Letter to the Pope from Donna Schindler, April 24, 2014
April 25, 2014
Your Holiness, Pope Francis
It was with great pleasure that we received your letter of Oct 19, 2013. As a sign of our gratitude, we are sending you a t-shirt of the Amah Mutsen tribe and a necklace of abalone in a traditional Mutsen design, which Val Lopez has made for you. We hope you enjoy these gifts.
As you may recall, last September we sent you a packet entitled ‘The California Mission Indians: Two Hundred Years of Suffering.’ The packet included two videos, one called ‘Hozhonahaslii: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound’ which was about historical trauma in indigenous people, specifically Native Americans (Indians). It explains how the effects of trauma gets passed down from generation to generation, unless healing in the form of talking about the truth of what happened (oppression, forced assimilation into the dominant culture), offering apologies and reparation takes place. The other video, “The Value of a Few Words” was about the California Mission Indians and how the missions have had a very lasting, deleterious impact on Native Americans whose tribes were subjected to extreme brutality in the 21 California missions. Also in the packet were letters by Bishop Quinn, emeritus bishop from California, Mr. Valentin Lopez, Chairperson of the Amah Mutsen tribe, and myself, Donna Schindler M.D, a psychiatrist who specializes in the healing of historical trauma in Native Americans.
Since we last wrote to you, we have encountered a reluctance or inability on the part of the California bishops to move forward in the process of healing ‘the soul wound’ of both the California Mission Indians and the Catholic church. (‘Soul wound’ is the term Native American elders use for historical trauma, and many people believe it affects not only the oppressed, but also the oppressor.) We were not invited to attend the California Bishop’s Meeting in April which would have given us the opportunity to do a presentation that would help the bishops understand the urgency of our request to get more accurate information into the missions reflecting the true history of what happened in them in the late 1700’s-early 1800’s. None of the bishops with whom we have met have been able to follow through in regards the healing process with the exception of emeritus Bishop Quinn and Bishop Garcia. Bishop Garcia has agreed to allow the Amah Mutsen tribe erect a monument next to Mission San Juan Bautista that will help visitors to the mission have a better understanding of the impact of the missions on the tribe. However, Bishop Garcia has made it clear that the funds for this expensive project will not come from the Catholic church. That is, the Amah Mutsen tribe, which is quite a poor tribe, has to pay for the monument itself. This seems a bit ironic given that it was the mission/Catholic priests that caused so much pain and suffering for this tribe. Over nineteen thousand Native Americans died in this mission alone in thirty years at the hands of the Franciscan padres. There are 21 such missions in California.
Wouldn’t the Church profit spiritually, as well as greatly improve it’s public image, by paying for this monument, along with plaques in each mission stating that the Catholic church accepts responsibility for what happened to the Indians in the California missions and is sorry for the lasting effects (historical trauma) suffered by these Indian tribes? Without a concrete sign from the Church, I believe that the suffering of these Indian people as a result of the missions will continue. This suffering comes in the form of teenagers committing suicide, tribal members of all ages self-medicating their deep depression and despair with drugs and alcohol, and domestic violence, which is treating your family the way you have been treated.
Possibly the good news is that a scholarly and irrefutable piece that documents the disdain of the Franciscan priests who ran the missions in California towards the Natives they held captive in the missions will be published next year. We will send you a copy of this book as soon as it is released, but suffice it to say, it clearly points to Indians in iron shackles for no reason, whippings, humiliation, and suffering that would be unbelievable if there were not direct quotes from the Franciscans themselves, including Father Junipero Serra advocating treating the Mission Indians with “blows”. The Franciscans carefully documented the torture they inflicted upon the Indians. The padres considered the whippings and beatings necessary to save the souls of the Indians. Interestingly enough, the Indians were never taught Spanish so they had no idea what Mass was about, nor any of the basic Catholic beliefs, as the forthcoming book will describe.
Any support you might want to give us would be very helpful. Perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Committee could be set up as was done by President Nelson Mandela in South Africa and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil in the past. A letter blessing our work would be greatly appreciated. Allocating funds from the Vatican to cover the expense of the monument at Mission San Juan Bautista and plaques for all 21 of the California missions would be a true act of integrity on the part of the Church. Most people I know have told me that the Vatican would never fund the monument or plaques. I believe differently. It is the perfect time for this to happen, as you are leading the Church to correct other serious wrongdoings. Funding the monument at Mission San Juan Bautista, and 21 plaques, one for each mission, would be a sign of healing between the Catholic Church and the Mission Indians of California that will last for hundreds of years, thus healing generations to come. There is an old Native American saying—“What you do will effect seven generations in the future and in the past.” That is certainly true in this case.
As a practicing Catholic, I have a deep conviction that God is with me as I do my work with Native Americans and as I write this letter. We are prepared to work until we die on getting the truth into the missions. Without the truth being told, the stories shared, healing will not occur
With great respect, admiration and hope,
Donna Schindler MD