Burn Down the Mission!
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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