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SACRAMENTO — A bill to replace a toppled statue of Junipero Serra that once stood in Sacramento’s Capitol Park with a monument honoring Indigenous tribes in the Sacramento region won committee approval last week in a unanimous bipartisan vote. 

Assemblymember James C. Ramos, the first California Native American elected to the California Legislature, introduced the bill, which is titled AB 338.

The statue of controversial Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra, which has stood in the park since 1967, was toppled by protestors on July 4 2020, but because the sculpture was created pursuant to legislation in the 1960s, another law is required to create a new monument. The Serra statue is currently in storage. 

The bill is sponsored by six tribes in the Sacramento region and whose ancestors lived on the land where California’s capitol is now located, including the Wilton Rancheria, Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Ione Band of Miwok Indians, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians.

“It is time to engage in a complete and honest assessment about the devastating impact of the Mission period and what it meant to California’s Native Americans,” Ramos said in a statement. “Serra founded the first nine of California’s 21 missions and is the symbol of the mission era. During Serra’s lifetime, he was at odds with Spanish officials such as then-Commander Felipe de Neve because of his treatment of the Native Americans.” Ramos also noted that Neve viewed the mission Indians’ fate as “was worse than that of slaves.”

“Even Pope Francis, on a trip to Bolivia in 2015, acknowledged the ‘grave sins’ of colonialism against Indigenous people in the Americas. The history and significance behind that apology have yet to be understood here in California,” Ramos said.

“As my bill moves forward in the legislative process, my colleagues and the public will have the vigorous debate and analysis that was missing when the Serra monument was commemorated on the Capitol grounds in 1967,” Ramos added. “It is time for additional voices to be heard and for California to more fully understand the Mission period. Others who disagree with the Native American perspective on Serra may come forward, but this proposal will ensure a more thorough discussion and analysis.”

Jesus Tarango, Chairman of Wilton Rancheria, whose tribe is among those sponsoring AB 338 said in a statement, “A statue of Junipero Serra on Capitol grounds represents a double injury. The Miwok and Nisenan people have lived in this region since time immemorial before the hostile takeover of Native lands by settlers, land barons and gold miners who established Sacramento and the State Capitol. The statue of a figure that represents the Mission period—another earlier time of genocide, slavery, and other degradations imposed upon California Indians—strikes twice at our history. We have yet to see a full telling of what it took to build the State Capitol and who paid that cost. This bill will begin to tell that history for us and for future generations.”

If passed, Bill AB 338 would remove the statutory requirement that a monument to Junipero Serra be erected and maintained on the State Capitol grounds and require the statue to be replaced by a monument to be created with the input of local tribal nations. 

AB 338 will be reviewed next by the Assembly Appropriations Committee as it moves through the legislative process. 

The bill was co-authored by Assemblymembers Devon Mathis and Kevin McCarthy, and Sen. Bob Hertzburg. Other legislative co-authors include: Assemblymembers Joaquin Arambula, Wendy Carrillo, Jim Cooper, Christina Garcia, Eduardo Garcia, Alex Lee, Jose Medina, Luz Rivas, Robert Rivas, Freddie Rodriguez, Blanca Rubio, Phil Tingand Senators Ben Allen and Monique Limon.

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