Suzan Shown Harjo receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in November 2014.

Suzan Shown Harjo to Pope Francis: Don’t Canonize Junípero Serra

Suzan Shown Harjo

The following is a statement directed to Pope Francis by Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee), president of the Native American advocacy organization the Morning Star Institute, about the impending canonization of Junípero Serra, scheduled for Wednesday September 23, 2015, during the pontiff’s visit to Washington D.C.

The Morning Star Institute is proud to join the Native Nations, as well as the many Christian churches and religious organizations, which are calling on His Holiness Pope Francis of the Catholic Church to rescind the anti-Indian Papal Bulls and Doctrine of Discovery, and to reverse the canonization of Father Junípero Serra

These Papal Bulls and the Doctrine of Discovery have sanctioned land thefts and dehumanization of Native Peoples from the 15th Century to the present time. Father Serra embodied the Catholic Church’s institutional disrespect for Native Peoples’ religions, sovereignty, families, languages, laws, treaties, boundaries, ways and lives, and should not be elevated to sainthood for his actions.

The “pagan,” “heathen” and “savage” epithets of Doctrine of Discovery and the Papal Bulls made their way into the American lexicon about Native Peoples in history, education, literature and journalism, and were included in the Declaration of Independence, in the federal “Civilization Regulations” that subjugated Native Peoples for more than a half-century from the 1880s to the 1930s, and in recent Supreme Court decisions upholding misappropriations of land, gold and other Native property by non-Native persons, corporations and governments.

Father Serra carried out injustices and atrocities against Native Peoples in California, but all Native Peoples feel his cruelties, just as Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer did not murder and maim people of every Native Nation, but all Native Peoples recognize his war crimes. Their brutalities are so symbolic as to be substantive.

Father Serra’s canonization is a symbol that reverberates through time as anti-Indian. Pope Francis recently asked Native Peoples in Bolivia for forgiveness, “not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for the crimes committed against the Native Peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” It is incomprehensible that the Pope could apologize for such crimes, yet confer sainthood on a leading perpetrator of those very crimes.

Likewise, it defies understanding that Pope Francis would apologize for past destruction of Native Peoples caused by the Catholic Church, yet leave in place the very documents that justify and make it possible for criminal assaults to continue against Native Peoples today.

We entreat Pope Francis to rescind the anti-Indian Papal Bulls and Doctrine of Discovery, and to reverse the canonization of Father Junipero Serra.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page