As It Happens

Native Californians oppose sainthood for missionary who 'destroyed our people'

On his first visit to the U.S., Pope Francis is canonizing the Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra. But some Native Californians say he was responsible for brutally mistreating their people at missions he oversaw in the late 18th century.
Louise Miranda Ramirez is a Native Californian who objects to Serra being named a saint. (Louise Miranda Ramirez/CP)

To many Catholics he was already a saint. And today, in Washington D.C., his sainthood will be made official -- when Pope Francis canonizes the Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. 

But to some native people in California, Serra is far from a beloved figure. They say he's responsible for the brutal mistreatment of indigenous people who lived at the missions he established in the late 18th and early-19th centuries.

Louise Miranda Ramirez is the tribal chairwoman of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation. She tells As It Happens host Carol Off, "Today we will be with our ancestors at the Carmel cemetery," she says. "Blessing them and acknowledging we know what pain they went through. We will never forget them."

Ramirez and others held a vigil at the Carmel Mission, which was founded by Serra.

According to Serra's own handwritten notes, cited by historian Elias Castillo, he referred to the indigenous population as "barbarous pagans." Ramirez says church documents show he sent indigenous people who lived at the mission to be whipped and flogged.

Serra's defenders have praised him for moderating the colonizing Spanish conquistadors, and Francis has said that Serra "defended the indigenous people against abuses by the colonizers." The Pope has also referred to Serra's "holiness" and "zeal."

According to the Vatican, Serra was "a Saintly example of the church's universality and a special patron of the Hispanic people of the United States."

While he was in Bolivia earlier this summer, Francis apologized for the crimes committed against indigenous peoples. But that apology doesn't hold water for Louise Miranda Ramirez.

"If you mean it, you come and talk to us. You don't turn around and canonize a person who destroyed our people."