The “Early Days” statue being removed on September 14, 2018
~Neeta Lind is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and writes about Native issues.
We won. After decades of debate, a deeply painful reminder to all Native peoples and particularly the many tribes in California is now gone. Early this morning before sunrise a crew of San Francisco workers removed a 2,000 pound statue depicting the subjugation and “conquering” of California Natives in order to “settle” California in the mid 1800s. The Church has always painted the genocide of California Tribes as a noble cause but the account from Indigenous Peoples is always different.
Meteor Blades [Seminole Tribe of Florida] writes extensively about it:
Practically unknown, meanwhile, is the extended massacre of California Indians in which [1000s] of the state’s indigenous inhabitants died at the hands of vigilantes and militias in the first few years of statehood. Less than a handful of books have been written about that slaughter. And no movies.
This was on top of the slaughter wrought by the Mission system in which, starting in 1769, California Indians were pressed into service (of the Spanish friars who came to convert them to Catholicism), worked to death, recaptured or sometimes murdered when they ran away, raped by the Missions’ military squads, and killed off in great numbers by diseases they picked up from the invaders.
From Benjamin Madley’s article It’s time to acknowledge the genocide of California’s Indians:
Between 1846 and 1870, California’s Indian population plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000. Diseases, dislocation and starvation caused many of these deaths, but the near-annihilation of the California Indians was not the unavoidable result of two civilizations coming into contact for the first time. It was genocide, sanctioned and facilitated by California officials.
It is not an exaggeration to say that California legislators also established a state-sponsored killing machine. California governors called out or authorized no fewer than 24 state militia expeditions between 1850 and 1861, which killed at least 1,340 California Indians. State legislators also passed three bills in the 1850s that raised up to $1.51 million to fund these operations — a great deal of money at the time — for past and future anti-Indian militia operations. By demonstrating that the state would not punish Indian killers, but instead reward them, militia expeditions helped inspire vigilantes to kill at least 6,460 California Indians between 1846 and 1873.
Back then, California denied Natives the right to vote and to serve in any legal capacity. State Legislators legalized the white custody of Indigenous minors and prisoners creating a swarm of kidnappings. Native children were sold into slavery. ”Between 1850 and 1870, L.A.’s Indian population fell from 3,693 to 219.”
Premeditated, systematic killings of California Indians in addition to destroying tribal villages and food stores to drive Natives off their land further created a hostile environment.
It has been an eventful week for Indigenous Peoples. It started with our leading the Rise for Climate, Jobs & Justice march of 30,000 participants this past Saturday. We’ve held numerous demonstrations including one yesterday that blocked off streets around the Moscone center where world leaders are meeting about the environment but not allowing our voices inside. And now this:
One part of the Pioneer Monument, an 800-ton shrine erected in 1894, is now removed
The presence of hundreds of Indigenous leaders here in the Bay Area encouraged the city’s Board of Appeals to reverse their decision.
Among those gathered was District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown, who is of American Indian heritage.
“It was very emotional for me. There are a lot of sins moving away with that statue,” she said. Brown was among the dozens of people who urged the city’s Board of Appeals to approve the statue’s removal when it met Wednesday evening. The board’s vote that day formally authorized Friday’s pre-dawn relocation.
Last year in October the Art Commission voted unanimously to have the “Early Days” portion of the monument removed. The Historic Preservation Commission agreed on its removal.
However, this past April, attorney Frear Stephen Schmid convinced the appeals board to leave the statue up.
But at Wednesday’s hearing, representatives of both commissions clarified that they acted well within their rights under the City Charter. Their arguments persuaded the Board of Appeals to unanimously reverse their previous decision.
Native leaders were at that meeting. For a change, we were listened to instead of just talked at.