West Berkeley Shellmound Network Statement in Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples’ Day 5
February 20, 2021
The West Berkeley Shellmound Network stands in unequivocal solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples Day 5, a group of Indigenous women and Two Spirit people facing felony charges in relationship to the toppling of a statue of Junipero Serra outside Mission San Rafael on Indigenous Peoples’ Day of last year.
The West Berkeley Shellmound Network is composed of Indigenous leaders, faith leaders, scholars, educators, filmmakers, attorneys, and community organizers working together to prevent the ongoing destruction of Ohlone sacred shellmound sites across the Bay Area. The WBS Network joins over 50 organizations and over 75,000 of signatories to call on Marin District Attorney Lori Frugoli to immediately drop the charges against the Indigenous Peoples Day 5. As members of the WBS Network organize to protect this Bay Area sacred site and Indigenous sacred sites throughout the region, we celebrate the removal of all monuments to colonialism, genocide, white supremacy, and enslavement.
As a Spanish Catholic Priest, Junipero Serra was an architect of the mission system in California. Indigenous activists and scholars have illuminated the brutality of the missions, where colonizers imprisoned and enslaved Indigenous peoples in 21 locations along California’s coast. The missions were carceral sites of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse. Serra, like other missionary conquistadors, lived off the fruits of forced Indigenous labor. His livelihood depended upon the destruction of Indigenous lifeways, languages, and cultural practices, which he enforced through his sanction of and participation in the sadistic punishment of Indigenous resisters, often through horrific acts of gender violence and sexual torture. Those caught escaping were branded with the sign of the cross onto their flesh, making clear he considered them to be his property.
Statues, namesakes, and other monuments that celebrate this history have no place in San Rafael, nor anywhere. In 2015, thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people opposed the Catholic canonization of Serra. Over the last year, Californians have removed statues of Serra from public sites in Sacramento, San Francisco, Ventura, Los Angeles, and at Stanford University to confront the living memory of the genocidal mission system he helped found. In some instances, state officials have sanctioned and even facilitated the removal of Serra’s name and image from positions of public veneration.
The removal of the Serra statue in San Rafael occurred as part of growing international resistance to statues and monuments depicting key figures and symbols of white supremacy, conquest, and genocide. Over the last several years, activists have sacked monuments to racial slavery and colonial land theft across the U.S, Canada, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, England, and beyond.
The toppling of the Serra statue outside Mission San Rafael was also part of the groundswell of mass political action against antiblack racism following the police lynchings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020. That BIPOC communities are simultaneously taking aim at monumental representations of Spanish sovereignty, Catholic authority, white supremacy, Anglo-Saxon rule, and the Confederate presence in national politics is cause for celebration.
Salvatore J. Cordileone, the Archbishop of San Francisco, predictably decried the recent disruption to Serra’s memory as a satanic act, stating: “We come together in prayer and in reparation for this act of blasphemy. This sacred site has been desecrated and so we know there’s the presence of evil here.” Cordileone followed his denunciation of Serra’s fall and his identification of the San Rafael mission as a “sacred site” by performing an exorcism. This “cleansing” practice may have looked familiar to the ghosts of those who died under the San Rafael mission regime, where “spiritual conquest” was backed by performances of ritualistic violence.
The spiritual violence of the mission system represented by Serra’s statue and enacted by Cordileone enables the ongoing criminalization of Indigenous spirituality and the continued desecration of Indigenous sacred sites today. This is exemplified by the struggle to protect the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site — an Ohlone/Lisjan sacred site under imminent threat of desecration by developers. The spiritual violence of Serra’s mission system lives in the continued disavowal of Indigenous sacredness. Monuments to Serra must be destroyed, along with colonial narratives that continue to depict the missions as benevolent sites of salvation. For as long as Serra is celebrated, California will continue to legitimize and justify colonization, enslavement, and genocide. Until they all come down, the violence of the mission system will never be healed.
The government of San Rafael officially recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day that increasing numbers of Americans are observing in place of what is nationally recognized as ‘Christopher Columbus Day.’ Nevertheless, DA Frugoli insists on prosecuting felony charges against local Indigenous activists. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a DA in the prison capital of the world is threatening Indigenous survivors of genocide with incarceration for refusing to look any longer at the man who started the state’s first prisons in the form of mission charnel houses. On its face, Frugoli’s decision to press felony charges against the IP5 is a flagrant continuation of California’s colonial violence. Her recent “community conversation” with constituents about hate crimes, racism, and antisemitism would appear disingenuous if it weren’t in keeping with forms of liberal subterfuge that consistently cannibalize radical social movements.