On March 7, 2015, the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians attended the conference with Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark of the Los Angeles Archdiocese concerning the sainthood of Junipero Serra by Pope Francis.
The conference was an educational dialogue between the Catholic Church and the native communities impacted by the mission system. There was one representative of four tribal communities, Acjachemen, Chumash, Tataviam, and Tongva, which were allowed first to give their statements regarding Serra’s sainthood.
Prior to the meeting, the Tataviam Tribe consulted with their people and historians to provide an informed position on this matter. The Tataviam Tribe’s Vice President Rudy Ortega Jr. provided the following statement:
“Serra was an evangelist who came to California. To our knowledge he did not physically rape or murderer any native as he thought he was doing God’s work. Serra’ administration on the other hand did in fact rape and beat to death many natives in California for not learning this foreign religion. Furthermore his administration would take those who were in leadership and/or refuse to convert by kidnapping their woman and killing their children or husbands. Therefore Serra is still accountable for what his administration actions did to our ancestors.
…Serra came to this land where the indigenous people had their religion and traditions and forcefully imposed his religion of Catholicism and European lifestyle. Many lives were lost by the sheer disease bought by Spanish change of lifestyle, and by the brut nature of converting native peoples’ religion. We know this is true because we have records and songs that were recorded in 1920s and 1930s that speak about the whippings. The priests and soldiers would whip our ancestors if they did not learn their bible.
My father told me that his father and grandfather both said, ‘We keep our ways at home and give the outside world what they want, to survive.’ Our people went to the Catholic Church only for baptism, marriage and funeral. Prior to the Catholic arrival our ancestors were very much religious and loved God.
Today, especially here in the U.S., we have some freedom of religion, our own free will to choose where we wish to worship God and how. Many others and I would have loved to have this dialogue prior the decision. The Pope should have never made Serra a saint out of respect for the native people and especially for those who are in your Church.”
Unfortunately there is no recourse to the canonization, which in effect has already taken place. According to Bishop Clark “the canonization of Serra in September is simply a liturgical ceremony for what has already taken place. The canonization was finalized when the Holy Father (the Pope) signed the documents and announced the canonization. The Holy Father has already declared Serra a saint and that is not reversible.
Locally, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the other southern dioceses in California have agreed not to hold any diocesan celebrations of Serra’s canonization, although local parishes and missions are not restricted from doing so. By contrast, in Mexico large ceremonies are being planned since there both the general population and the native tribes have positively received the announcement of the canonization.”
The bishop also expressed his understanding of the hurt and distress experienced by so many Native Americans at the announcement of Serra’s canonization, and he expressed his personal support that their concerns be recognized. This is an opportunity, he said, for the real history of the missions to be made broadly known.
The Tataviam Tribe acknowledges the respect shown by the Los Angeles Archdiocese and hopes the relationship between the Tribe and our San Fernando Mission improves in the future. However, the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians staunchly opposes the canonization of Junipero Serra by the Catholic Church’s Pope.