Pope Francis fails to address mistreatment of tribes in California

Pope Francis arrives at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015. Photo from CUA

Pope Francis didn't shy away from controversial issues during his first full day in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday but he ignored a key one as he bestowed sainthood upon the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California.

Tribal members were usually forced to move to the missions, where many served as indentured servants in an attempt to convert them into Christians. Chairman Valentin Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Band estimates that 100,000 to 150,000 Indians died during the mission era of the 1700s and 1800s.

"At the beginning of the mission period, there were 30,000 Ohlone Indians," Lopez said on Democracy Now yesterday. "At the end of the mission period, there were less than 100."

But the leader of the Catholic Church didn't talk about the history of mistreatment at the 21 missions throughout the state. Instead Pope Francis described Junipero Serra as a protector of Indian people.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Vincent Medina at Canonization Mass

"Junípero ‎sought to defend the dignity ‎of the Native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated ‎and abused it.," the pope said during his homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Francis did cite "mistreatment and ‎wrongs" suffered by tribal people in California. But his remarks were clearly aimed at other parties and not at Serra, who established the first nine missions.

Another speaker at the ceremony mentioned the negative impacts of colonization after listing some of the tribes that were affected by the missions, including the Kumeyaay, Ohlone, Salinan, Tongva, Acjachemen and the Chumash. But Father Ken Laverone of Sacramento did not link Serra to the gradual loss of tribal lands, language and culture in California.

"Thousands of indigenous people were confirmed and baptized during Serra's tenure although many perished as a result of the Spanish incursion in the area," Laverone said in Spanish.

Andrew Galvan, left, with Jacque Nunez and Vincent Medina. Photo by Jacque Nunez / Facebook

The avoidance of the issue stood in contrast to a general apology that Pope Francis gave during a speech in Bolivia in July. He sought forgiveness "for crimes committed against the Native peoples during the so-called conquest of America."

And the pope took on some controversial topics -- including climate change, immigration and poverty -- during a speech on the South Lawn of the White House and in remarks to hundreds of Catholic Bishops earlier on Wednesday.

The canonization mass itself, though, did present a unique opportunity for Vincent Medina, a member of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. He read a scripture in Chochenyo, a language that hasn't been widely used since the 1930s, a loss that Medina in part attributed to the mistreatment of his ancestors in the missions.

Andrew Galvan, who is Medina's cousin and the curator of Dolores Mission in San Francisco, also participated in the ceremony. Wearing traditional Ohlone clothes, he carried a cross that contained some of Serra's remains to the altar.

A sign displayed during the Walk for the Ancestors in California. Photo from Facebook

Back in California, tribal members across the state observed a Day of Mourning to call attention to the mistreatment of their people. Gatherings were held at a number of missions as the Walk for the Ancestors continued. Caroline Ward-Holland and her son, Kagen Holland, who are members of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, are walking 650 miles to all 21 missions this month and in October.

Pope Francis is wrapping up the D.C. portion of his trip with an address to a joint session of Congress this morning. He will depart for New York City in the afternoon and spend two days there.

Finally, he will be in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday and Sunday for the final leg of his first-ever visit to the United States.

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