Native Americans and their allies meet to discuss the disaster of making a colonizing killer into a saint
AUGUST 18, 2015 — The screams traveled in the wind. Some so faint you could hardly hear, some so loud you couldn’t see. A gust of hurt blew in my face as I walked onto the oddly silent stretch of Mama Earth called Mission Tierra in Fremont. California. The ancestral land of the Ohlone peoples.
The screams belonged to the ancestors. They always greeted me when I walked onto to these stolen spaces called missions that are the locations of so many decades of colonial genocide to native people. Once the screams start, they never quiet.
For the last few months, I’ve joined the POOR Magazine family of poverty and indigenous scholars traveling to Missions across CalifAztlan along with First Nations elders and revolutionaries to address the 21st century violence of granting sainthood to Junipero Serra by Pope Francis.
“As an Ohlone woman who has ancestors that were enslaved at both Mission Dolores in San Francisco and Mission San Jose in Fremont, I am disgusted and appalled that the Roman Catholic Church is going through with the canonization of the genocidal maniac,” Explained Corrina Gould, First Nations warrior woman leader and truth revolutionary, speaking to a convening in July at Mission Tierra. It was called Serra — Saint or Sinner?
For the few people who still believe the colonizers-washed history we are all taught in so many public schools, the genocide perpetrated against Native people by the Catholic Church and its many agents — aka “missionaries” — is well-documented.
There is no secret that the church played a huge role in the theft of land, and Junipero Serra, who spent 15 years in California, was responsible for the torture and death of thousands of indigenous peoples including babies and mothers. He was part of a reign of colonial terror that lasted hundreds of years, and used the revolutionary African Jew named Jesus’ (Yeshua) name in vain.
“So many of my ancestors were killed because of missionary colonization,” Kim DeOcampo said through tears to the room filled with nuns, priests, and catholic parishioners who seemed sold on the canonization of Serra. The truth needs to be told, she said, “that’s why we indigenous people are here today.”
The unwashed history of Serra’s brutalization
Using indigenous bodies for brutal slave labor, Father Serra built nine of the 21 Franciscan missions along the Pacific Coast. Some of them became cities, like San Diego and San Francisco.
And as usually is the case with the perpetrators of gentrification, mass redevelopment, globalization, land theft, colonialism and other acts that support the white political power grid, Serra receives accolades and monuments in both Washington DC and Sacramento. These colonial lies are funneled into our minds as eight- and nine-year-old children in school. We are told to make small “mission” mock-ups with friendly priests and happy indigenous people as part of a California “history” lesson.
But what is always missing, just like it’s missing from most of the historical lies written by the ruling class, is the real story of the mass torture, beatings, murder and sexual abuse of literally thousands of humans during the establishment of the US.
They were all bound with rawhide ropes, and some were bleeding from wounds, and some children were tied to their mothers. The next day we saw some terrible things. Some of the runaway men were tied to sticks and beaten with straps. One chief was taken out to the open field and a young calf which had just died was skinned and the chief was sewed into the skin while it was yet warm. He was kept tied to a stake all day, but he died soon and they kept his corpse tied up
— Vasali Turkanoff- a Russian explorer who had witnessed the torture at the missions himself
If the claims of torture and abuse are questioned, one need only read the personal diaries of Serra himself, documenting all his brutality as if it were a clinical study. Babies and mamas, sexually and physically tortured and thrown over cliffs, peoples hands and fingers cut off, people beaten until they bled to death, brutally punished if they didn’t pray, dress or speak in the way that satisfied the missionaries … the river of blood and destruction is deep and terrifying.
This is the history we are never taught.
Actually, what is documented in multiple texts and stories both by outsiders and first peoples across Mama Earth, are cultures that were filled with abundance, had a complex labyrinth of traditions, both spiritual and political, people living well and thriving on their ancestral land and needing nothing from the colonizers who came here with guns and diseases bent on theft and destruction. One recent book that documents Serra’s genocide meticulously is Crown of Thorns by Elias Castillo:
“Junipero Serra becoming a saint continues to reopen wounds of the past and continues the genocide of the survivors through invisablization and patronizing behavior that continues to say that they know what is best for the Indigenous people. This canonization does not only affect and harm California Indians but the many thousands of Indigenous people in this country that were put in mission schools and the continued missionization of indigenous people across the globe.”
My Catholic herstory of poverty and survival
My mama, a mixed race, African-Puerta Rican/Taino and Roma Irish orphan, and her mother, a Roma Irish psychic, were both saved and tortured by all that was the Catholic Church. Nuns, priests and convents played so many parts in our broken herstories.
My mama, almost killed in countless Catholic foster homes and then “saved” by nice nuns who took pity on her, an unprotected child of color, only to push her out into yet another foster home where she was starved and beaten, almost to death, still had an unspoken awe for the Catholic Church.
My grandmother, who was indigenous Celtic Roma ( gypsy) in her ways, altars, smoke, offerings, discussions with ancestors, levitation and powers colonizers would call pagan or sacrilege, but considered a “curandera, reader, psychic” by all the people of her community, and even after a life of poverty and low-wage domestic labor, still believed in everything that was the Catholic Church.
With images of bloody White-ified Jesus hanging all over the tiny, broke-down one room she ended up in, she still loved her nuns, crediting them with her salvation when she was placed in a convent at 12 because she was pregnant with her father’s child.
“I was raised a Catholic and I am still a practicing Catholic, but I am also an Ohlone woman with many ancestors who suffered so much pain in the missions, which is why I really hope Pope Francis does the right thing and stops this canonization of Serra,” said Ruth Orta, a mother, grandmother and elder Ohlone woman who spoke to the convening with tears in her eyes.
“We want to be instrumental in the healing…. we can only do that together,” said Sister Gloria Jones, a Dominican sister and part of the Center for Education and Spirituality who organized the convening in July as part of a closing prayer for the day’s activities.
When I stood before the convening in Fremont, listening closely to the ancestors who were whispering in the corners of that vast white room, I tried to remind that one of the reasons this pope was chosen was to bring new consciousness into the church, new consciousness and new members.
The church is losing members by the thousands, and in these times, awakening and rebellion the only way the church is going to bring up its relevance is if it stands with the people. All the people, especially those of us who have been harmed by organized religion.
This is the worst time to canonize an ancient killer colonizer. Not canonizing Serra would be a move in the tradition of another well-known revolutionary leader who was always ahead of his time, Yeshua /Jesus Christ…. Ometeotl, Ase, Semign Cacnona Guari, Aho…