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Letters to the Editor: The U.S. government was far worse to California’s Indians than Junipero Serra

Father Serra
A statue of Junipero Serra at the Mission San Rafael Arcangel, founded in 1817, in San Rafael.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Junipero Serra and the other Roman Catholic missionaries who came to California in 1769 and thereafter accompanied military expeditions under the authority of the Spanish crown. King Carlos III had codified military superiority over the clergy in colonial frontier matters; therefore, whatever blame for mistreatment of the native populations that occurred during that era should be assigned to the Spanish government. (“‘Agent of colonialism’ or a ‘saint for our times’? Junipero Serra’s legacy divides Latinos,” Aug. 16)

As a descendant of two Spanish-era California mission soldiers, I shudder to imagine what types of abuses they may have inflicted on the natives. However, I do not disavow my ancestors; they were lowly mestizos, Spanish citizens, tough men living in harsh times.

There are no statues of mission soldiers to topple, but they were the ones who carried out the disciplinary orders against the mission Indians. If blame must be assigned, point to the government they pledged allegiance to.

The U.S. government waged war and outright genocide against the native people of North America to acquire their lands. The U.S. had no intention of converting them to Christianity. In California, more outrages against native people occurred during the Gold Rush and later.

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The Spaniards, albeit misguidedly, attempted to convert the natives. Which government did the most harm?

Terri de la Peña, Santa Monica

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To the editor: Why is it impossible for critics of Serra ignore the difference between the often rapacious and violent Spanish soldiers and the padres who tried to protect indigenous people?

Activists today judge great figures from the past — Serra, George Washington and John Muir, to name a few — by their own narrow criteria while ignoring the great good they have done.

All of us have “warts.”

Larry Walker, Canoga Park


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