At a meeting today with Bishop Francis Quinn, age 95, and Valentin Lopez, Chairperson of the Amah Mutsun tribe, we discussed how to get the Catholic church to recognize the need to heal in regards to the missions in California where Native people were held captive. Val and I recalled talking to Bishops Wilkerson and Clark and Fr. Ken Lavaronne in 2014 in an effort to get invited to the annual Catholic Bishop’s Conference. We had wanted to speak to the Bishops about what really had happened in the California missions and the need to speak the truth about that and begin the healing process for both the church and the descendents of the ‘mission Indians’. We were never invited to the meeting, however, Andy Galvan, curator at Mission Delores in San Francisco was invited to attend. He was self-proclaimed as the only California Native in favor of sainting Junipero Serra.
Val also recalled writing to Governor Jerry Brown and asking him to oppose the canonization of Serra. In his letter, Val said that it was important for his tribe to exist and stand for the truth ‘until the last sunrise.’ Governor Brown later said in a public address that he would support the canonization of Junipero Serra ‘until the last sunrise.’ Val wrote to Gov. Brown that California also needed to heal and that ‘we’d like to work together to heal’–no response from Gov. Brown.
It’s really puzzling why the Catholic church and Governor Brown and others are unable to admit that what happened to the Native Americans in the California missions was so very wrong. Bishop Quinn added in our meeting that Pope Francis never acknowledged his second letter in which he suggested that wrong had been done to Native Americans at the missions and the church might need to apologize. Bishop Quinn went on to say that Americans have tried to deal with their guilt for their sins against Native Americans by letting them have casinos. A therapist friend of mine recently mentioned to me that guilt is concious and toxic shame is unconscious. So what might be happening is that the toxic unconscious shame held by the Catholic church and those in allegiance with it prevents them from seeing the wrong that was done in the missions originally (because they can only allow themselves to see themselves as constantly upright in the eyes of God), and as a result, keeps them from being able to move forward on the healing path which requires the truth to be told.
After two centuries of struggling to heal since being enslaved by Franciscan priests, California mission tribes are being hit with another damaging blow in the form of the upcoming canonization of Junipero Serra. As the founder of the California missions, Fr. Serra is responsible for a legacy of cruelty to native people– a legacy that has been covered up for 250 years with the consequence of continued psychological trauma for descendants of the California Mission Indians.
Serra was born in Marjorca, Spain in 1739. He attended a college of the Roman Catholic Inquisition. He later taught as a professor at the college and became a Franciscan priest. Serra founded the first mission in Alta California in 1767. In following years, he established twenty more missions. California natives were taken into the missions, often against their wills, and used as the workforce. Even those who came to the missions willingly were not allowed to leave. While Serra’s stated plan was to convert the “savages” to Christianity, the Native people were taught very little Spanish and thus didn’t even understand the prayers they were made to say. Under Serra’s guidance, the Indians were subjected to extreme forms of torture, and tens of thousands died during the mission period. Each mission usually kept 1000 Indians, and each year half the population would die. Serra himself was recorded asking the padres if they needed more iron shackles or suggesting they might give more lashes with the whip to the natives.
Many people living in California today don’t know the true history of the missions. I encountered a seemingly well-educated white tourist at the mission in San Diego a year ago who commented that the Indians’ main complaint about the missions was that they had to wear shoes. Contrast this with the words of the late Rosalie Robertson, Kumayaay tribe, “There were lots of things done to the people. One way they had was to get to the people was through the children. They would take the children up on the cliff and drop them down the cliff and kill them… …Where they threw the children down and killed them, they call that place the ‘Crying Rock’ today.”
Or take the words of Eva Kolb, Luiseno tribe. “They were flogged when they were too sick to work, and for any other reason. If they didn’t want to do something, they were flogged again. They had very little to eat, and many of the younger children died of starvation.”
Even a fellow Franciscan, Fr. Antonio de la Conception Horra wrote in 1799 that “The treatment of the Indians is the most cruel I have ever read in history. For the slightest things they receive heavy floggings, are shackled, and put in the stocks, and treated with so much cruelty that they are kept whole days without a drink of water.”
To this day the Catholic Church has not acknowledged its role in this shameful history. According to Rupert Costo, co-editor of “The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide” which was published in 1987, Serra was referred to as “venerable” and saintly by his Catholic disciples and colleagues even while he was alive. “Through the centuries, as the Inquistion waned and the Roman Catholic Church gained apostolic apologists, Serra has become a lodestone for the imperial guard of academic professionals, and the superstar of California’s dominant class history.” Serra’s longtime friend, Francisco Palou, wrote a biography of Serra which seemed designed to ‘procure the beatification of his revered brother Franciscan…..the book was “replete with miraculous happenings.”
The legacy of not letting the truth be told was foreshadowed by the banning in Spain and most of Europe the book called “The Tears of the Indians”. It was by Fr. Bartalome de las Casas(1474-1566), and it depicts horrific massacres of native people and killing of native women and children by the Spaniards in the West Indies, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba and Peru during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Casas fought to keep natives in the New World from being enslaved. He was beatified about 15 years ago. There are readily available accounts of people who witnessed the treatment of Native people in the California missions speaking to the horror of the tortures the natives endured. Elias Castillo’s writes in his soon to be released book “Cross of Thorns” that Father Mariano Payeras, the last Spanish Padre Presidente of the missions, wrote to his superior in 1820 saying “All we have done to the Indians is consecrate them, baptize them and bury them”. Payeras indicated an effort must be made to cover up what they have done to the Indians.
Today descendants of California mission Indians still endure the consequences of what happened to their ancestors. The term ‘historical trauma’, also called the ‘soul wound’ by some native elders refers to the phenomenon that those undergoing the hardships of the missions passed the suffering down to their children, grandchildren, and so forth. Epidemic rates of domestic violence, suicide, substance abuse and illnesses such as diabetes in Native people are linked to the traumas their ancestors endured. Treating historical trauma is very difficult. In the last twenty years or so the concept of historical trauma has become better understood and work is being done to try to undo its effects. But it is a slow process, and many lives are lost each year to suicide or destroyed by substance abuse (self-medicating). Families are destroyed due to domestic violence, which is linked to lateral oppression. For California mission Indians, these issues can be directly related to the treatment of their ancestors in the missions, under the guidance of the soon-to-be St. Serra.
For beloved Pope Francis, hero to the underprivileged, to deepen the severe wounding wrought by the missions by proclaiming Junipero Serra a saint is unfathomable. Twice in the last two years we sent the Holy Father letters describing what really happened in the missions. Included in the letters sent by Valentin Lopez, Chairperson of the Amah Mutsun tribe, and myself, were letters by Bishop Francis Quinn, a highly revered bishop now retired in Sacramento, who made an apology in 2007 to the Native Americans from Mission San Rafael Arcangel for the treatment their ancestors received in the mission. Each time we received a note from Angelo Becciu, Substitute for the Pope, saying that our concerns were noted and he would remember our intentions in his prayers. We also had meetings with various bishops in California, hoping to be invited to attend the annual Catholic Bishops Conference so we could talk about the need for healing to occur in regards to the missions. We were never invited to attend the meeting.
I guess it’s not so surprising that our efforts failed. According to the book, “The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide”, in the 1980’s in Southern California where most Indians were Catholic at the time, some priests threatened “sanctions” against members of the church who spoke up against the canonization of Serra. Bishop Thaddeus Shubsda of the Monterrey Diocese arranged for eight scholars who were known to be Serra supporters to be interviewed by a publicist. Bishop Shubsda then released the information in a nationwide media campaign. “The eight who were interviewed engaged in a classic example of slander, libel, and vilification of the Indian people. The years of accumulated evidence by distinguished scholars detailing the truth about the missions in many volumes of documents and data were ignored. The truth lay dormant at the feet of the bishop and his cohorts.”
As someone who has worked on historical trauma issues with indigenous people for about twenty years, I believe acknowledging that the missions treated the Indians cruelly and acknowledging Junipero Serra’s role in it would be helpful to the healing process of not only California mission Indians, but also of the Catholic church. How much better it would be for the animas mundi (soul of the world) and the soul of the Catholic Church for an apology to be made to the California mission Indians, and reparation made. Putting information in the missions about what really happened would definitely be a step in the right direction. To make Serra a saint is a travesty.
The Vatican has made their decision, but the fight for truth will continue. The Pope will be receiving a copy of Mr. Castillo’s book in the mail soon. California Indians have been fighting for many years for the truth to be told, and the fight will continue.
Donna Schindler M.D.
In the tiny community of Kayenta, Arizona, on the Northern edge of the Navajo Nation, there have been four homocides so far this year. Perhaps the one that has effected the community the most was that of Jamie Nix, 18 yr old daughter of Lisa Charley. Jamie was a senior at Monument Valley High School, and her mother has worked for the Indian Health Services Clinic in Kayenta for 20 years. Jamie had asked a man whose kids she had babysat for in the past for a ride one late night in April to go pick up her wallet she had left somewhere. He ended up raping her, strangling her, running over her with his vehicle, and then leaving her body out in the desert. Alcohol was involved. A few weeks later, Lisa Charley’s youngest nephew, Dallas Tracy, 26 years old, was shot and killed at 5am on his mother’s front porch as he was returning home from work. Alcohol was apparently involved. Meanwhile, in the adjoining community of Chinle, five teen girls, five other young adults under the age of 30, and several others committed suicide in the last two years.
Lisa and I began talking shortly after the death of her daughter and quickly decided to try to make some major changes in our community in memory of her daughter and the others who have been killed. Realizing that the extremely high rates of substance abuse, violence and depression are directly related to the unhealed traumas of the past, we decided to begin ‘The Sacred Dream Project,’ which is dedicated to ‘healing the soul wound’ and bringing the community back to harmony. The Navajo word, ‘hozhonahaslii’ encompasses our vision as it means ‘everything will return again to harmony.’
The first week of September, 2014, Lisa Charley, Marie Salt, provider of cultural education for children and parents in Kayenta, Amanda Blackhorse, LCSW, at Kayenta Counseling Services (Indian Health Services) and myself gave talks to the Kayenta clinic, Inscription House clinic, and Chinle clinic, as well as the Kayenta community.
We spoke about the need to heal from the traumas of the past–in the case of the Navajo that would include The Long Walk and boarding schools, as well as forced herd reduction. At the community meeting, the parents of Dallas Tracy stood up and his mother spoke through her tears. She said that ever since her son was murdered, she’s felt very alone, and she has spent her time thinking about how she could have prevented his death. But during our meeting she began to feel that we were her sisters and brothers and she is not alone. She feels she has the strength and support to go on.
Vicky, a Navajo grandmother, also spoke up at the meeting, saying that she thought when her children were young she was a great mother. She raised her children how she had been raised, with whippings for most infractions of rules, and no hugs or acknowledgements of love. After the suicide of her 24 yr old nephew, her family realized that how they were raising their children was not right, and she is working on making big changes. Her 39 yr old daughter, recovered meth addict, and her 21 year old granddaughter exchanged hugs as they listened to Vicky speak.
It was heartening, in the face of so despair, that healing was happening at the first meeting of The Sacred Dream Project. On November 6 and 7, Dr. Eduardo Duran, one of the foremost authorties on intergenerational trauma in indigenous peoples, will return to Kayenta to give workshops. He will speak to the 7th and 8th graders, the entire high school, the community and teachers in separate workshops. The following day he will speak at Dine College, close to Chinle. In the late 90’s, Dr. Duran was instrumental in helping our community begin to heal the soul wound. At that time he visited our community five times, providing workshops on historical trauma. We eagerly await his return. We anticipate that The Sacred Dream Project will continue for many years.
Elias Castillo, author of soon-to-be published, groundbreaking book, ‘Cross of Thorns,’ met with Bishop Francis Quinn, Valentin Lopez,Chairman of the Amah Mutsun tribe, Matt Lopez and I on October 17, 2014, at Bishop Quinn’s residence in Sacramento. Bishop Quinn, Val Lopez and I have been working together to get an apology from Pope Francis regarding the treatment of California Native Americans in the missions.
Elias spent seven years doing research for his book about the treatment of Native Americans at the California missions. Much of his information came directly from archival information written by the Francescan’s who ran the missions. His work documents the extreme hardships endured by the Mission Indians, including statements by Junipero Serra offering to send more shackles for the Indians, and suggesting more whippings. Another statement by Fr. Serra mentioned that the missions had two great harvests one year– the first was their crop of corn, the other was the young Indian children that had died. Sending souls to heaven was thought to be of great importance by Fr. Serra.
While Bishop Quinn certainly knew that Native Americans were mistreated in the missions, and in fact, had made a spontaneous apology to the Indians of Mission San Rafael while giving a homily during their 190th year anniversary in 2007, he had not been aware of the extent of Fr. Serra’s support of the extreme punishment of the Indians.
It seemed that the amount and intensity of the information presented at our meeting might be too much for 93 year old Bishop Quinn to tolerate without becoming extremely distraught. While his mind is unfailingly keen, he has clearly aged in the eight years I have known him. He moves about in a wheelchair these days, and on this particular day, his eyes looked considerably more tired than the last time I saw him a few months ago. Towards the end of our session, when he was asked about how he felt about the information he had heard, he replied that he was shocked and greatly saddened by the truth of what had happend in the missions at the hands of Fr Junipero Serra.
To me, it was quite healing for Bishop Quinn to listen to countless atrocities without becoming defensive or trying to make excuses for the Catholic church. Valentin Lopez and I are extremely grateful to him for bearing witness to the torture endured by Indians in the missions, as well as for his efforts to help us try to gain an aknowledgment and apology from Pope Francis.
The video of our meeting will be on this site soon, and will be sent to Pope Francis.
On January 28, on the steps of the Capitol building in Sacramento, we will meet again to talk about the missions with several senators. This will be part of the ‘Tell the Truth’ campaign spearheaded by Val Lopez and Elias Castillo.
On Sunday, Valentin Lopez and I had our first meeting with Anam Thubten. The goal of the meeting was to begin a conversation between these two leaders about healing intergenerational trauma.
The meeting went even better than I had anticipated!
I believe that the video of the session will be very useful in working with historical trauma, both for Native and non-Native people, and look forward to sharing it on my next post!
This is my first post. While I have wanted to write one for years about my work with historical trauma, it has been put off until my son Joe Raffanti and I got a chance to sit at our kitchen table so he could show me how to do this. Thirteen years ago when Joe was 13, he taught me how to edit movies so I could make Hozhahaslii: Stories of healing the Soul Wound.
I have spent over 20 of my 30 years as a psychiatrist working with indigenous people, first in New Zealand and later on the Navajo Nation. I currently do telepsychiatry with the same community on the Rez that I worked with when my family lived there from 1997-2000.
For the past four years, I have been following Anam Thubten, a Tibetan monk who travels throughout the world teaching dharma and leading guided meditation. I had been wondering how Anam Thubten’s teachings might help in the healing of the ‘soul wound’ (historical trauma) of the Native people I work with in Arizona and California. In April 2014, I attended a workshop in Santa Fe in which Anam Thubten spoke extensively about learning to ’embrace our pain and suffering’ in order to turn the ‘demons’ and ‘cemetary’ inside of us into sacred ground. During a question and answer period I wrote a very long note about a recent Wellness meeting I had attended with the Amah Mutsen tribe in California. It was the fourth session in which we had discussed the how the unhealed traumas of the past have resulted in epidemics of domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide and diabetes for Native people in the U.S. After a brief introduction, one of the elder men in the group began to tell the story of his childhood, talking about painful things he had never before shared. After he finished speaking, another elder man told his story, stating that he swore he would never do this. Both men freely showed emotion. Their sharing was immediately followed by several much younger men talking about their painful issues.
I shared the story of this meeting and then asked ,”Is this what you mean when you say we must learn to embrace our pain and suffering?”
Immediately Anam Thubten responded, “How relevant and timely! We are all dancing to the same music.”
In a few weeks, Valentin Lopez, Chairperson of the Amah Mutsen tribe, and I will meet with Anam Thubten to further this discussion.