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Burn Down the Mission!

Corine Fairbanks
3/21/14

Many people outside of California are not aware that in the fourth grade, the curriculum includes studying the California Mission System. Little fourth-graders run to the nearest arts and crafts store (Michael’s sells them in particular), to buy a styrofoam mission kit, that the student puts together and presents to the class. The project is designed to teach about California history, quickly and inaccurately, educate about California Native Nations, and the relationship they had with the missions. However, according to Alvin M. Josephy in his book 500 Nations, the history of the California tribes "was as close to genocide as any tribal people had faced, or would face, on the North American continent."

In public schools, history books might skim over the fact that "Indians" were forced into labor. Rarely do they go into further detail as to how the Missions rivaled even the most horrific of concentration camps of fascist Germany. Professor of American Studies, David Stannard, states in his book American Holocaust that Franciscan missions in California were known to be like "furnaces of death." Had the Padres been able to build a gas chamber, who is to say if they wouldn’t have gassed Natives that refused to meet building quotas, and those who revolted against the Padres, the Spanish military and the Colonizers?

A Franciscan missionary named Father Junipero Serra led a Spanish army up from Mexico and reached present-day San Diego to build the first mission in 1769. It was Serra who built the first of 21 missions that eventually stretched from the southern tip of the Baja California to Sonoma, just north of San Francisco. Missions, often built near presidios (military outposts), helped the surrounding pueblos to steal and develop pristine land. Slave labor would then in turn exploit and export natural resources.

Spanish soldiers kidnapped Indians by the thousands. They were given Spanish names, dressed in blue uniforms, forced into slavery to build the missions and to work in the surrounding farms or pueblos, in which the church was generously compensated. They also were forced to care for livestock, tanned hides, and produced candles, bricks, tiles, shoes, saddles, soap and other necessities.

Many Native families have kept record of what life was like living in the missions by way of oral history. The missions imprisoned Natives in cramped quarters, with poor ventilation and bad sanitation, which encouraged the spread of disease. Native Peoples were fed "gruel" and not allowed to hunt fish or gather their traditional foods. The People were not allowed to speak their own language, sing, pray or practice ceremonies, nor were they able to keep their families intact. Children were separated from parents and housed in different quarters. It was common for women and children to be raped and kept as sex slaves. In her 2010 essay, “Rape is the Weapon, Story is the Cure,” Professor Deborah Miranda (Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation), argues “that California Indian women still have not healed from the tragedy of Missionization, colonization, and the violence it inflicted on our bodies."

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AIM SoCal's picture
Correction: In no way did I directly or indirectly want to encourage anyone to run out and burn down an actual mission. The editor for Indian Country Today decided to take an important portion of this essay that is where the name of this essay is rooted from. The missing piece to this essay is as follows: So if your fourth grader is instructed to build one of these styrofoam monstrosities, AIM Southern California offers a few suggestions to replace the current requirement: 1) Negotiate with teacher to have your child interview a California Native Tribal member- documenting oral history, past and present….(often these school lessons foster the myth that California Native people no longer exist. California Native people are hardly ever discussed in present tense, or if they are, the word “Casino” is often in the same sentence, and no, not all California Native Nations have casinos). 2) If Teacher is not willing to substitute lesson plan for above suggestion, and the student ABSOLUTELY has to build a styrofoam California "concentration camp," then construct one that exhibits slave labor practices, horrible living conditions, and tortured women and children. Use fake blood to sprinkle about to represent the massive blood shed that Mission system and Spanish military together perpetuated and finally, be sure to include the mass graves sites that dead Natives were carelessly chucked into by the Padres. 3) After completing the mission project, invite family and friends over, and under adult supervision, (with plenty of water on hand) take a match and torch it! Celebrate the completion of this horrific assignment that has probably triggered "post traumatic stress disorder" like symptoms for your entire family. Please take pictures of your burning down the mission or better yet, YouTube it, so that we can all enjoy the spectacle! Misssions and the California Mission system should not be regarded as a symbol of a golden era in California’s history. Missions should be regarded for what they were, as death camps- where people were enslaved, tortured and murdered. -Corine Fairbanks American Indian Movement Southern California
AIM SoCal
Randy Celaya's picture
Growing up my mother told me my dad was Part Indian, all she said was he was mission Indian. A few years back my half sister gave me a document from BIA where my dad sent in paperwork and he was approved of some money that was being awarded, that was back in 1972. I found out we are Coastanoan , but from my understanding that was a name given by the Spaniards , Not sure if I should say Coastanoan or Ohlone as I believe they refer to themselves now. Love reading your article and would love to read more as I am always looking to learn more of our people
Randy Celaya
builds-the-fire's picture
I thank God that He made me African-American. That is a statement I've made several times during reviews of African-American history. It's a statement that's usually greeted with silence from other African-Americans, but it's a statement that I will make until the day He calls me home. Why? Well, think about it. I come from a people who have made numerous discoveries post-slavery era, a people who the white ruling class tried to eradicate, but could not do so. A people who refused to accept their condition, and marched for full rights in the face of probable death. I am not 100% African-American. I also have the blood of Native Americans, and for many of the same reasons, I am proud to have that blood in me as well. African-Americans, I believe, have reached the point where "we don't care" what "they" think. I use a line from the Steven Spielberg movie about the Tuskegee Airmen (though this was a good movie, a better movie was made years earlier) because it really relays how "we" feel now. All "minorities" have to stop thinking about what "they" did and caring about how "they" think of us, and tell our stories loudly, and clearly, and move on to be the people that God made us to be for such a time as this. I love how ICTMN presents articles such as this to the people, and how they refer to the writers by giving information concerning their tribal heritage. It inspires me to keep learning about my native heritage, and looking for my "lost" Native American, and African American ancestors. One thing that I can say I love about both African-Americans and Native Americans: We kept good oral history, and I thank God He gave us the minds to be able to do so.
builds-the-fire
indianmedicine's picture
Ms. Fairbanks, well said and informative........................................................ ............................................................................................................................. I too was a Parent that was compelled to help a child build a "California Mission" for a K-4 Student in California History............................................................. ............................................................................................................................. Yes, ONLY a "Thumbnail" history was permitted on a 3 X 5 Card describing a "sanitized history" of Mission Indians. (By the way, the mission I helped make was the Santa Barbara Mission !)........................................................................... ............................................................................................................................ Much of my life, I was unaware of "Aboriginal Blood Line" until I sent in a DNA Sample to Arizona State University who has a "Pilot Program" of tracing Family Trees & created a DNA Bank.......................................................................... ............................................................................................................................. That was when I found out that I have Iroquois / Seneca Heritage from the North East and Canadian Areas................................................................................ ............................................................................................................................. Many claim to have "Native Blood Lines", based on "Oral History" as they know, but neglect their "Spiritual Linage" because they are not taught to realize this. ............................................................................................................................. I feel the "negative energy" in some of the "Comments", for the "hurt" that other people have imposed on them - Medicine People - know that "All things Are Energy" - and humans magnetize many things on their current "Life Walk" but are not exposed to NAI Spirituality to know this as Euro-American Religion does not teach this in their Theology............................................................................... ............................................................................................................................ Also, the California Tribes are truly "Ignored" in School Texts; and some verse is included to placate and excuse the non-inclusion of "California Aboriginal First Peoples" as it truly was............................................................................ ............................................................................................................................. So, how is that corrected ? Do you take the existing foundation and build upon it; or do you eradicate that foundation and Start Over ?........................................ ............................................................................................................................. I would suggest that you take the existing foundation and build up the Curriculum & include known "California Tribes & Nations" in your History - and expand the "Book Learning" with verifiable Native American Anthropology with references from The National Museum's in Washington D.C. who have done an excellent job on American Indian Documentations - which includes the "Mission Indians of California" and include some of those Works in the Curriculum. ........................................................................................................................... ........................................................................................................................... We should direct efforts away from the "Emotional Arguments & Bitterness" of the treatment by Non-Indians; and with Quiet Certainty & Confidence; re-model the "Teachings" currently used in the School System's...................................... ........................................................................................................................... I would also encourage "Living History" presentations, where current practitioners similar to "Mountain Man Rendezvous" and "Pow Wow" Presenters bring those History Periods to life and present them to the Students............................ ........................................................................................................................... The "Tribes & Nations" can reach out to the Students and have a positive impact on learning and content presented................................................................. ............................................................................................................................ The sophistication of "The Message" should be examined for clarity and meaningful,truthful, and applicable to the Subject......................................... ............................................................................................................................ Another point - if current "Hispanics" would examine their DNA, they will find out that they are more "Indian" then "Spaniard" and there is a wealth of knowledge in Aboriginal Peoples they were never taught................................................... ............................................................................................................................ -De Oppresso Liber- Indian Medicine ............................................................................................................................ Thank you Ms. Fairbanks for surfacing this Wrong....................................... ............................................................................................................................
indianmedicine