January 23, 2015

Controversial Canonization: Decision to Canonize Serra is Insensitive to Natives

LPLP Staff

The Lakota People’s Law Project was disheartened to learn the Catholic Church may pursue the sainthood of a man responsible for deplorable atrocities against the indigenous population of the United States.

On Thursday, January 15, 2015, Pope Francis announced that he will canonize Junipero Serra. Serra was the Spanish Franciscan friar who founded missions in California.

Serra was also responsible for heinous treatment of Native Americans, that included enslavement and forced labor.

The Native Americans of California were forcefully converted to Christianity by Serra. The friars further forced the Indians to give up their cultural practices and languages as they were viewed as inferior and “savage.”

After their baptism, the Indians were imprisoned in the missions. The living conditions of these Indians were so harsh that many of them perished.

Families were separated as men, women, and children all had different living quarters. Forced labor and corporal punishment were all part of the daily lives of these Indians. Many Indians even died due to water pollution, sanitary issues, and foreign European diseases.

Those who attempted to escape the missions were hunted down, brought back, and beaten. For these Indians, the missions were not a place of religious enlightenment but a prison.

Because of Serra’s inhumane actions against the Native Americans, the Pope’s decision to canonize him has caused much controversy. Many still view Serra as an inspiring figure who was dedicated to the Christian faith. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, for example, called Serra “the great apostle here in California,” while Father Edward Benioff of the LA Archdiocese stated, “By canonizing a great missionary [the Pope is] showing the whole church we’re all called to be missionaries.”

Many others, however, feel that Serra’s actions are inexcusable and should be condemned rather than celebrated.

The Lakota People’s Law Project believes the decision to reach back into the past and raise up a man who participated in such a despicable genocide does not reflect well upon the Church, particularly at a time when the church is moving toward a message of peace and justice.

Anthony Morales, Chief Redblood of the Gabrieliño Tongva Band of Mission Indians, states, “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.”

To declare Junipero Serra a saint is to ignore or even to condone his cruel treatment of Native Americans. Nothing can excuse the racial and cultural genocide that these Indian tribes of California suffered at the hands of missionaries.

Make your voices heard.