Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill over the weekend that replaces the now toppled state of Father Junipero Serra on the grounds of the State Capitol Building with a monument for Native Americans who lived in the Sacramento area before Spanish Exploration.
According to Assembly Bill 338, authored by Assemblyman James Ramos (D-Highland), the statue of Father Junipero Serra, the Catholic friar who helped establish more than a dozen of California cities in the 1700’s, would be removed. In its place, AB 338 would have a monument for Native Americans to be erected in it’s place.
Extensive amendments to the original bill since January made the bill much more palatable to those who originally opposed it. Among the major changes to AB 338 was the cost of building and maintaining the statue being transferred from the Department of General services to the tribes themselves, with the Department now only being active in planning. Placement dates of the monument were also removed, as were other monuments and Native artworks that were to be built in and around the State Capitol Building, with the new bill instead focusing just on the statue.
The former statue of Junipero Serra stood outside the Capitol Building in Sacramento from 1967 until July of last year when protesters and rioters who rioted in response to the death of George Floyd tore it down. While the statue was recovered, it was put into storage until a decision over it could be reached. The Sacramento toppling followed other Serra statue topplings across the state that year, including those in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Rafael.
While AB 338 initially had a significant amount of opposition, the amendment changes convinced many to support the bill instead, leading to a 66-2, 10 abstain vote in the Assembly in May and a 28-2, 10 abstain vote in the Senate in August.
“Today’s action sends a powerful message from the grounds of Capitol Park across California underscoring the state’s commitment to reckoning with our past and working to advance a California for All built on our values of inclusion and equity,” said Governor Newsom in a statement. “I’m proud to sign this long overdue legislation to honor the Native peoples who have called this land home since time immemorial and to further our important work in partnership with Native American communities to tackle the multi-faceted challenges facing California. I thank our legislative and tribal leaders and everyone whose work has enabled us to take these important strides forward as a state.”
Support, criticism over the passage of AB 338
AB 338 author Assemblyman Ramos, who became the first Native American elected to the state Legislature in 2018, noted his approval of the bill signing on Friday, along with Native tribes across the state.
“I am proud to have carried these important bills recognizing California’s First People for their unique and diverse heritage and invaluable contributions to our state,” said Assemblyman during the weekend. “Governor Newsom has worked with us side-by-side to address historic wrongs and inequities that continue to affect our communities, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”
While the bill was largely accepted by lawmakers, many noted that they were not happy with the circumstances of the statues replacement.
“There were a lot of no votes on the bill not only because some saw it as removing part of California’s history, but because it had been torn down by civil disobedience,” said “Dana,” a State Capitol staffer, to the Globe on Monday. “Before the votes there were people comparing it to the removal of Confederate statues in the South. While they went through careful discussions at many levels of government and were ultimately removed, Serra had been torn down by protesters and replaced in one swoop of a bill.”
“Basically, it rubbed many the wrong way not because it was done so much as HOW it was done. A lot of people think this might just encourage more vandalism to create change rather than go through the correct channels.”
The new statue on the Capitol grounds, originally planned for next year, is expected to be constructed and placed in the near future.
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