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Walk for the Ancestors Brings Attention to Mission System, Rejects Serra Sainthood

A mother-son duo are walking to remember ancestors affected by the 21 Mission System in California, and to reject the sainthood of Junipero Serra.

Caroline Ward Holland, who is a descendant of the Tataviam Tribe from Santa Clarita California, experienced a life-changing event upon learning that Franciscan Priest Junipero Serra would be canonized by Pope Francis on September 23. She consulted with her Tribal Chairman, Rudy Ortega, and decided to walk the 650 miles of the 21 mission system from Sonoma to San Diego. Her son Kagen Holland, usually in college studying art, is walking the entire way with her. The two began the walk on September 7 at mission Sonoma, and expect to end the pilgrimage in mid-November at Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first mission founded in 1769 by Serra.

The purpose of the walk is to honor the indigenous ancestors who suffered and perished under the genocidal policies of Junipero Serra. The 650-mile journey asserts California Indian rejection of Serra as a Saint.

“I want to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors. They will speak to us. I want my relatives and ancestors to know that we will never forget their suffering and the many atrocities they endured. Wherever their villages were, I want to walk there,” Ward-Holland said.

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Caroline Ward Holland and son Kagen Tataviam) have embarked on a 650-mile journey of the 21 missions in California. They are seen here on the road to Santa Cruz.

Under the mission system, California’s Native people endured torture, brutal slavery, abuse, theft of land, and the loss of language, culture, and spiritual practices. “Mothers would give themselves abortions so their children would not have to suffer abuse. These stories have been passed down to us from our mothers and grandmothers. We want people to know the truth, not the historic myth that surrounds these missions. The walk has also made me realize that historic trauma is still with me today. It never goes away,” Holland explained. “I now realize this walk is about inter-tribal relations, and building solidarity between all California Indians. Before we started, I didn’t know who the Ohlone or Miwok were, and many tribes didn’t know about the Tataviam.”

One of the most difficult areas of the walk has been the treatment of graves. “At Mission Dolores in San Francisco, there are some gravesites, but most are under the parking lots and streets surrounding the Mission. At the Mission in San Rafael, there are none. Yet we know there were mass graves, so our ancestors are there, just not acknowledged,” Holland said.

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Many gravesites are not recognized or respected at the 21 missions in California. Instead, they have been built over.

Between 1797 and 1850 approximately 6,690 burials were recorded at Mission San Jose, with 8,200 baptisms recorded by 1850. According to “The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide” 81.6 percent of Indians baptized, died here.

Recently, the 15 to 20 walkers reached Mission San Jose in Fremont, California. This Mission sits on Chochenyo Ohlone land, and the walkers were met by local community leader, youth advocate, and co-founder of Indigenous People Organizing for Change Corrina Gould. Gould is Chochenyo Ohlone, and her ancestors are descendants of Mission San Jose.

The group could not proceed with prayers and visit gravesites, because they were met by Andrew Galvan, an Ohlone descendant who works for the Catholic Church. He has been an outspoken supporter of Junipero Serra’s canonization.

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The Walk for the Ancestors group gathered outside Mission San Jose.

In Galvan’s opinion the controversy surrounding Serra’s sainthood has created an “opportunity to bring California Indians back into the Church.”

When he asked Gould what she needed most she replied: “We need more voices included in the dialogue, not just yours, in order to hear our ancestors. When I think about Mission San Jose, I think of all the things taken from us, the devastation and destruction of our people and our culture.”

Galvan asked Ward-Holland what she needed, and she answered: “We want our land back. We want what is rightfully ours.”

Gould told Galvan that her mother was orphaned at this Mission, and suffered throughout her life as a result of what she endured at Mission San Jose along with the rest of her ancestors. “If you go to Washington, D.C. to watch the falsehood take place, stand up and say it is wrong,” advised Gould.

Nanette Deetz

Andrew Galvan and Corrina Gould have a discussion inside a mission church.

Fuifuilupe Niumeitoulu, of Tongan descent, explained that she is from a Pacific Island culture colonized and heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. She offered a beautiful and strong prayer/song in her language in honor of Holland, her son Kagen, and all those walking with them.

A GoFundMe site has been created to help with expenses along the route. So far they have raised more than $2,900.

Many people have joined and assisted Holland and Kagen along the route. To donate, see a schedule of upcoming stops, or for more information, visit WalkfortheAncestors.org.