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Ventura County

Historic Junipero Serra statue sparks controversy in Ventura

father junipero serra statue ventura
Statue of Father Junipero Serra standing near Ventura City Hall

VENTURA, Calif. - A few people stopped by to take pictures of the historic Father Junipero Serra statue in front of Ventura City Hall on Father's Day.

They are aware it may be moved.

A weekend rally took place around the statue.

Some young people including Chumash members wanted to tear it down, but Chumash elders said they wanted a peaceful solution.

Although Serra is credited as the founder of the first nine missions in California, he is accused of destroying the culture and tribes of Native Americans by forcing them to stay at the missions after they were converted or face punishment.

The Chumash elders met with Mayor Matt Lavere and Fr. Tom Elewaut, the pastor of the San Buenaventura Mission, to discuss relocating the statue.

"We are of one mind that we do not want this to be done in a violent way or disrespectful manner and so we entered a joint statement of solidarity to have public comment and input for the relocation of the statue," said Elewaut.

A similar statue was beheaded at the Old Mission Santa Barbara in 2017, and red paint was used to graffiti the mission in 2018, a few years after Serra became a Saint.

"There are those who want to whitewash historical fact. To say Junipero Serra and the Mission era had no ill effect on the indigenous people known as Chumash is false. Throughout the state of Alta California, tens of thousands died due to  European disease that the Chumash had no immune system to fight these diseases. To say that St. Junipero Serra is another Hitler or that the missions were concentration camps to exterminate the Chumash is also categorically false," wrote Elewaut.

He said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is open to moving it to mission grounds.

The original statue by John Palo Kangas was placed on city property in 1936.

When it deteriorated, Fr. Elewaut said the city paid for a new one made by Master Carver Wilbur Rubottom.

It was dedicated with a plaque in 1989.

Without the pedestal, the statue stands nine feet tall and could easily fit on mission grounds.

"I am happy and delighted to be part of this process in that we are seeking reconciliation and a true record of history as well as an amicable way of working together as one people here in Ventura, California."

Ventura's Historic Preservation Committee will hold a hearing on the matter in the near future.

California / Education / Local Politics / Santa Barbara- S County

Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.