St. Serra the Monster

Last week, Pope Francis declared 18th century California missionary Junipero Serra a saint in a move that some news outlets called ‘controversial’. On Monday, a stone idol of St. Serra, also in California, was toppled and other Catholic monuments defaced with paint.

This reaction is not a big surprise for many because indigenous peoples see Serra not so much a saint, but rather as a genocidal maniac and monster. Just 200 years ago, this missionary was responsible for torture, loss of languages, imprisonment, and the deaths of thousands of indigenous peoples of California. One report stated that the Catholic church was responsible for the deaths of 600-750 thousand indigenous people in California alone.

During his campaign, Serra called indigenous peoples “barbarous pagans” in accord with Catholic doctrine.

Although Pope Francis has feigned remorse and regret over these historical crimes, Vatican sympathizers are defending Serra by saying he was “a man of his times” thereby justifying colonization as an inevitable part of American history.

“He is as responsible for what happened to American Indians as Hitler was responsible for what happened to the Jews,” Jeannette Costo told The Chicago Tribune in 1988 when the Vatican previously attempted to canonize Serra and failed due to protests and public backlash.

Imagine if today’s news outlets called Hitler “controversial” or “upsetting to some” — the double standards are real.

And this is just the beginning of a much wider story. On Friday, Pope Francis was on the East Coast taking part in a memorial ceremony for 9/11 in Lower Manhattan. It was a multi-religious event and a contingent of Haudenosaunee representatives were invited to attend.

Let’s just think about this for a second — press pause. Way back in 1493 the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” was issued by Pope Alexander VI which basically says that indigenous peoples do not have souls and therefore cannot own any lands. This papal “law” was upheld in 1823 by the American Supreme Court in the Johnson v. McIntosh case which was presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall.

Although Pope Francis has been viewed as a “progressive” he has not yet repudiated, denounced or abrogated the Doctrine of Discovery. How could he? If he did it would mean that the great majority of North American lands would lawfully return to the title holders, the true owners – the indigenous people. The powers that be would arrange a grassy knoll scenario and his Pope-mobile wouldn’t be able to save him.

So on Friday, September 25th a group of Haudenosaunee — including Tadadaho Sid Hill and Oren Lyons — arrived to the “Prayers for Peace” event in New York to meet the “Cool Pope” and were immediately treated like “barbarous pagans” once again. History has repeated itself.

Instead of sitting on stage with the other leaders including, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh, they had to sit in the back behind the audience and officials even confiscated Tadadaho’s traditional headdress, his Gustowah, during the ceremonies. Our Chief was basically dehorned by the Vatican.

Yes, that happened right here in our homelands, right in our own house and in front of the world.

Instead of being shocked by this we should acknowledge that it is only fitting. It is par for the course to be victimized and humiliated by the church hierarchy and it should be time that indigenous people everywhere recognize the Vatican for what is truly is – the enemy.

Why would the Haudenosaunee even agree to attend the ceremony after the canonization and exultation of Junipero Serra the murderer? Shouldn’t they have stood in solidarity with our West coast cousins and released a condemnation of the Vatican church and an official protest of the Sainthood of Serra by refusal to attend?

But no, instead they were dazzled by the branding of the event “Prayers for Peace” and subjected themselves to third-class treatment in an amazing display of embarrassment and tokenization. Next time they should send in their War Chiefs and some black wampum.

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