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Canonization Of Junipero Serra Stirs Controversy In San Diego

Evening Edition host Peggy Pico speaks with Cutcha Risling Baldy, professor of American Indian Studies at SDSU about the history of San Diego and Junipero Serra.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

Junipero Serra is set to be canonized Wednesday, during Pope Francis' visit to Washington D.C. Serra established his first mission in San Diego.

Academics said Serra is a controversial figure now, as he was then.

Members of the Kumeyaay tribe, who lived in San Diego when Serra arrived, burned the first Catholic mission down in 1775.

Cutcha Risling Baldy, who teaches American Indian Studies at SDSU, said Native Americans suffered under the Mission system and that should preclude Serra from sainthood.

"To California Natives, you're not talking about the mission system," Baldy told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. "They refer to it as the end of the world — attempts to destroy who they are as people in order to make them good Spanish citizens."

RELATED: San Diego's Catholic Bishop Discusses Pope's Visit To U.S.

Baldy said Native Americans were whipped or starved to death if they didn't work.

But, Gregory Orfalea, author of "Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California," disagreed. He said Native Americans went to missions to get food.

"(Junipero Serra) gave his whole life to serve the Indians," Orfalea said. "He wanted to save souls. He wanted to spread the gospel of Christ."

"To paint the whole (mission) system as a San Quentin is just historically inaccurate," Orfalea said.

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