Pope Francis' decision to canonize the 18th century Spanish missionary Junípero Serra has drawn a strong protest from many indigenous groups. Serra founded nine of the 21 missions in California that later were the basis of what is now the modern state. Hundreds of thousands of people died after the missionaries arrived. According to historian Alvin Josephy, what happened in California "was as close to genocide as any tribal people had faced, or would face, on the North American continent." We speak to Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. He's been leading efforts to oppose Pope Francis' decision to canonize Father Junípero Serra.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Valentin Lopez, I wanted to ask you about this—the founder of the California missions and the controversial role he is seen as having played throughout history, yet the pope is talking now about the possibility of canonization for him.
VALENTIN LOPEZ: Yes, he will be canonizing Junípero Serra in the—today, I believe, later today, here—in Washington. Junípero Serra was brutal for the California Indians. He was the first padre presidente. As a result of that, it was his responsibility to develop the systems and the regulations and the policies for capturing and caring for the—well, I say "caring for"—and holding the Indians. They would go out with soldiers and forcefully capture the Indians and march them to the mission. Once they got to the mission, they could not leave. They were a labor force for the missions. They were a slave labor force for the missions. If they ran away, they would send out the soldiers to capture them and bring them back, and they would be whipped repeatedly, sometimes for up to a month.
During the mission time—also, the other things that the missions are, that they separated families, mothers from fathers, from children. Part of the reason for that is so that the parents couldn't pass on the culture to the children, and so it was an actual—a culturecide of the indigenous people there. The missions would use shackles, and they used stocks on the Indians. The women that were—when they separated the families, the women were repeatedly raped by the soldiers. There was no other women in California at that time. And so, the men would go into the women's dormitory or barrack at nighttime and just repeatedly rape them. Those dormitories were locked, but the soldiers would just go on in and repeatedly rape them.
The conditions of the missions were horrible. They would just put a pot in the corner for the—to use as a bathroom, and that was all, and they were not showering and stuff like that, so they talked about the smell in there just being horrible. Whenever disease would come, it would just go through like a wildfire. It wasn't unusual to have 10—I mean, 1,200 Indians dying at one time. In Mission San Juan Bautista, during that period of time, there were over 19,000—during a 36-year period of time—26, rather, year period of time, 19,421 Indians died. At the beginning of the mission period, there were 30,000 Ohlone Indians. That's Monterey to San Francisco. At the end of the mission period, there were less than 100. In total, over 150,000 California Indians died under this system that Junípero Serra developed.