2014-01-30 / Letters

History lesson not very accurate

It’s incredible that the Rev. Joe Scerbo maintains that Friar Junipero Serra treated California’s Indians with kindness (The Acorn, Jan. 2). The priest, as a former dean of graduate studies at Trinity College in Connecticut, should know better.

According to Scerbo, Serra, “was led by the spirit of Jesus.” I cannot believe that Jesus would have condoned such atrocities as: imprisoning natives and their children to a life of forced labor; slaughtering women and children who refused to join a mission; forbidding natives to practice tribal traditions or speak their indigenous language; beating, whipping and shackling the natives for minor infractions; locking women and children overnight in large rooms that were little more than fermenting cauldrons of disease.

Had Scerbo studied “The Writings of Junipero Serra,” published by his own Franciscan order, he would’ve found, as did Elias Castillo, author of a manuscript on the enslavement of California’s natives, that Serra had established a policy of severely punishing and flogging the mission Indians.

“Though the Catholic converts,” Scerbo states, “could be whipped for disobedience or for trying to escape the missions, reports that Serra beat Native Americans are not true.”

While Serra may have never whipped the Indians himself—he was 55 years old when he entered California—his letters prove he ordered them flogged. On July 23, 1775, Serra asked California governor Fernando Rivera Y Moncada to punish a group of Indians that had run away and were recaptured by administering “two or three whippings . . . (that) may serve, for them and for the rest, for a warning, and may be of spiritual benefit to all: and this last is the prime motive of our work. If Your Lordship does not have shackles . . . they may be sent from here.”

During the mission period of just over 60 years, historians estimate approximately 40 percent of California’s natives died. While many of those deaths resulted from epidemics of European disease, others died from intestinal and pulmonary illnesses and were weakened by malnutrition and depression.

Scerbo’s mischaracterizations of the pain and suffering inflicted by Serra upon California natives are historically inaccurate. Further, it twists a knife into an old wound, causing more pain amongst natives whose ancestors were brutalized and killed by the mission system.

Valentin Lopez

Gault, Calif.

Lopez is chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Costanoan/ Ohlone Indians.

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