Native American statue unveiled at former site of Junipero Serra at California Capitol

A statue signifying resilience has replaced a legacy of pain, its gaze fixed on California’s Capitol dome.

The California Native American Monument now stands on the grounds of the state Capitol, the first-ever monument in this location honoring the state’s Indigenous population.

It replaces a statue of Father Junípero Serra, the founder of California’s notorious mission system, long a symbol of Native pain and oppression. Protesters toppled Serra’s statue in 2020.

“We have him facing the rotunda,” Jesus Tarango, chairman of the Wilton Rancheria, near Elk Grove, told the hundreds gathered Tuesday in Sacramento’s Capitol Park “He’s always going to keep an eye for Indian Country on the Capitol.”

Chris Gallardo is a Wilton Rancheria government relations staffer on the team that helped make the monument a reality.

“It’s a beautiful feeling. It’s not every day that Native Americans get recognized in this way on the Capitol grounds,” Gallardo said. “What this statue is replacing, the pain and suffering under Serra, it’s a huge blessing.”

Marjorie, left, and Sally Franklin, daughters of William J. Franklin Sr., look at the statue in his likeness during the unveiling and dedication of the California Native American Monument at Capitol Park in Sacramento on Tuesday. Franklin was a Miwok Native American leader and cultural preservationist who promoted native culture through dance.
Marjorie, left, and Sally Franklin, daughters of William J. Franklin Sr., look at the statue in his likeness during the unveiling and dedication of the California Native American Monument at Capitol Park in Sacramento on Tuesday. Franklin was a Miwok Native American leader and cultural preservationist who promoted native culture through dance.

Assemblymember James Ramos, D-San Bernardino, California’s first Native American state lawmaker, penned the 2021 bill that brought the monument effort to life. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law later that same year.

“Our people in the state of California, we’ve overcome great odds. We’re still here,” Ramos said Tuesday. “The resiliency of our people is still present here today in Sacramento. We faced great odds in a state of California that did not look too kindly on California’s first people. Many turmoils came to our people, but we’re still here. The culture is still very much alive.”

The statue’s likeness was inspired by the late Miwok Indian elder and cultural preservationist William J. Franklin, whose legacy of preservation of traditional dances and Miwok culture resonated across the grounds Tuesday.

The ceremony included Franklin’s family members, and Miwok tribal members performed age-old ceremonial dances to honor the day.

Robert Geary, tribal preservation officer of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, was a close friend. Before federal laws in 1978 protected Native Americans’ right to exercise traditional religions, men like Franklin defied the law to honor their culture.

“There was a time when it wasn’t popular to keep the dances going. We were supposed to assimilate and forget about the past, but somebody had the strength and the respect to keep this going,” Geary said to the crowd.

“This is a special place and a special time to honor a special man,” Geary said. “Today is a good day. Today is a day we see a likeness like us. We walk among you and we’re still here.”