The long-standing statue of a Spanish priest on the grounds of the California State Capitol will be replaced with a monument memorializing Native Americans who lived in the Sacramento area before the arrival of white settlers.
Following the statue’s toppling in July 2020 amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia faces flash flood watches amid 'Bomb Cyclone' and 'Atmospheric River' Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Ivory poaching changes evolution of elephants California regulator proposes ban on oil drilling near schools, hospitals, homes MORE (D) signed a bill last Friday — coinciding with Native American Day — that will remove the statue of Father Junipero Serra which was installed in 1967.
The removal of the statue, as with similar efforts across the country, has been a lightning rod for controversy. Serra, a Spanish missionary, played a pivotal role in converting Native Americans to Roman Catholicism in the late 1700s, per the Los Angeles Times.
Serra established mission centers up and down the California coast, from San Diego to San Luis Obispo and San Francisco. Many Native Americans were forced to work at these enclaves, resulting in severe abuse and mass deaths.
Despite this, Serra was canonized by Pope FrancisPope FrancisBiden hopes for deal on economic agenda before Europe trip Pope urges countries to stop returning migrants to 'concentration camps' in Libya Retired pope says he hopes to soon join friends in 'the afterlife' MORE in 2015. Pushback against the memorial to Serra in California culminated amid the civil rights protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.
“Today’s action sends a powerful message from the grounds of Capitol Park across California underscoring the state’s commitment to reckoning with our past and working to advance a California for All built on our values of inclusion and equity,” Newsom said in a press release. “I’m proud to sign this long overdue legislation to honor the Native peoples who have called this land home since time immemorial.”
The Archdiocese of Sacramento previously decried the toppling of the statue. Bishop Jaime Soto issued a statement noting that while indigenous people suffered under the colonial period and centuries after, Serra denounced the “evils” inherent to the racist colonial system.
“All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America’s founding ideals,” Soto wrote. “The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down.”
Prior to the removal of the statue in Capitol Park, another memorial to Serra in Ventura City Hall was taken down in 2020, following a unanimous city council vote on the matter.