January 29, 2009

Mural depicts subservient Indians

AIM West is asking a California high school to remove a stereotypical mural showing missionary masters and Indian servants. Here's a petition:

Removal of Sequoia High School Mural (Redwood City, CA)We are asking that Native Americans and members of the Sequoia High School Community who find the mural depicting California Natives as "servant boys" to Father Junipero Serra offensive and a glorification of our colonialism to please sign on to the e-petition request addressed to the school board.

Our request is for removal of the mural. California Natives are depicted as subservient and docile. In the mural of missionaries and native servants journeying through Redwood City, CA there is no indication of native women, children or native life in the mural. The clothing is inaccurate of Native dress and there is no evidence this "historical event" ever took place as depicted.
And some excerpts from a detailed explanation of the mural's problems by Mark Anquoe:

The Case to Remove the Junipero Serra Mural Installed at Sequoia High School, Redwood City CaliforniaThe mural depicting the Serra and Crespi expeditions at Sequoia High School reinforces an outdated historical mythology that does a profound disservice to the current student body. Such misrepresentation of the historical record ill-prepares Sequoia High School students for modern college academia and an American society that continues to move beyond the Eurocentric propaganda of years past.

The commonly accepted version of California history during America’s Jim Crow era (during which this mural was painted) described the state’s indigenous people as simple and primitive. The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century and specifically the mission system of the 18th century was supposed to have brought the blessings of civilization and Christianity to the grateful natives who were hopelessly mired in the stone-age. European diseases, inadvertently introduced by the European immigrants, decimated the native population. The forces of Spain, followed quickly by those of the United States, civilized and developed California, all the while struggling to bring the surviving indigenous people into modern society.

The mission system in California was a joint venture between the Spanish military and the Catholic Franciscan order. While the friars aspired to lure the indigenous people into mission life with the promise of a heavenly afterlife, it was in fact the Spanish military that forcefully drove the California natives en masse to the missions. New arrivals were segregated by gender for the remainder of their lives unless a particular Native couple were allowed a Catholic marriage. Traditional family bonds were irrelevant and families were routinely split. Living quarters at the missions, in which the Native Americans were locked, except for mass and work, typically consisted of large common rooms containing a single open pit for a toilet. Native American men were starved and worked to death in the fields, being allowed less than a quarter (and often less than an eighth) of the caloric intake of an African slave during the same period performing the same work. It was simply cheaper to have the military supply more Native people from the surrounding countryside than to feed them. Contrasted with the relative good health of the free Native population, European diseases ran wild within the confinement of mission living conditions. The rape of Native American women by Spanish soldiers both within and outside of the missions was systematic and pervasive during this entire period. Life in the missions was brutal and short. The church’s own records show that deathrates within the missions consistently outstripped birthrates by as much as 800 percent and never less than 200 percent.
Comment:  You can see pictures of the mural if you click the second link (a PDF). It basically portrays a happy-go-lucky gathering of missionary leaders and Native followers. Anquoe's point is that the reality was anything but happy-go-lucky.

For more on the subject, see the Best Indian Monuments to Topple.

Below:  A statue at Mission San Juan Capistrano with a similar problem. "Save me, you big hunk of a white man, for I am a humble Indian boy who needs your loving touch."


dmarks said...

"Below: A statue with a similar problem at Mission San Juan Capistrano. "Save me, you big hunk of a white man, for I am just a humble Indian boy who needs your loving touch."

A low blow.... but fair considering that the Roman Catholic Church is still dragging its feet taking care of the modern child-rape problem.

Rob said...

I'd say my interpretation of the statue's symbolism is fair. Junipero Serra towers over the Indian boy in every way: physically, morally, spiritually. The boy looks adoringly at the man who's almost literally depicted as his "Great White Father."

If the point wasn't to show the European's superiority, the statue could've depicted the two as equals. Heck, it could've shown a wizened old white man looking up at a strapping young Indian man several inches taller. The statue didn't show this because that would've sent the wrong message.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?