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Sainthood for Genocide Leader? Amah Mutsun Ask Pope Francis to Stop Junipero Serra Canonization

The Amah Mutsun held a prayer ceremony and protest against the proposed canonization of Junipero Serra, the founder of the 21-mission system in Cali.

On July 11, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Nation held a prayer ceremony and protest against the proposed canonization of Junipero Serra, the founder of the 21-mission system in California, by Pope Francis. This was the third ceremony and protest in several months, with others planned. Speakers traveled from all over California.

“We have written numerous letters to the Pope, asking that this proposed sainthood stop, but have received nothing in response. As Tribal Nations, we will continue to protest this no matter what the final outcome,” said Mutsun Tribal Chairman Valentin Lopez. Between 175 and 200 California Natives, their allies and supporters, and the Southern California Chapter of the American Indian Movement took part in the protest. “Over 100,000 of our ancestors died as a result of the mission system. We have endured generations of trauma and abuse and we are still suffering the results in our families and in our Tribal Nations. At the end of the mission system, the Catholic Church needed an alibi for the intentional enslavement, torture, rapes, theft of our lands, cultures, and languages. All of this is written in historic documents that anyone can read.

“The Church created the myth that we wanted to be at the missions, that the Church took care of us, treated us as their children; they said we wanted a better religion, a better way to tend food crops. These are all lies, and today you will hear the truth,” Lopez said.

Everyone who attended was invited to enter the sacred circle to be smudged with sage and given tobacco to offer prayers to the fire, kept burning throughout the ceremonial protest.

The first speaker, Choqosh Monroy Auh'ho'oh spoke of life before the mission system. “Our religion was one of gratitude for the life that surrounded us. Then things changed. We heard only the sound of whippings, beatings. When we sang we were whipped, when we spoke our language, we were beaten. When the Spanish ships came in and could not be paid by the padres, our women and very young girls were given to the men to be raped repeatedly in lieu of payment.”

Noted writer, poet, educator and former Catholic priest, Dr. Mathew Fox began by saying, “History is unjust, ugly, oppressive, and full of lies. The mission system was a slavery system. Even the first Portuguese sea captain who observed it, wrote: ‘This is all a deja vu. This is what I have seen in the Caribbean, it parallels the slavery in the Southeast.’ He even writes about the constant sound of the whip. This is all lies, denial and cover up.

Charles Lopez Sr.

Dr. Mathew Fox speaks at the protest against the canonization of Junipero Serra.

“If Pope Francis continues with this sainthood for Junipero Serra, he is continuing the lie and approving the abuse of Native people.... The circle of slavery from the Caribbean through the Americas is historically very clear now. It can no longer be denied,” Fox said.

Norma Flores, a member of the Gabrielenos Tribal Nation of Mission Indians, Kizh Nation told the story of Toypurina, considered the “Joan of Arc” of the Mission Indians because of the revolt she led against the mission system and the Spanish soldiers during the 1700s. “Toypurina managed to organize and lead a revolt during a time of no cell phones, newspapers and at great danger to herself and her family. She was from a long line of hereditary leaders, and knew she needed to resist the mission system,” Flores said. Toypurina is buried at San Juan Bautista in an unmarked grave. Flores started a petition on MoveOn.org that now has over 7,000 signatures against the Canonization of Serra.

Charles Lopez Sr.

Norma Flores, a member of the Gabrielenos Tribal Nation of Mission Indians tells the story of Toy Purina.

Marcus Lopez, Chairman of the Chumash Council in Santa Barbara, California reminded those assembled that “The U.S. government, their allies, the Catholic Church, and state governments have all been trying to divide us, by blood quantum, tribal affiliation—are you recognized, or unrecognized by the federal government. That is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse! We do not accept it. We recognize one another by ceremony, by the character you or I have. You relatives that are here are the future, the courageous ones, the blessed ones. You young children, you are what we are fighting for. Our prayers are for you. This is sacred land in spite of the Church, not because of the Church.”

RELATED: Father Serra’s Sainthood: Sanctifying a Legacy of Domination

Nanette Deetz, Dakota/Cherokee, is a journalist, poet, and educator. She writes for Native News Online, Alameda Journal (San Jose Mercury News), and her poetry is published in several anthologies. When not writing she tutors for the Department of Rehabilitation, California.