Junipero Serra Statue in Mission Hills Needs to Come Down, Say Native Americans

Photo/Caroline Ward-Holland

Red paint could be seen on the lips and feet of the Junipero Serra Statue at Brand Park in Mission Hills on Tuesday, June 23, and by later in the evening a red mask covered its face.

“Red is truth,” said Caroline Ward-Holland, a member of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, the first people who inhabited the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys before Spaniards came to this area.

She has vowed to bring down the statue located at the city park, directly across the street from Mission San Fernando Rey de España.

“It needs to come down,” said Ward-Holland, who was present Saturday, June 21, when protesters toppled a statue of Junipero Serra from its perch in the Placita Olvera downtown. A Serra statue was also brought down in San Francisco.

However, while she supports the toppling of the statue in downtown, which she said gave her a feeling of “freedom,” she doesn’t condone the actions entirely. She still would like to have a process for the proper removal of the effigy in Mission Hills that shows Father Serra next to a Native American boy.

“We want to start the process of returning these lands to us,” said Ward-Holland referring to the Mission and her tribe.

She said they would ask the Los Angeles Archdiocese for an answer to their request by Sept. 23 — the day in 2015 when Pope Francis canonized Serra — and if there’s no response, “we’ll take action, whatever’s necessary after that.”

March

In the meantime, a march is planned for Saturday, June 27, from Rudy Ortega Park in San Fernando to the Serra statue in Mission Hills, starting at 11 a.m.

Tataviam tribal President Rudy Ortega, Jr. said the march is not being sanctioned by the tribe itself, but added he understood the demonstration would be open to everyone.

Ortega also stressed there should be no attempt to tear down the Serra statue “in the same brutal way” the one in Placita Olvera was removed.

“We all agree the statue in the Valley should come down, but it should come down in the correct way — with education,” Ortega said. “There is no ‘education’ if you just brutally yank it down.”

Ortega, who is part of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, added he is working with LA City officials on a plan for the permanent removal of the statue.

Ernesto Ayala of La Raza Unida, one of the organizers of this march that replicates a similar action taken in 2018, said, “as Chicanos, we view the Tataviam fight as part of our own history, US colonization.”

“We kicked out Spain and 20 years later the US came in. It’s our duty to fight and bring down these symbols of genocide, oppression,” Ayala continued.

Controversial Figure

Despite efforts to stop it, Serra was made a saint by the Catholic Church in 2015. Since then, protests have continued and statues of him, including the one at Brand Park, have been vandalized.

Native American Indians say Serra was nothing more than “a criminal” who represents murder, rape and the theft of their culture, identity and lands.

In 1770 Serra — who founded the initial nine of California’s 21 missions prior to his death — moved to the area that is now Monterey (in Northern California) and founded Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo. He remained there as “Father Presidente” of the Alta California Missions. He also founded missions in San Diego, San Gabriel, San Luis Obispo, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Ventura.

Between 1769 and 1835, missionaries led by Serra are said to have baptized nearly 90,000 indigenous people in California. Once they were converted, native people weren’t allowed to leave their assigned missions; escapees who were recaptured by soldiers were often flogged and imprisoned.

Mission officials also banned their traditions and customs, as well as their language, food and dress.

Native Americans assert that Serra enslaved their ancestors, spread disease, and murdered countless individuals in order to forcibly impose Catholicism on the population.

Cities/Missions Remove Statues

The current national movement to remove statues of figures who held slaves has zeroed in on Serra in California.

Noticing the tide, the San Luis Obispo Mission decided to remove the statue of Serra themselves on Monday, June 22.

The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea brought down a Serra statue on Tuesday, June 23.

The California Catholic Conference — in a statement — said, “During the past week the specific question of removing statues of political, military and cultural leaders of the past has gained momentum. If this process is to be truly effective as a remedy for racism, it must discern carefully the entire contribution that the historical figure in question made to American life, especially in advancing the rights of marginalized peoples.”

But conference officials said the toppling of Serra statues in Los Angeles and San Francisco “failed this test.”

The Conference also defended Serra.

“The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities.  Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era.

“And if that is not enough to legitimize a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”

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