Father Junipero Serra, the Pope & the Canonization of a Purveyor of Genocide by Matt RemleTweet
“On all the 21 missions along the coast here our people were enslaved, they were beaten, they were tortured, our women were raped. It was forced labor and a forced religion. There’s nothing saintly about the… atrocities on our culture, on our people.” ~Anthony Morales, Chief Redblood of the Gabrielino Tongva Band of Mission Indians
Dubbed the Columbus of California, Father Junipero Serra, has been slated to be canonized as a Saint by Pope Francis. According to Christian doctrine, a Saint is someone who follows Jesus and live their lives according to his teachings. Catholics use the term more narrowly to refer to “holy” men and women who lived lives of extraordinary virtue.
In 1769, Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, led a Spanish army up from Mexico to present-day San Diego. There he built Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first of 21 missions that would eventually extend up to present-day San Francisco. The missions served as launching grounds to enslave and subjugate Native populations.
The territory Junipero Serra reached was one of the most densely populated regions north of Mexico. Population estimates range as high as 300,000 Native peoples whom spoke 80 distinct languages. The Chumash were the largest tribe of the region with a population around 20,000.
The missions Father Junipero Serra built were, in reality, nothing more than concentration camps that were run off of the slave labor of Native peoples. Spanish soldiers captured Natives by the thousands and forced them to work as slaves in farms that supported the missions. Abuse of Native slaves was commonplace with incidents of whippings, mutilations, brandings and executions occurring regularly.
“That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas; so general in fact that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule.” ~Junipero Serra (on justifying beating Natives)
Native slaves were given Spanish names are were forbidden from speaking traditional languages and practicing traditional ceremonies. Junipero Serra viewed Native peoples as “heathens” who needed the “word” of the gospel.
The mission period ended 65-years later in 1834 when Mexico won independence from Spain. By this point traditional Native villages had been destroyed.
In 1849, after the United States acquired California from Mexico, ushered in the “Gold Rush”. Native peoples were again subjected to European encroachment, brutality, and enslavement.
In 1852, the state of California paid $1.1 million to militias to hunt down and kill Native peoples. In 1856, the state of California paid $0.25 cents per Native scalp. In 1860, the bounty payment was increased to $5.
By 1900, just 131 years after Father Junipero Serra established his first mission, the Native population had decreased to around 16,000.
In his announcement to proclaim Serra a saint Pope Francis hailed Serra as “the evangelizer of the West in the United States.”