The California State Senate overwhelmingly voted 28-2 on Monday to send a bill to Governor Newsom to replace a toppled statue depicting the very first saint that was canonized on United States soil. It stood outside the state Capitol and it now will be replaced with a Native American monument.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the bill which is called Assembly Bill 338 (AB 338), “removes the statutory requirement for the Capitol to maintain a statue of Father Junipero Serra, and replaces it with a mandate to install a work of art that commemorates the indigenous people on whose land California sits.”
The state Assembly had passed the measure in May with a 66-2 vote.
Saint Serra started the California mission system in the late 18th century. He founded 21 missions across what is now California in the 1700s, and he was canonized as a saint by Pope Francis in 2015, despite criticisms of the Spanish missionary’s legacy.
According to historians, the 21 missions along the state’s coast were set up to convert indigenous people to Catholicism, expand European territory, and colonize the land.
Those who criticize Serra believe that the missions were a brand of institutional racial oppression and they did away with customs and culture. They say natives were forced to perform labor for the missions and it created a new system of white supremacy that kept people oppressed.
It was back on July 4th in 2020 that about 200 demonstrators celebrated Independence Day by knocking down the statue of Serra in Capitol Park. It had stood there since 1967. There is a video that depicts vandals burning the sculpture and then using straps to pull it down.
The protestors were joined by others advocating for Black Lives Matter and another group that was there demanding that a statue of Christopher Columbus that stood nearby be removed.
James Ramos, a Democratic Assemblyman from Highland, said that he authored the bill that was just passed to “begin the fuller and more honest assessment of what the Mission period meant to California’s Native Americans.” Ramos is the first California Native American elected to the Legislature.
There are co-sponsors to the bill that include six Indian tribes in the Sacramento region: 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.
Ramos made this statement after the bill’s passage: “We do not condone the vandalism that resulted in the toppling of the Serra statue last summer, but it did provide an opportunity for us to explore why this figure from California’s founding has become a symbol of the enslavement and genocide for Native Americans.”
The assemblyman continued saying, “He is undoubtedly seen as the creator and director of a system that held Indians in servitude to force conversions and build the missions, and that led to starvation and disease.”
Governor Newsom had already issued an apology in 2019 to all the Native Americans of California with an executive order for the “state’s historical wrongdoings.”
“California must reckon with our dark history,” Newsom said. “California Native American peoples suffered violence, discrimination, and exploitation sanctioned by state government throughout its history. We can never undo the wrongs inflicted on the peoples who have lived on this land that we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds.”
Could this be the beginning of rewriting the story of Christian missions across the country?