The number of the descendants of California Mission Indians is not known. The following quotes are offered this Columbus Day and Indigenous Day to help one see the legacy of Saint Junípero Serra from the perspective of Catholic American Indians.

Shirley Macagni, an elder of the Salinan tribe

“The Spaniards’ legacy is complicated, and, Macagni feels, it is unfair to judge 18th-century attitudes and actions by contemporary standards. ‘They [Spanish settlers] didn’t deliberately say they’re going to destroy people,’ she says. ‘Records show that [the Salinan] were housed and fed and taught. My [ancestral] line developed into some of the best cattlemen and cowboys in the country. They learned that through the Spanish padres and the army that came with them.’”

Tom Hunn, Juaneño Band of Mission Indians

“The mission is where I went to school. I ushered in Serra Chapel. I’m part of this church.”

Tony Cerda, Chief of the Rumsen/Ohlone People: A band of Carmel Mission Indians

“[H]e [Junipero Serra] protected our people and supported their full human rights against the politicians and the military with a total disregard for his own life and safety.”

Redstar, Chumash

“Whatever ugliness has happened to Native Americans — and it has happened — we have a responsibility to end it and heal as children of God. Pope Francis is offering compassion, and that’s what we need in the world.”

Andrew Galvan, Ohlone

“It was our birthright to be there [Serra’s canonization]. California mission Indians needed to be there. The meeting was important even if it was private or brief so the Pope can meet with descendants of where the cross was planted at the missions in California.”

Father Jim Nieblas, Juaneño

In 1986, James Joseph Nieblas, S.D.B., half-Mexican, half-Juaneño, was ordained at Mission San Juan Capistrano for the Catholic religious institute, the Salesians of Don Bosco.  The Los Angeles Times reported that present at his ordination, “was the grandmother that helped raise him, Buena Ventura Garcia Nieblas, 87, a descendant of the Indians who helped build the mission.”

Ernestine de Soto, Chumash elder

“Let’s go forward. Let’s not go backwards and all those raving about tear down the missions and burn ‘em and so forth. That’s like tearing down the Sistine Chapel that we created and painted. Why would I want to do that? I can look at that mission and say I built that. That’s my home. . . .”

Anthony Morales, Chief of the San Gabrielino Mission Indians

“These are my roots. This is my church. All my ancestors are buried in the cemetery next door. Six thousand of my ancestors are buried on these grounds, and this is the church that they built. It’s [July 11, 2020 fire] just very devastating.”

Deacon Andrew Orosco, Kumeyaay

“I am an American Indian, one whose ancestors are in California’s history by way of Mission San Diego, the first mission founded by Fr. Serra, Mission San Luis Rey and Mission San Gabriel. These missions hold the bones of my ancestors. These missions, by way of Father Junipero Serra, led my ancestors, my family, to the Catholic church, the church for which I serve as a deacon today.”

Dr. Ruben Mendoza, Yaqui

“Father Serra was ahead of his time and advocated incessantly for native peoples.”

Sacheen Littlefeather, Apache

Littlefeather was well known for declining Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar on his behalf. She died at her Marin County home on Oct. 2, 2022, at age 75.

“The legitimate federally recognized Native American Indian people of Marin County did not participate in, and knew nothing of the actions, nor did we sanction the destruction of the statue of Junipero Serra, on the property of the San Rafael Mission, on Indigenous Day, Oct. 12 [2020].”

“The Marin Native American Indian community does not know or recognize the individuals involved; they are not members of the Marin Indian community, and we do not condone the destruction of personal property. Even though at this time we are getting death threats and mean-spirited racist letters of condemnation and accusation, we did not participate in this action. We are writing this to set the record straight.”

“As a member of the Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Circle, I would like to make it clear that we do not condone such behavior and we pray for all of those involved.”

Patrick Mason, Osage Nation

“The idea of the mission is similar to the cathedral in medieval times, the cathedral was where you got your culture, you got your religion and the mission is sort of the missionary example of the cathedral. I have friends that belong to native tribes in Southern California, and those missions always represented a place of joy and refuge to those people in those cultures.”

Though not a contemporary of the people quoted above, John Onessino’s words speak volumes. John, age 31, resident of Carmel Valley and a descendant of the area’s First Peoples, was interviewed on January 19, 1949, by the cause of Junípero Serra. When asked, “Why did the Indians like Father Serra?”, he replied, “Because he liked them.”

The above was submitted by Christian Clifford. Clifford writes on the subject of Catholic Church history in Spanish and Mexican California. His latest book is the Catholic Media Association Book Award recipient Pilgrimage: In Search of the REAL California Missions, the story of his 800-mile walk of the California Missions Trail. He can be reached at