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Culture and Identity

Protest walk makes its way along California's Missions Trail

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Aidan Mathews
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A protest is moving through the Central Coast this month, intended to show outrage over the Pope’s canonization of Father Junipero Serra last month.

"Walk for the Ancestors" is a group of protesters on a six-hundred fifty mile trek to each of the state’s 21 Missions. The walk started in Sonoma and is continuing to San Diego.

On this day there was roughly a half-dozen or so in the Mission San Luis Obispo plaza.

"It’s a farce really, it makes a farce out of sainthood. To me, if that’s what you consider a saint, then like, wow, I feel sorry for you," said Kagen Holland, a member of the Tatavium tribe from Los Angeles.

Holland has been walking for over a month. He, along with many other native people, believe the celebration of Junipero Serra is an insult to the damage caused to native culture upon Serra’s arrival to California in the eighteenth century.

"I do feel very insulted by the pope personally," said Holland. "He knows the history of the Mission system he knows what it was about. And, to canonize the architect of such a genocidal and oppressive system is beyond my reasoning."

Serra’s canonization last month received lots of backlash, but some California citizens were more accepting.

"There have been a lot more people coming to our mission church in Carmel because of the canonization of the blessed Serra—now Saint Serra—and there had been a lot more people coming and I think that will continue to come in the days ahead as well," said Diocese of Monterey's Bishop Richard Garcia.

The Bishop says he has spoken with people on both sides of the controversy and believes work still needs to be done to improve the situation.

"I think we have to enter into a better dialogue with them," said Garcia. "We bishops here in California especially have taken that as something for us to do and to be a little more responsible and more sensitive to their needs."

Caroline Ward-Holland has been marching alongside her son during this trek and says she has not seen any positive gestures by the church.

"Every mission is the same, they all have the same history," said Ward-Holland. "The Church bells and the crosses are, to me, a sign of slavery, oppression, of crimes against humanity, and that’s all they are to me now."  

The marchers plan to be in Santa Ynez on Sunday and in Santa Barbara next week.