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LA Removes Junipero Serra’s Name From A Downtown Park — And Says ‘Sorry’ To Indigenous Communities

May Day Rallies Held In Cities Across The U.S.
A man wearing a traditional indigenous headdress participates in a May Day march from Chinatown to City Hall on May 1, 2021 in Los Angeles.
(Apu Gomes
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Four years ago, Los Angeles joined a growing number of cities across the nation in replacing the Columbus Day holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day, a celebration of Native American peoples and their cultures. At the time, the change was heralded as an act of restorative justice, an acknowledgement of the history of Indigenous Peoples and the wrongs that were done to them.

Today, the city went further. Officials announced the Indigenous LAnd Initiative, which will enact several changes including renaming certain landmarks, updating the city’s seal and flag to include representations of local tribes and issuing a formal apology to Native America Tribes.

“But after we say we’re sorry, we must also go further because sorry isn’t enough,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in a news conference at Pio Pico House, near where the statue of Father Junipero Serra was taken down by activists last year. “Los Angeles is a city of belonging that takes responsibility for the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”

Approximately 160,000 people of American Indian descent live in Los Angeles.

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The park where the statue once stood will be called La Plaza Park until a new name is officially adopted. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and local tribal communities worked with the mayor’s office to designate the park as an Indigenous Cultural Easement where local indigenous communities will have priority access to practice traditional ceremonies.

"Connecting the Gabrieleno/Tongva and Fernandeño people with their traditional homelands is necessary to continue our path to healing," said Former Native American Indian Commissioner Kimberly Morales-Johnson, speaking on behalf of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe.

Artist Joel Garcia was among the people who organized the takedown of the Junipero Serra statue last fall.

"This announcement today comes directly from that action. And all through it, the tribe and other community members who have been advocating for this to happen, have been the drivers of it,” Garcia said.

Garcia created an augmented reality installation at the pedestal where the statue once stood. He hope a monument that promotes understanding and bridges cultures will be erected in its place.

“It shouldn't be commemorating an event that's about domination from one group over another group. But rather, an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to nurture one another," Garcia said.

An effort is also under way to rename the “Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway,” a portion of the 10 freeway that runs from Santa Monica through Los Angeles and into San Bernardino County.

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