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THE NEGATIVE REALITY FOR NATIVES ON THE

SPANISH CALIFORNIA MISSIONS

Galina Doty
LBS 375: The California Experience
Professor Kristal Cheek
September 13, 2016
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California land was inhabited with many Native American tribes for centuries. Many

Spanish explorers throughout the 17th and 18th century examined California to see if it was a

good fit for ports and possibly to settle into. However, the Spanish did not want to utilize

California land due to the Mediterranean climate and harsh geographic features. California was a

high disinterest to the Spaniards for about 167 years and it was not until 1769 that the Spanish

decided to colonize and settle there for good due to competition with the Russians for claiming

land. Similar to all European colonizing countries, the Spanish had their own colonizing method.

They implemented Missions, Presidos and Pueblos to settle in California land. The Spanish used

this method to have a strong religious, military and community presence. The Spanish also used

these methods as a way of taking over and colonizing the Natives that already lived there. The

Spanish offered the Natives gifts to appeal them to come over to the Missions. However the

Natives that came to the Mission were not allowed to leave and ended up being treated like

slaves.1 Californians tend to romanticize Spanish Missions. When thinking about the Missions

some can argue that they were beneficial. This statement might be somewhat true, however the

Missions were only beneficial to the Spanish, not the Natives. Life for California Natives on

Spanish missions was negative due to the destruction of their culture, the work/labor they were

forced to do and the violence they were faced with.

When Natives from California went to live on these Missions, their language, culture and

traditions were not aloud and they were stripped of them. The priest, Father Junipero Serra stated

that, The Christianized natives pray twice daily with the priest in the church. More than 120 of

them confess in Spanish, and many who have died used to do it as well. The others confess as

1 Ansary, Mir Tamin (2003). California History. Heineman: Chicago, IL


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best as they can. They work at all kinds of mission labor, such as farm hands herdsmen,

cowboys, shepherds, milkers diggers, gardeners, carpenters, farmers, irrigators, reapers,

blacksmiths, and they everything else that comes along for their physical and spiritual welfare.2

As examined in Father Junipero Serra report the Natives do not speak their Native language at

all. They were forced to learn Spanish and as seen in his report some even struggled to learn it.

On the Missions, to promote a Spanish lifestyle, everyone was required to speak Spanish. If a

Native was caught speaking their native tongue they were brutally punished for it. It is also seen

in Father Juniperos report that the Natives prayed and confessed. This shows that the Missions

forced Christianity, a whole entire religion and concept, onto the natives. This was one part of the

Missions intention, to convert the Natives to Christianity. On the surface this was for Natives to

find the light and discover God. On a deeper, more political level it was a way of Spanish

colonization and to gain control over the Natives. Another point mentioned in Father Juniperos

report was that Natives were carrying out many jobs on the Mission. Studying Native cultures

one can see that none of these jobs are labor that they are used to. All of these jobs were Spanish

jobs and were foreign to the Native leaving them to struggle learning how to conduct them.

Culture makes up a society groups identity. Culture consists of a societys language, religion and

traditions and the work and jobs done in the community. Stripping all of this away from a society

group leaves them with nothing and forcing them to take on a brand new culture is ethnocide

and leaves room for that new culture to gain control.

2 Monterey California, July 1, 1784. Father Junipero Serra and Father Mathias Antonio Noriega, Report
on the Missions
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Native Californians did not live on the Mission for free. They paid in their labor building homes

and the Mission itself. Mir Tamin Ansary states in his study that, Many missions grew quite

wealthy, thanks to the hard work of Native Americans. They farmed the land, made wine, and

tended cattle. All of the missions had buildings for shops for blacksmithing, tanning, candle

making, basket weaving, leather working, and furniture making. The missions played a large part

in turning native peoples from a hunter-gatherer society toward an agriculture one. On large

areas of land they grew grains and fruits, including palms, olives, grapes, figs, oranges, and

pomegranates. They had also large herds of cattle and horses and huge flocks of sheep.3 The

Spanish were not the ones who built and worked on the Mission. The Spanish forced the Natives

on the Missions to work for free labor. Once the Natives were on the Mission they could not

leave and were severely punished if they tried to. Natives had to work for the Spanish with no

pay and were punished if they refused. Natives worked as if they were slaves on the Mission and

were not given anything in return, if fact they had more taken away from them. Many can argue

that the Natives learn new skills with the new jobs that they were forced to learn. However, these

Natives did not know how to do any of these skills and had to extremely struggle and work a

grueling amount in order not to face the violence that the Spanish would inflict on them. In

Ansarys quote he states that the Natives society completely changed. The work that they were

forced to do was completely different from their previous experience, so much so that their

society changed from a hunter-gatherer society toward an agriculture one. The fact they had to

do all this new labor for a society that was not even theres proves to be negative in that their

3Ansary, Mir Tamin (2003). California History. Heineman: Chicago, IL


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whole society changed and that they were faced with so much violence if they did not execute

the work.

Natives that lived on the Mission were faced with violence constantly. According to The

treatment shown to the Indians is the most cruel I have ever read in history. For the slightest

things, they receive heavy flogging, are shackled, and put in stocks, and treated with so much

cruelty that they are kept whole days without water.4 This primary source proves the violence

Natives faced living on the Spanish Missions. The Natives were forced to stay on the Missions

through violence. Their Culture was taken away and they were forced to work like slaves

through relentless violence. Men and women were killed and tortured if not completely obedient.

In some situations women were raped and men were even killed in front of the women. These

violent acts occurred commonly and placed fear and depression in Native lives. In school one

learns that the Missions goal was to convert natives and bring them closer to God. However the

documentation of violence and torture towards the Native people can show that it was extremely

negative for them and was a way for Spanish to gain control. Natives that lived on the Missions

were not politically classified as slaves, however they were violently forced to stay on these

Missions and were treated very inhumanly for displays of power.

Before the Spanish came, Natives from California had a rich culture, good economic system, and

overall a good and balanced life. When the Spanish came they made Missions look appealing to

Natives in order for them to come to them. What the Natives did not know was that the Spanish

were going to use them for free labor, completely strip them of their language and culture and

use extreme violence as a way to control them. Many can view the Spanish Missions as positive,

4 1799, Padre Antonio de la Concepcion Horra of Mission San Miguel reporting to the New Spain
viceroy.
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however this was only for the Spanish. Life on the Mission was extremely negative for

California Natives and was a way for Spanish to take over California land and control it and the

people who lived there.


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Works Cited

Ansary, Mir Tamin (2003). California History. Heineman: Chicago, IL

Monterey California, July 1, 1784. Father Junipero Serra and Father Mathias Antonio

Noriega, Report on the Missions

1799, Padre Antonio de la Concepcion Horra of Mission San Miguel reporting to the

New Spain viceroy.