Story at a glance

  • A pair of archbishops in California are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a bill calling for the permanent removal of the statue of Father Junípero Serra.
  • Serra founded the state’s mission system in the 18th century, which historians say led to the brutal mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.
  • “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” a portion of Assembly Bill 338 reads.

A pair of archbishops in California are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a bill calling for the permanent removal of the statue of Father Junípero Serra, who founded the state’s mission system in the 18th century, from the state capital in Sacramento. 

Lawmakers passed a bill in August to replace Serra’s statue, which was taken down by protesters in 2020 and is currently in storage, with a monument honoring local Indigenous nations. Newsom has yet to sign the legislation. 

“Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” a portion of Assembly Bill 338 reads.


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Yet Salvatore Cordileone, the San Francisco archbishop, and José Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that the representation of Serra in the bill mischaracterizes the priest. 

“Serra was a complex character, but he defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends,” the pair wrote. 

The archbishops continued, saying that the state’s systematic destruction of its Indigenous people occurred decades after Serra’s death in 1784, adding that Newsom had previously acknowledged in a 2019 speech the origins of Indigenous extermination. 

“In 2019 he apologized for the state’s history of injustice against native people, acknowledging that it was California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, who launched what Burnett called 'a war of extermination,'” in 1851, Cordileone and Gomez said. 


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Meanwhile, six California tribes have expressed their support for the bill: 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.

“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,” said Jesus Tarango, the chair of Wilton Rancheria, in a statement, per ABC 10. “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.”


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Published on Sep 16, 2021