Since I realize not everyone lives in California, here's a short history. The California Missions of the 1700s were placed along the coastal areas of California: San Jose, Monterey, San Rafael (one I've visited), San Francisco, Santa Cruz, etc. Each of these missions were headed by Spanish colonists and were there for the express purpose of converting the Native American people to Catholicism.
With questions regarding the new land, trade possibilities, and other issues, King Louis XVI of France asked Pérouse to head an expedition to the colonies to make notes of everything: land, weather, plants, people, etc. so they could learn more of it to see if they could perhaps capitalize on it. This book is part summary and part Pérouse's personal journal of the trip and says much of the Spanish treatment toward the Native American people.
A few things struck me as I read:
First, that the Spaniards sought not to understand the Native American way of life, but simply to judge it, deem it anarchist and godless, and then seek to save them. No matter the motivation they would use to convert the people, those in charge "agreed that converting the Indians to European ways was not merely desirable, but indeed a moral necessity" (40). It earlier states "There was, in their eyes, only one true religion, the one the Spanish monks were bringing with them to the Monterey Bay area" (28).
The Indian people for various reasons all came to the missions voluntarily and, once baptized, were stuck. Without experience with organized warfare, a tradition of strong leaders and of long, drawn out decision-making processes, they also had language barriers between them. No real weapons to speak of.
Mostly, though, they had the fear of God instilled in them. It states,
"The Spaniards also had an enormous psychological edge...while the Indians seemed to have been burdened by the incapacitating belief that the Spaniards were powerful magicians, deriving their powers not just form the bullets in their guns, but directly from the gods. Proof of the alliance between the Spaniards and the gods was everywhere: the monks were seen constantly talking directly to their gods, and it seemed obvious that their gods were answering them. To rebel against the monks and soldiers meant to rebel against their gods as well" (31)Does anyone think these people had a choice?
In civilizing the Indian people, the Spaniards managed also to take away everything that defined them. Their link to the land. Their homes (they weren't allowed outside the mission). Their calendars and rituals. All gone. Mission president Fermín Lasuén said of the conversion process:
"This can be accomplished only by denaturalizing them. It is easy to see what an arduous task this is, for it requires them to act against nature. But it is being done successfully by means of patience and by unrelenting effort" (33)
The result of such actions? Deep depression. "Unable to rebel, their old way of life destroyed, they sank into the deepest gloom" (33)
But this one really stuck out to me:
"To enjoy membership in this new community, the Indians were invited to partake in the ritual of baptism, thus allowing them to communicate with the spirits and gods who had given the newcomers such great power and wealth. What the Indians could not have understood, however, was that the waters of baptism were, in the eyes of those administering it, taking away not only something called 'sin' but freedom as well...
The Indians had to be kept at the mission, by force if necessary, lest they revert to their old ways and stray into sin. To preserve the soul, the monks understood to regulate the Indians' every activity, monitor their behavior, and teach them (by whatever means necessary) the correct mental and spiritual attitudes...they were now wards of the church - their lives, their bodies, even their thoughts no longer their own." (30)
I think this could all be read in a few different ways aside from the literal historical aspect of it.