Native American groups have long argued that Junipero Serra — an 18th-century California missionary — was a white supremacist and a colonizer.
As the nation reckons with symbols of America’s white supremacist history, some Native American protesters in California have renewed calls for the state to reevaluate the legacy of a Spanish colonizer-turned-saint ― Junipero Serra.
Protesters toppled two statues of the 18th-century Roman Catholic missionary last weekend ― one in San Francisco and another in Los Angeles. A third city, Ventura, agreed to demote a statue of Serra from its place outside City Hall to a nonpublic location.
San Diego students have launched a campaign to rename Junipero Serra High School and change the public school’s mascot, a conquistador.
Catholic dioceses have taken a more protective stance towards Serra monuments ― removing his statues in an effort to shield them from vandalism.
The Catholic Church has long defended Serra as a kind-hearted missionary who pressed Spanish authorities to be benevolent conquerors. But Native American groups have called Serra’s legacy into question for years, pointing out that he was the architect of a system that brutalized Indigenous peoples and their cultures.
Now, the removal of Confederate symbols across the South has reenergized calls for California to stop putting Serra on a pedestal. This is happening because protesters are finding connections between the violence that Black and Native American experienced in the U.S., according to Olivia Chilcote, a scholar of American Indian studies at San Diego State University and a member of the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.
“The U.S. is a settler colonial nation-state that was built by killing Native peoples and taking their land while also relying on enslaved Africans as forced labor,” Chilcote said. “These two aspects of settler colonialism in the U.S. uniquely tie the Native American and Black communities together.”