.Letters to the Editor—Historical Accuracy

I recently spent some time exploring the exhibits and historical displays at the Sonoma Mission and the buildings of Sonoma State Historic Park.

Although they were interesting, displays state that “Indian labor” was used at the Mission, but fail to mention that this was more akin to slavery than employment. Because of near starvation due to the white settlers preventing them from engaging in their traditional hunting and gathering, countless Native people ended up at the Missions. Before they received food and shelter, the padres “baptized” them in a language they didn’t understand. Native people did not know that this “baptism” committed them to a lifetime of unpaid labor. Soldiers were kept for the purpose of rounding up Indians and returning them to the Mission if they tried to return to their villages after being “baptized.”

The historical exhibits refer to the large herds of wild range cattle that were established around Sonoma during the Mission era. They don’t mention that if starving Native people killed one of these cattle to feed themselves they were captured and taken to the Mission as prisoners to perform forced labor. The displays refer to the early 1800s as the “golden age” of the Californios. To fail to mention that this was the age of genocide for Native Americans is grossly insensitive.

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It appears racist to have such extensive historical exhibits about a relative handful of white settlers, without mentioning that they caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Native Americans. It is great that outside the Sonoma Mission there is a memorial to the hundreds of Native People buried in unmarked graves in the area. For historical accuracy the exhibits within the Mission and State Historic Park buildings should reflect the true history of all of those who have lived here.

Matt Metzler



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