Letter to Gov. Jerry Brown August, 2015
August 31, 2015
Office of Governor
Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
c/o State Capitol. Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: Open Letter Regarding the Canonization and symbolism of Junipero Serra
YOU MAY SIGN A PETITION ON THIS REQUEST TO GOV, JERRY BROWN AT CHANGE.ORG
Dear Governor Brown,
My name is Valentin Lopez and I am the Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Our Tribe is comprised of the documented descendants of the indigenous peoples taken to Missions San Juan Bautista and Santa Cruz. We are currently writing as a follow-up to our letter dated July 21, 2015 in which we set forth the reasons for our opposing the canonization of Junipero Serra and asked that you, as Governor, do likewise. Our July 21st letter requested a meeting with you to discuss the many long-standing issues related to justice, dignity, and truth for California Indians. To date, we have received no response. This letter is available at
On June 22, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina called on the State Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds, recognizing that the flag represented “a brutally oppressive state.” The State of California likewise needs to recognize that the mission system that Junipero Serra established in California was oppressive and brutal for the Indians who were involuntarily confined in these compounds.
Although natives at California missions were not bought and sold, they were nevertheless denied their freedom as well as whipped and tortured if they did not obey Spanish orders, tried to escape or were caught by soldiers and returned to captivity. Because natives were denied independence yet were not valued as chattel, they were underfed and overworked, dying in unprecedented numbers. They were housed in sex-segregated dormitories in which disease spread rapidly; women and children were sexually victimized by the very soldiers who were supposed to guard them. An estimated 100,000 -150,000 California Indians died during the mission period because of these conditions. Serra himself did not bemoan the great loss of life at the missions. Instead, he proudly pointed to the deaths as the “harvest of souls” that his religious enslavement reaped.
Serra’s methods to convert Indians to Christianity in California differed markedly from those employed by Protestant missionaries in the original thirteen colonies as well as from those used by other Catholic missionaries in the Southwest during the same period. Serra’s especially coercive and cruel methods in California are not a sound basis for sainthood. Nor are his methods worthy of secular state pride.
As Governor, you represent all of the people in California, native and non-native. Canonizing Junipero Serra effectively condones and celebrates his use of imprisonment and torture to convert California Indians to Christianity and appropriate native land without Indian consent or compensation. Canonization inflicts fresh pain upon those who are still suffering from historic trauma. State support of Serra’s canonization perpetuates the factual distortion of California history and sends the message that native lives don’t matter.
I urge you as Governor to acknowledge the dark history of Serra’s missions and oppose the canonization of Junipero Serra. I also urge you to encourage the Legislature to take meaningful action to include accurate accounts of what Indians endured at the missions in school curriculae and state literature.
We hope that you, Governor Brown, and all California State legislators will recognize the importance of acknowledging and teaching the truth regarding California Indians. I encourage you to work with the State’s natives so that both they and California can heal. We urge you not to support the canonization of a man who imprisoned and tortured California Indians and who appropriated their land with impunity.
Finally, we once again request ameeting with you to discuss this letter and to find ways to teach and tell the truth so that our people and the State of California can heal
Valentin Lopez, Chairman
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band
916 743 5833
Dr. Christine Grabowski, anthropologist, assisted in the writing of this letter.