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This is why the canonization of Junípero Serra is so controversial

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tags: Pope Francis, Junipero Serra



Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her PhD in history at the University of California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University, Hayward, and helped found the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her 1977 book The Great Sioux Nation was the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indigenous peoples of the Americas, held at the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva. Dunbar-Ortiz is the author or editor of seven other books, including Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico. She lives in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @rdunbaro.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Junípero Serra, the first step to canonization. In the wake of the Red Power movement of the 1970s and the International Indigenous Movement that followed, there was a strong outcry from California Indigenous descendants of those who perished of overwork, starvation, and outright killing in the Franciscan missions that the hands-on Serra created. The Franciscans, not the Spanish state, were the actual first colonizers of California Indians, by forcibly relocating them from their traditional territories and villages to labor for the Franciscans in the missions, making the order wealthy from the products produced there. Indigenous peoples’ who are involved in UN human rights work raised a ruckus in the UN system, and friendly Human Rights NGOs and formerly colonized member-states and liberation movements lobbied the Vatican at the UN to not canonize a notorious colonizer. That was twenty-seven years ago, and Serra was not brought up for sainthood, such a notion being clearly unacceptable. Then, to the shock of the California descendants, in May 2015, the new and admired Pope Francis took Serra off the shelf where he was meant to stay, gathering dust, and announced canonization, trying to pass him off as a Latin American, or US American, apparently not having received the memo that the Spanish empire was overthrown by the Mexican people in a ten-year war to drive them out. California was a part of Mexico. One of the first acts of the independent Mexican government was to secularize society, sending the Franciscans packing, closing all the missions.

Twenty-one Franciscan missions were established along the Pacific Coast of California between 1769 and 1823. The establishment of the missions and Spanish army bases (presidios) from San Diego and Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to Carmel, San Francisco, and Sonoma, traces the initial colonization of a large region of California’s Indigenous peoples. The five-hundred-mile road that connected the missions from San Francisco to San Diego was called, and is still called today, El Camino Real, the Royal Highway.

The Spanish military in California was divided into four districts, each with Franciscan missions and strategically located army bases. The 1769 establishment of the first army base in San Diego coincided with the establishment of the first Franciscan mission in California, a pattern that continued.

These California Franciscan missions and their founder, Junípero Serra, are extravagantly romanticized by modern California settlers and remain popular tourist sites. Very few visitors notice, however, that in the middle of the plaza of each mission is a whipping post. The history symbolized by that artifact is not dead and buried with the generations of Indigenous bodies buried under the California crust. The scars and trauma have been passed on from generation to generation. Putting salt in the wound, as it were, Pope Francis canonized Serra in Washington, DC on Wednesday, September 23, 2015, not quietly, rather in the context of a rock star reception publicized around the world, with masses of people and US government officials present, announcing to all that the Doctrine of Discovery continues to guide Vatican, European, and US imperialism. ...

Read entire article at Beacon Broadside


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