Native Leaders Speak Out Against Pope’s Canonization of Junipero Serra


Published September 28, 2015

OAKLAND – With the canonization of Junipero Serra by Pope Francis last Wednesday, many American Indians felt betrayed yet again by an institution.

Words and prayers without actions (if actions can be taken) are meaningless. The Pope saying and praying how he apolgizes for the wrongs done to Native people of this contenent and then making a Saint out of one of the lead evanglists who made it his mission to “kill the Indian and save the man” is pure hypocrisy.

Institutions, such as the Catholic Church, are so large, it is difficult to oppose their viewpoints. The voices of outcry seemingly appear to be voices in the wilderness.

Here are some of the opinions of Native leadership relating to the canonization of Serra:

“Once again the Catholic Church acted believing that the end justifies the means. The canonization of Serra ignored Pope Francis’ own words that he recently wrote in his Encyclical Letter.

In his Encyclical Letter, Pope Francis writes that it is a sin to destroy indigenous peoples, cultures and environments. No one within or outside the church has ever denied that Serra was responsible for these very sins in California. And yet, Pope Francis canonized the sinner, Serra, believing this will help the church’s image with Hispanics. The church has lost it’s moral authority.”

Valentin Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Costanoan/Ohlone Indians

“Many people have been saying that we “lost.” I disagree! I know that for most of  us that have worked on this issue, we were fairly certain it was the canonization was going to happen whether we liked it or not, however, we wanted to express our outrage, challenge and educate on issues that are directly-and indirectly-related to Junipero Serra, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, the Catholic Mission System, the current horrible curriculum in public schools regarding California history, and the billon dollars business generated by the California tourism department that uses the Missions and this fabricated “golden era” to reach out to international tourism…. all of this sick partnership, and it side steps truth, accountability and reconciliation.

I see this as a win to a certain degree because Natives stood up, and the world took notice. I am humbled and proud by our collective effort; not just here in California, but from coast to coast. Many of us are committed to continue to work on this for the long haul. We have to fan the fire, fuel it with information, education, and love for our people…and move forward.”

Corine Fairbanks, AIM – Southern California



“To tell you the truth, I was shocked that Pope Francis did not enter into dialogue with the Indigenous people of California. I knew about the petitions and the protesting that was going on out West during spring of this year. Once the Vatican went ahead with the scheduling of the canonization in DC, I knew then that Rome just did not care about history.

It was telling that the first saint to be canonized on U.S. soil would be a negative figure to the Indigenous people here in the United States.

Honestly, the Vatican has to give Latin America a saint. Its about the money. Latin America is crucial for the future of the Roman Church.

Their devotion and money given to the church was rewarded with the canonization of Serra. Not that Latin America asked for it, but that the Vatican continues to recognize them. First with a Latin Pope and now with Serra. Where does that leave Native people and their horrible history with the church?? No where. The church does not care. It’s only about their own business interest in the United States (largest immigrant population) and Latin America. This leaves me angry and hurt! How can a church preach love and refuse to acknowledge injustice. I am committed to teach the truth and help with the healing process for Indigenous peoples out West and all Indigenous peoples.”

Luis Ramos, Taino spiritual leader

“Today, the Pope will canonize savage friar Serra. It is a sad day in history for the California Indian peoples!

The Pope now becomes responsible for the future history of this day…Californian Indians have been fighting the history of Serra and his so-called grand mission system since Serra appeared on our lands.

It changes my view of the Catholic Church in trying to justify the mass killings of our peoples and at the same time makes them accountable for the horrible continued treatment of California Indians…”

Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe


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