel I have ever read in history. For the slightest things they receive heavy floggings, are shackled, and put in the stocks, and treated with so much cruelty that they are kept whole days without a drink of water’.”
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