Posted on September 10, 2015
“There’s no respect at all for our ancestors. That needs to change.”
Sept. 10 Update: Coast Miwok Territory—San Rafael, CA (Mission #20) to Sausalito, CA
Two full days of walking brought us to Mission San Rafael, then over the hills to the waterfront at Sausalito. We came upon Mission San Rafael at dusk last night, Caroline and Kagen both expressed being surprised by the sense of dread they felt upon first sight of the bell tower. Exploring the Mission grounds, we got out flashlights in order to read the offensive and racist historic plaques.
We learned that the burial ground here is actually covered over by two driveways, a parking lot and a building. There is no sign, no marker, nothing to indicate that there are hundreds of indigenous ancestors buried beneath the asphalt. San Rafael was built in 1817 as a sort of hospital built to handle the large amount of gravely ill Indian people at Mission Dolores (the Mission’s website terms it a “sanitarium for sick natives”), but it also served as a northern extension of the Missionaries’ conquering frontier. Records kept by the Fathers indicate at least 800 were buried here between 1817 and 1839.
“There’s not even a respectful sign, not even a memorial or anything. There’s no respect at all for our ancestors. None. That needs to change,” Caroline Ward Holland says. “Call them, write to them, email them. We need to do something. Tell them that you understand that there is no grave marker for the ancestors, and there needs to be something there. They need to work directly with the Coast Miwok tribes to create some kind of memorial sign that tells the truth.”
We stood together for a minute of silence, in the middle of the driveway where the burial ground has literally been covered up. We also put up a temporary sign on the fence by the driveway: “Indian Burial Ground: Respect the Ancestors. Tell the truth.” A second sign was written in Spanish, with the same message.
Caroline spoke with a parishioner that we saw in front of the church. She told him what we were doing and he said “Burial ground? I’ve never heard of a burial ground.” She pointed out that the fine print on a faded map on one of the historical plaques indicates the location of the burial ground, just west of the church (a woman in the church office later confirmed the location). “The sign only talks about how many people they saved there, and how many people they did wonderful things for, you know? It’s disgusting, really. They did such wonderful things, but they can’t give them a grave marker?”
The walk through Coast Miwok territory from San Rafael to Sausalito was breathtakingly beautiful at times, as we crossed through marsh lands, Corte Madera Creek, and a series of forested ridges with sacred Mt Tamalpais towering above. We were fortunate to be joined for the day’s walk by Sergio, a Mexica dancer from Santa Rosa who is also a Peace and Dignity Journeys runner. Also, Johnella Sanchez and Nancy Willis, organizers of the Shellmound Peace Walk, walked with us through Novato yesterday and brought their helpful advice and blessings.
We also learned that Mission San Rafael was attacked by Coast Miwoks in 1824, under the apparent leadership of Huicmuse (Chief Marin) and Quintino, as discussed in Betty Goerke 2007 book, Chief Marin: Leader, Rebel, and Legend. Huicmuse, a skilled boatman, “would use the [Marin] islands as a hideout to elude the priests and military while sailing back to the Missions to cause trouble.”