In a 28-2 vote held this past Monday, the California State Senate sent a bill to the desk of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom aimed to replace a toppled statue of the first saint to be canonized on U.S. soil that had once stood outside the state capitol building with a monument to Native Americans.
As reported by the Sacramento Bee, Assembly Bill 338 (AB 338) “removes the statutory requirement for the Capitol to maintain a statue of Father Junipero Serra, and replaces it with a mandate to install a work of art that commemorates the indigenous people on whose land California sits.”
This comes after the state Assembly pushed through the measure back in May with a 66-2 vote.
Serra is known for being the founder of the California mission system back in the late 18th century. Some historians believe that 21 missions along the coast of the state were set up in an effort to convert indigenous people to Catholicism, expand the territory of Europe, and try and colonize the new land.
However, critics of Serra state that the missions were just a form of institutional racial oppression that only sought to wipe out customs and culture. They state that natives were forced to work as labor for the missions, which in turn propped up a new system of white supremacy that only sought to keep them oppressed.
Back on the 4th of July of 2020, a group of over 200 protesters celebrated their independence day by tearing down the statue of Serra that was in Capitol Park, where it has been situated since back in 1967. The video taken shows the vandals using fire to scorch the statue before taking a series of straps and pulling it down from its podium. Groups of protesters who were advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd joined forces with another group that was demanding the tearing down of a nearby statue of Christopher Columbus.
James Ramos, a Democratic Assemblyman from Highland, stated that he authored the bill to “begin the fuller and more honest assessment of what the Mission period meant to California’s Native Americans.” He is the first California Native American to be elected into a seat in the Legislature. The co-sponsors for the bill include six Indian tribes throughout the Sacramento region: Wilton Rancheria; Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians; Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Ione Band of Miwok Indians; Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians.
“We do not condone the vandalism that resulted in the toppling of the Serra statue last summer, but it did provide an opportunity for us to explore why this figure from California’s founding has become a symbol of the enslavement and genocide for Native Americans,” stated Ramos in the wake of the bill’s passing. “He is undoubtedly seen as the creator and director of a system that held Indians in servitude to force conversions and build the missions, and that led to starvation and disease.”