News Wrap: Iowa Effigy Mound Scandal; Mining Co. Nabs Sacred Apache Land; Pope Apologizes

Here is a news round-up of some important stories from the past few months.

Iowa Effigy Mounds Scandal

Check out Minnesota Public Radio’s story: National Park Service buries report on Iowa effigy mounds scandal. It begins:

The National Park Service has shelved a blistering internal report that details a “decade of dysfunction” as the agency allowed dozens of illegal construction projects to cause significant damage to an ancient Iowa burial ground that Indian tribes consider sacred.

Titled “Serious Mismanagement Report,” the document blasts the park service’s failed stewardship of the Effigy Mounds National Monument from 1999 to 2010 and says the case should serve as a wakeup call for agency employees at all levels to avoid similar violations.

Defense Bill Rider Gives Sacred Apache Land to Mining Company

Check out this July 24 commentary by Mark Charles in Native News Online.Net titled: “The Stealing of Oak Flats & The Trauma of the Doctrine of Discovery, that discusses a land swap in Southeastern Arizona. It reads in part:

The Apache people have worked successfully for years to keep these sacred lands off limits to mining companies. But a last minute rider buried in this massive, must pass, Defense bill by Arizona Senators McCain and Flake changed that. Through this law, Resolution Copper, whose parent company’s affiliates are campaign contributors to Senator John McCain, was given Apache lands for the purpose of mining.

Pope Francis Begs Forgiveness for Sins Against the Indigenous People of the Americas

Belatedly, we are sharing news reports on Pope Francis apology to indigenous people. A July 9 AP story headlined: “Pope Francis: I’m Sorry” in U.S. News & World Report begins:

Pope Francis apologized Thursday for the sins and “offenses” committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas

History’s first Latin American pope “humbly” begged forgiveness during an encounter in Bolivia with indigenous groups and other activists and in the presence of Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, Evo Morales.

That same day, New York Times headline read: “In Bolivia, Pope Francis Apologizes for Church’s ‘Grave Sin.” It opened:

Pope Francis offered a direct apology on Thursday for the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in the oppression of Latin America during the colonial era, even as he called for a global social movement to shatter a “new colonialism” that has fostered inequality, materialism and the exploitation of the poor. …

He repeated familiar themes in sharply critiquing the global economic order and warning of environmental catastrophe — but also added a twist with his apology.

“Some may rightly say, ‘When the pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the church,’” Francis said. “I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

Pope Frances Decision to Canonize Father Serra Raises Opposition

While the Pope might have generated good will with his apology to indigenous peoples, his decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra has created a strong backlash. Serra was a Franciscan friar who founded a string of Catholic missions in California, beginning in San Diego in 1769. Critics say Serra’s actions were the very thing that made the Pope’s apology necessary.

The National Catholic Reporter has written a piece:  “Junipero Serra: saint or not?” giving background on Father Serra. It starts:

The upcoming canonization of Junípero Serra is causing controversy as his supporters view him as the Franciscan who brought Christianity to California Indians, while his opponents see him as a co-conspirator with the oppression of the Indians by the Spanish empire. Pope Francis will canonize him at a Sept. 23 Mass in Washington, D.C.

In a separate National Catholic Reporter piece, defenders of canonization say Serra is being canonized because he was holy, not because he was perfect.

Matthew Fox wrote a piece on Serra for Tikkun magazine headlined: “Canonize Junipero Serra? Really?” (Fox is a former Dominican who became an Episcopalian priest.) The article reads in part:

Serra’s theology was retrograde even in his own day and by standards even of his own time – saying nothing of today. How remarkable it is that Pope Francis is on the cusp of canonizing Archbishop Romero of El Salvador who stood up to the extreme right-wing militias of his country to stand on the behalf of the poor, and is thereby choosing to rehabilitate liberation theology — but the same Pope is tone deaf to the colonial and “enslavement” theology that motivated Serra. has started a petition urging the Pope to abandon canonization. It reads in part:

The reality of the California Mission system has yet to be accurately taught in California schools or recognized by the Catholic Church. Elementary school children tour mission grounds and are taught that native people were “docile and child-like savage pagans, saved by the kind and benevolent padres”. In reality, the human remains of thousands of indigenous people are scattered beneath the grounds of the Missions that were built by Indian slaves as garrisons for the church and Spanish crown.


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