Canonization Of Junipero Serra Stirs Controversy In San Diego
This is KPBS midday edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. During his visit to America couple Francis for the first time will canonize an American St. on American soil. Father Junipero Serra sent by the Spanish government to establish the first missions in California will be elevated to sainthood. But the choice has drawn criticism. The treatment of Native Americans in the missions and the destruction of native culture are just two of the reasons critics say Junipero Serra should not be made a saint. But the story has painted a complex portrait of him, as an 18th-century man was creating a better world for the native. -- People. Joining me is the author of the founding of America. Cutcha Risling Baldy in assistant professor of American Indian studies , welcome to the program. He was and is -- a press this can -- why did the Spanish want these missions built. Originally, there was fear that the Russians actually would come down from Alaska, that the moving that way for some time, and captured California. There was a realpolitik reason for some extents for the Spaniards going in. Their recent of course was quite different from tran02's reason. He wants to save souls. He wanted to spread the gospel of Christ. The gospel of love. If you could go in with that, and do that, with the Indians. I think his feeling was that it would be more gentle. Has successful remind us if you would, was he in establishing the missions. He establish nine out of 21 missions. There were 21 two missions established in all. It depends on your definition of success. There were 225,000 Native Americans in California on contact. There was the sad fact that all Europeans rot microbes and disease with them. This was not intentional but it did happen. Sadly it was a great tragedy. Maybe the Original Sin of our continent. The 225,000 goes down 250,000 by the time -- to 150,000. Then it dropped for 280%, in the early and to 30,000 in the early 70s. People were killed by murder, and not just disease. Under the Spaniards, there was tragic loss of life, but it was not nearly as bad nor was it as intentional as it was under the Americans. How did life change for the need of people of America as they were established. I think it's very interesting as we look from the perspective of California natives. They refer to the mission system as the end of the world. They talk about an apocalyptic's, and attempts to totally destroy who they were as a people. In order to make them what they thought would be good Spanish citizens. Really, it is about making the land into Spanish territory. So everything about their life suddenly becomes different. You get to seize , and instruction, and try to change who they are as a people from the inside out. From the very beginning. So I think the changes, it was immediate and dramatic, and it was destructive. One of the criticism against father Junipero Serra himself was the corporal punishment to keep them in line. What kind of punishment for those. Whippings, but also corporal punishment such as starvation techniques, no food, working them to death. If you are a mission person who is working it would be to stop because you don't have enough food, or water, they will then come and threaten you with punishment. If you do not keep working, so even the work is a punishment to you needing rest. They are forcing them into conversions, so they will in some instances go to villages, kidnapped women and children bring them back to the missions and then of course the men will follow, because of their families, so they would tell them in order to see their families they would be to convert. It is not just corporate -- corporal punishment, hits also punishing someone else to do what you want them to do. Junipero Serra also practice the mortification of flesh on it -- on himself. That was part of the whole era of trying to get spiritual redemption by hurting yourself. And by hurting other people. I'd like to go back a bit I object to just about everything that was said. With due respect. The missions were not slavery. The Indians were allowed to come in, on their own volition, so they were not forced in. Once they were in, they were responsibilities to the community and they could not leave without permission. But often times, they got that permission. Often time they left on trips back to their home villages, for weeks or months on end. I think she said that they were not given good food or start step, that was simply not true. Most of the missions had food, it was one of the reasons the Indians came in the first place. In their own villages either the settlers were traveling food, or they're going through drought and food was needed. As well as protection and close in some cases. To paint I think sometimes we do have a tendency to do this is paint Indian society is pristine and all good. And the Europeans as all bad. I think it is all a lot more nuanced than that. I want you to respond. I actually think that this comes from a long history of using mission records of documentation what was going on in the mission. And not interrogating the sources. What is happening in the mission system which is justifying the system as being on the up and up. As a Catholic system. I think that when you really look into what is happening in the mission system, there a lot of records that also support things such as studies showing that Indians are given only between 1200 and 1400 cal per day. Which is not enough to support them, in the amount of work that they are doing. You do get a massive decline in population, yes a lot of priests will write dominant Indians died of disease, he would say that they got the flu, but they're not talking about the fact that it night their locking them in dormitories with each other, they are not allowing them to go to the restrooms there making of the sick around each other, they are not allowing them to leave. So women and children are locked in dormitories and then at the same time you get actual other people who come to visit so you get people who come from France, from Spain, other people writing about what is happening in the missions saying this is not okay. And what happens to them they get sent back to Spain, or they get denied and told they cannot write that kind of stuff. You are seeing, that it is in the documentation that people have not engaged with the economy created this narrative that it is not there. And it is there. I want to go back to my point if I may, this is a different time. Junipero Serra practiced mortification on himself, they sought spiritual redemption through physical pain. Yes. He did practice the mortification of flesh, but so did some Indians. One of the rights of passage for young males was to stab oneself, among certain tribes, and they were piercings as well of the body. Self mortification of the flesh was not entirely only European, I also want to say let's talk about the man himself. Missions are not being canonized Tamara by come -- Pope Francis. There are flaws in human beings, and in the missions. But there is goodness. He gave his whole life to serve those Indians, he threw away a high position in Spain, he had a chair in theology, he was idolized. Instead he threw it away, because he felt that he wanted to give his whole life to serve others. And when he saw the Indians the first time in Baja California, he thought that they were in the garden of Eden. And that they were better, they became better Christians from the Spaniards themselves. There were orchestras at Mission San Jose, and San Antonio, there was married housing at Mission San Antonio, San Antonio have three meals a day. Every one of the missions was different. And to paint the whole system, as a San Quentin is historically inaccurate. Yesterday, spoke with Bishop McElroy Connie spoke about the complicated relationship the Native Americans have. I spoke with mostly Catholic communities were Native Americans are, and one of those meetings a faithful man stood up and said I believe that he is a good man. I believe that he is a saint and I believe that he is with God. But this proclamation of his sainthood is very hard for us to accept. Because on the symbolic level it is impossible to separate out the good things that he brought, he brought the faith which is the centerpiece of my life, is impossible for us to separate those things on the symbolic level from the destruction of our culture. That is the dilemma. What is your reaction to that. I do think that there's a lot of focus on him as a person. I think it's impossible to say that anyone is a flawless individual. But I do think that we start to elevate him to sainthood, you need after a very complex and complicated questions about what he ushers in to California. But also, the fact that you cannot separate him from the mission system. He was the one that was establishing the system, he put him in charge of the. -- It. He decides the direction that it goes, he takes a very particular direction. Sony comes to San Diego he makes comments in his notes about no Indians are coming here. They do not want this, and I'm very frustrated with this. A year later he starts to say they are all now converting. But he does not to you how and why that happened. And the Indians can tell you why that happens. You see uprising, poisonings a pod race, I see people who are trying to get people out of the missions, that tells you about the situation. Why are Indian people reacting in this way if they are just bringing in faith. I do not think you can separate him from his methodologies for establishing these missions, and when you're going to elevate him to St. you need assess type of questions, have that question, and the conversation. Because you are saying that his methodologies are sanctioned by the church. That they are okay, but that was something that needed to happen. And then what you sainted Californian Indian people with this continued experiences with this type of colonization. How do you separate him from the excesses and outrages that happens in some of the missions. How do you separate the entire United States Senate from Vietnam. There were people in the people this -- in the Senate the spoke out against it. Sometimes they actually voted for the appropriations and then they had second thoughts. I think what you say about Junipero Serra is that the institution did some good, and a do some harm, there was a man who realized somethings were going wrong with the Conkey said, -- one was the most a station of women by soldiers. He agreed that this was not good. So what did he say, he wanted those people, the military people who were not disciplining their soldiers, or not sending them home, I want those leaders to be fired. And he walks in take a boat take samuelhl, 2000 miles -- takes a mule, 2000 miles, and tell someone to fire someone who is not been helping the spiritual conquest at all. His compromising the dignity of the Indian women. That is a big thing. There other times when he speaks out in San Diego, when three of his fellows are killed by an uprising, he said there was some uprising understandably so, but when three Spaniards were killed in San Diego in 1775 call one of them was a priest, instead of executing which is what the state wanted, there were nine Indians rounded up for execution. Serra said to release them all. I want them all pardoned. Because the sole justification of our being here, is the salvation of their souls. Not goals, not land even, used to say that the Indians were living in their country. He conceded and believed that it was their country. And that to some extent the Spaniards were coming as guests and visitors. And that of course did not happen. So you might call Serra naïve, you cannot call him a monster. One ask you both, because I know that neither of you have the answer. What is your feeling on what the Vatican had a significant understanding about the controversy the still surround him before the announced his canonization? I think he might have picked him because he was controversial. He does not pick someone who was purely white, he pick someone who lived in a complicated world trying to do good in a morally gray atmosphere. Isn't that what we do every day. He also picked someone who went to the peripherals, Serra was an immigrant just like Pope Francis, he spoke truth to power, this is what Pope Francis does, told them to clean up his act, fixture books, speaking to those who deny global warning -- warming, speaking out about abortion, he is willing to speak truth to power. I think Serra did the same thing over and over. Let's remember, they yes there was a terrible decline of Indian population during that time. Mostly due to disease. But, today there is 600,000 Native Americans in California. Who self identify on a census. That is almost 3 times the amount that were there on contact. And there are hundred and nine federally recognized tribes. The culture is alive and made a tremendous a miraculous comeback. Do you think the Vatican had a sufficient understanding of this controversy surrounding Junipero Serra before it announced his canonization. I do think they had to be aware that there has been this conversation. I think they had been talking about the sainthood of him since the 1980s. I also think that there are so many things that we learn about history that we take for granted that we haven't been taught to interrogate and understand. That we have these ideas that we learned from the time that we are very young, that we repeat as if they were true. And we do not critically think about them. I think when you're talking about the Pope Connie started as questions about what about the idea the Indians died of disease, their offense been several scholars the talk about how it is not a simple case of how we did not have the right kind of antibodies to get rid of disease, what you're talking about is a complete destruction of the culture and society. You cannot respond to get better from a disease if you're also in these really awful situations. So it is not the disease that kills you, is a colonization. I think he did pick somebody who met the qualifications for making someone pay attention. And saying I'm going to be interested in this conversation. But picking him, and saying I'm not supporting colonization, and the continued idea that Indian people should not be respected in terms of their position in history. That is a very important message to come from the church that we haven't come so far. We are still thinking that we can only tell history from one perspective. For the perspective the California Indians are offering is not as important as the documentation for the Padres are making in the missions. I have to edit there, I have to thank my guests. She is author of journey to the sun, and Cutcha Risling Baldy is assistant professor of American Indian studies at the University. Thank you very much.
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."
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.