Story at a glance
- On Indigenous People’s Day in 2020, demonstrators brought down a statue of Junipero Serra.
- The Catholic priest from the 1700s forced Native Americans to convert and has been accused of torture and enslavement.
- The Archbishop of San Francisco has asked for those involved in toppling the statue to be charged with a hate crime.
Two of the Indigenous women charged with bringing down a monument to Junipero Serra were baptized in the church founded by the Catholic priest and missionary, who participated in the Spanish colonization of California in the 1700s. Ahead of their trials, advocates are asking the city to drop the charges entirely.
Police did not stop demonstrators from bringing down the statue of Junipero Serra in front of Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael, Calif., on Oct. 11, Indigenous People's Day — or Columbus Day. The planned protest was part of a wave that swept the nation last year after the police killing of George Floyd inspired Americans to remove statues of figures linked to racism.
"During this incident and the subsequent destruction of the statue, it was considered that the statue could be replaced or repaired and that the importance of using sound judgment and de-escalation techniques was paramount to preventing physical interactions between officers and protestors," the San Rafael Police Department said in a release at the time.
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Ines Shiam Gardilcic, 40, Victoria Eva Montanopena, 29, Melissa Aguilar, 36, Mayorgi Nadeska Delgadillo, 36, Moira Cribben Van de Walker, 25, and Andrew Lester Mendle, whose age was not available in public documents, were arrested, issued citations and released, before later being charged with felony vandalism. In the weeks following, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and police asked the Marin County district attorney to prosecute the case to the "full extent of the law," including a charge of vandalism in a house of worship, a hate crime.
"In our view, this attack on a cherished religious symbol on our own church property is not a minor property crime, but an attack on Catholics as a people," said Cordileone.
As all five await a preliminary hearing on Feb. 18, activists are organizing. More than 65,000 people have signed a petition asking San Rafael District Attorney Lori Frugoli to drop the charges and advocates have raised more than $8,000 to support their defense.
"While monuments to racism and violence are being removed by city and state officials, schools, parks and activists across the state, the city of San Rafael is refusing to recognize the harms perpetrated against Indigenous people and has decided to file felony charges against five of the fifty demonstrators," the campaign said, adding that “the demonstration was focused on recognizing Indigenous land and history, not religion.”
It was in the name of religion, however, that Serra converted 81,000 Indigenous people, whose land was taken by Spanish colonizers. And while California students learn that the Franciscan monk did his best to protect Indians, Indigenous Americans remember his role in colonization, which led to the deaths of half of the California Indian population through disease, war and forced labor conditions.
“I believe that Junípero Serra actually created and brought genocide to the California Indian people,” Corrina Gould, co-founder of Indian People Organizing for Change and an Ohlone tribal member, told The Huffington Post in 2015, when Serra was granted sainthood by the Catholic Church despite protests from Indigenous Americans. “In less than 100 years, our way of life, our language, our foods — everything — was destroyed.”
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