The memory of Rev. Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Catholic priest who established California missions but was also accused of terrible mistreatment of Native Americans, has catalyzed wildly disparate actions on the part of Californians.
On the one hand, Serra is due to be canonized by Pope Francis, and his burial site lies in the Carmel Mission, the site of a packed Easter Sunday Mass.
On the other hand, in the nearby cemetery, almost 200 Native Americans protested Serra’s impending sainthood, and there is a movement to replace Serra’s statue in Washington, D.C.’s National Statuary Hall Collection with a statue of Sally Ride, the first female and youngest American astronaut to blast into space. The resolution to replace Serra with Ride was offered by openly gay state Senator Ricardo Lara, who noted that Ride was gay, and said, “Sally Ride will be the first woman to represent California and the first person to represent the L.G.B.T. community in the Capitol,” according to insidebayarea.com.
Native Americans first protested Serra’s canonization in January, when Francis announced that Serra would be canonized next September. Although Francis called Serra the “evangelizer of the West,” native Americans vehemently denounce Serra as a “monster.” The Los Angeles Times notes that Serra’s own letters reveal he approved of the whipping and shackling of natives who did not follow the strictures of the Catholic Church.
The protest on Sunday featured Native Americans wearing T-shirts that read, “You are on Indian land.” Elders of the Native Americans recounted stories, passed down through generations, of the whippings and beatings Serra instituted.
Pastor Paul Murphy welcomed the protesters along the cemetery path, but some protesters quietly said that as natives, they should be welcoming him.
Louise Miranda Ramirez, chairwoman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, whose ancestors came from the Carmel Mission, said she approved of the mission being locked after 3 p.m. because Serra’s remains would be separated from native Americans that way. She added, “I always say come on and repatriate him. I’d be the first to pack up his remains, like archeologists packed up ours, and send him back to the pope. You want him as a saint and hero? Take him back.”
The American Indian Movement (AIM) in Los Angeles organized the protests, which included various tribes from the Central Coast region.
The National Statuary Hall Collection contains two statues from each state; California is represented by Ronald Reagan and Serra. In 2000, a law established that a new statue could be installed to replace the old one, as long as the old one had been in place for ten years. Reagan’s was installed in 2007, and is, therefore, ineligible for replacement.
Ride only allowed her sexual orientation to be made public after her death; she died in 2012. Currently, eight women are in the hall; a ninth, Amelia Earhart of Kansas, will soon be installed.