California Tribes Protest Junipero Serra Sainthood at Mission Carmel


Tribal Leaders Carmel

CARMEL, CALIFORNIA — On Easter Sunday, April 5, 375 members of California’s tribal nations and their supporters gathered at the Carmel Mission for a prayer ceremony honoring the ancestors buried there and to protest the proposed sainthood of Junipero Serra.

The Carmel Mission was chosen because Serra’s body is buried there and it was from Carmel that he directed the other missions in the brutal treatment of California’s indigenous people. The event was organized by AIM Southern California with California tribes participating from throughout California.

In an absurd twist of reality, while the prayer ceremony was conducted outside the mission, an Easter Sunday mass was held inside the mission, with the two different styles of song and prayer at times intermingling. A five minute video was also constantly being played for tourists that presented a Disneyesque tale about how happy California native people were, how well they were treated, and how much they “thrived” while under the mission system.

Nothing could be further from historical truth, according to the direct descendants of that mission system speaking on Sunday.

The ceremony began with traditional California prayer songs offered. Kanyon Sayers-Roods, Costanoan Ohlone, sang her Grandmother’s Song and offered prayers to all Native Nations represented at the ceremony. Louise Miranda Ramirez, Chairwoman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, who traces her ancestors directly to the Carmel Mission, thanked all who attended and asked her grandson, Jordan Castellas to play a flute prayer song. She then presented necklaces to those buried in the graves in order to help them find their way home.

California Singers

California Singers

“I always say to the Catholic Church, come on and re-patriate Serra”, she said. “I’d be the first to pack up his remains, like archeologists packed up ours, and send him back to the Pope. You want him as a hero? Take him back,” she said.

Mr. Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Ahman Mutsun Band began by saying, “This is a very difficult day for us. We want to honor our ancestors and work together to increase our voices, so the truth can be told. We want to tell the people who we really are. Creator told our people specifically to take care of our lands, our waters, our animals and each other. We have the moral authority and the moral obligation to speak up for our relatives and to speak out about what is wrong. We have the moral obligation to work with all perpetrators, to heal them and to heal ourselves. We must live our lives in ways that serve the Creator. Our Creator never intended anyone to have the right to include torture, whippings, rape of our women and children and practice genocide of our people. Neither did it include stealing our land, or hiding and denying the truth. All of these actions come from the Spanish and the Catholic Church, the Mexican and American governments. They must all now answer to what they have done. Making Junipero Serra a saint is the wrong answer to their own history. It is another cover-up, another lie.”

The ceremony and protest was peaceful. Red t-shirts were worn that said, “You Are on Indian Land” and a large banner was hung for everyone to sign that demanded no sainthood for Serra. This banner will be presented in New York in 2016 when the Pope plans to visit the United States. After the prayer ceremony ended, organizers and members of California Native tribes offered a pot luck luncheon to all who attended.

“I am a practicing Catholic, and this sainthood for Serra is a very sad, terrible, and complex issue for many Native Americans who are Catholic. We know the truth about the mission system, as well as so many other atrocities committed by the Church against us, yet the Catholic Church has not yet and is not now offering reparations, nor reconciliation to the California native people. It is now time to begin a very strong and honest dialogue about the true history of the mission system,” long-time American Indian advocate Sacheen Littlefeather commented.

Editor’s Note: Arthur Jacobs contributed to this story in Carmel, California.



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