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California Catholic Leaders Commit to Reconciliation Process with Mission Indians; 18-month Project Aimed at Enriching the Mission Experience and Enhancing School Curriculum

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September 4, 2015

The  Most Rev. Jaime Soto, Bishop of Sacramento and president of the California Catholic Conference, today announced an ambitious 18-month program to review and revise the cultural content and displays at the California missions under Church authority and to undertake a similar effort to review the Third and Fourth Grade curriculum in Catholic schools to better reflect modern understandings of the Mission Era and the relationship between Spanish civil authority, the Catholic Missions and local Indian tribes.

“The Mission Era gave rise to modern California, but it also gave rise to controversy and to heartache when seen through the eyes of the First Californians,” said Bishop Soto.  “For many years, the Indian experience has been ignored or denied, replaced by an incomplete version of history focused more on European colonists than on the original Californians.”

“Today, on the verge of Blessed Fr. Serra’s canonization, the time has come to confront that incomplete history and to work with Native American educators, respected historians, Catholic school officials and others to change that and to reflect the best scholarship we can about that era,” said Fr. Ken Laverone, provincial vicar of the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara, a partner with the Catholic bishops of California in this effort.

The committee overseeing the curriculum review will be led by the Most Rev. Edward Clark, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a long-time liaison with California’s Native American communities.  The curriculum review will consider culturally-sensitive and historically accurate enhancements to the Third Grade portrayals of Indian life, as well as to the traditional Fourth Grade teaching on the Missions themselves.

The purpose of the Curriculum Committee is not to endorse or debate the canonization of Blessed Fr. Serra, but to use the occasion of the canonization to engage in an open and respectful dialogue aimed at a better understanding and presentation of the Mission Era and its aftermath to school children and the public.

The cultural study of the Missions will be led by Andrew Galvan, curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco and a member of the Ohlone tribe.  It will include a review of displays and signage, updates to materials used to train docents and guides, and similar updates to artwork and presentations on Mission and related websites. 

This initiative will not be limited to history, however.  It will also advise on ways to make the Missions relevant and inviting for tribal members today.

“By definition, ‘reconciliation’ isn’t just about the past, it’s also about the future,” said Bishop Soto.  “And the future of California’s Missions won’t be complete until tribal members feel welcomed and included in Mission life today.”

The initiatives on Curriculum and Cultural Review are a joint project of the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara and the California Catholic Conference.  The Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara oversees the activities of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico. 

The California Catholic Conference is the public advocacy office of the Bishops of California. Representing the Archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the Bishops of Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton, it is the official voice of the 10 million Catholics and their many parishes, schools, universities, and social service agencies in California.