Ground was broken during a ceremony outside the State Capitol Building on Monday for a new Native American Monument that replaces the statue of Father Junipero Serra, which was removed in 2020.
The statue of Junipero Serra had been first erected n 1967 to honor the Catholic friar who helped establish over a dozen of California cities in the 1700’s. While there had been a few stray calls to replace that statue, as well as one of Christopher Columbus in the Capitol rotunda, due to their respective histories of violence and subjugation of native peoples, they had largely been ignored.
However, the issue was then seriously pressed in the summer of 2020. The George Floyd incident sparked massive protests, including calls to remove monuments of leaders with racist pasts and many protestors destroying statues and other monuments as a result. Not wanting these statues to meet the same fate as the statues of Father Serra that had been torn down and vandalized in Los Angeles and elsewhere, as well as acquiescing to demands that they at least be temporarily removed, both Sacramento statues were removed and taken into storage. However, this was not before the Serra statue was briefly toppled by protestors, adding to the urgency.
While the Columbus statue was outright removed despite calls for it to stay, the fate of the Serra statue was different. A bill, AB 338, was created the next year to replace the Serra statue with a Native American monument, largely due to the legalities of adding or removing things from Capitol grounds. While there was significant opposition to the bill, with many lawmakers abstaining in protest, the bill ultimately passed and was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.
This led to Monday’s ceremony, where an image of the future statue of William Franklin Sr., a Miwok tribe member noted for working to preserve the tribe culture, was unveiled. State and Tribal officials presiding over the ceremony remarked on the importance of the statue.
“For us, this monument is more than just correcting a moment in history,” said Regina Cuellar, chairwoman of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians on Monday. “It is my hope that this acknowledgement to California’s tribes will highlight the importance and further secure the inclusion of native voices in all matters of the state.”
Assemblyman James Ramos (D-Highland), a Native American legislator who had written AB 338, added that “I am acting as the voice of our ancestors that are still crying out from the grounds from the state of California. Once this new monument is completed, it will serve to remind students and all visitors to this historic Capitol Park that Native Americans lived on this land — and cared for it — long before California statehood and its preceding eras.”
While no one disagreed on putting the new statue up, many commentators noted on Tuesday that the fight is actually about the removal of Serra and other prominent Californians who helped build the state in the first place.
“No one has a problem with a statue honoring Indians,” said Luther Pollard, a researcher who has studied the removal of monuments in the U.S. in the 21st century, to the Globe on Tuesday. “What people have a problem with, whether it is removing a statue of Father Serra in California or taking down a statue of Teddy Roosevelt in New York, is the history of it all. Serra did do some unsavory things, but he did help establish California and founded numerous cities. To many people that’s important.
“There have been some victories for those wanting to keep them up, like keeping the Pete Wilson statue in San Diego, but Serra seems like it will be lost now. And no one is really entertaining the notion that it goes back.”
The Serra statue is currently in storage.
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