February 27, 2012

Indians protest Carmel Mission stamp

New stamp upsets local tribe

Amah Mutsun say picturesque Mission Carmel postage stamp leaves out brutal reality

By Blair Tellers
When sightseers tour the centuries-old Spanish mission tucked off Highway 1 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s likely they’ll admire the red-tiled roofs, the chapel’s aesthetic facade, the prominent dome bell tower, the exquisite gardens or the vast collection of liturgical art.

For Louise Ramirez–a former Gilroy resident and Tribal Chairwoman of the Monterey-indigenous Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation–the landscape is far from romantic.
And:Citing “discomfort and concern with the unveiling of the stamp” in a Feb. 16 letter addressed to U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahue, Ramirez isn’t the only one who feels the mission is undeserving of a positive limelight. Her concerns are echoed by Valentin Lopez, 60, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.

While the Mutsun tribe is principally associated with Mission San Juan Bautista and the surrounding areas of Gilroy and Hollister, Lopez explains the Carmel Mission, “like the other Franciscan missions in California, was actively involved with the massacre and genocide of California Indians.”
The interesting part is the different interpretations of the stamp's significance:As of Monday, Ramirez and Lopez said the postmaster had not responded to their letters. In attempts to contact Donahue, the Dispatch was referred to Augustine Ruiz, postal spokesman for the Bay Valley District who said the concerns expressed by Ruiz and Lopez are “perfectly understandable.”

However, the U.S. Postal Service has no plans to halt the stamp’s release, he said.

“I understand it; I can empathize with it,” he said. “Anytime anything is introduced, there’s some element of controversy that’s usually attached to it.”

Ruiz reached out to the OCEN tribe in preparing for today’s ceremony. As tribal spokeswoman, Ramirez was invited to offer a blessing and prayer for her ancestors, followed by a speech in remembrance of her people.

Despite some opposition from her fellow OCEN members–many are practicing Catholics and did not approve of Ramirez “speaking against the missions”–Ramirez still accepted.

“I’m going to try, and hopefully I can get (the audience) to understand what we’ve been through, and what the missions have done to us,” she said. “It’s important that people know that we’re here. And if we refuse to attend these things, they’re never going to know we were there.”

In this particular case, Ruiz explained the stamp is meant to commemorate the Carmel Mission (formally known as Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo) for its architectural beauty and iconic place in California’s roster of historic buildings. It is the second oldest of California’s 21 missions and is often described as the most beautiful, Ruiz said.

The focus on architecture is elaborated in a U.S. Postal Service press release, which highlights the stamp’s colorful illustration depicting the church’s attractive fa├žade. An earlier announcement released by the U.S. Postal Service Feb. 21 describes the mission as a landmark in California’s Spanish heritage.

While considered a bastion of California’s architectural landscape, “Spanish heritage” resonates differently for present day Native Americans.

For individuals such as Ramirez and Lopez, the phrase evokes a bitter reality of life beneath the Spanish Catholic regime; a subservient existence indigenous peoples were subjected to when European colonization of the Pacific coast began in the 1770s.
Comment:  I can see both sides of this conflict. On the one hand, the Spanish occupation was a terrible time for Indians. And the missions are symbols of the Euro-American onslaught. On the other hand, so are Columbus, Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, cowboys, wagon trains, Mt. Rushmore, the national parks, and so forth and so on. I don't think we can exclude everything that has negative connotations for Indians or there'd be nothing left.

I'd say the Postal Service did okay with its revised press release. Don't celebrate Junipero Serra or the mission system because their primarily goal was to pacify and "civilize" the Indians. But go ahead and commemorate individual missions, on occasion, for their architectural and historical significance. Be sure to cover the bad as well as the good in the accompanying press materials.

For more on the missions, see Salinan Violin Stolen from Mission and Indoctrinating Students About Missions.

No comments: