Tabling the issue of my ancestors for a moment, let me then focus more on my experience of colonialism. How have I more directly benefited from or participated in colonialism?
First, I was raised on stolen Native American lands. First, the Native Americans who lived in California suffered the Spanish missions system as were enticed or forced onto the Missions and were “civilized” and “Christianized.” Later, when California became a state, the Natives suffered attempts at outright genocide. The state of California paid a bounty for Native American scalps, especially during the Gold Rush era, in an attempt to eradicate them and open up their land. The Miwuk of my area, like so many other Native American tribes, were decimated (their population was reduced from at least 11,000 to 491 at its lowest level) and those that survived ended up on rancherias, what we often call reservations in California, or were assimilated into the larger culture. This land was taken, divided up, and sold.
Eventually I lived in houses, attended schools, attended churches, and was treated at hospitals that were all built on this land.
Second, my skin, my eyes, my brain, my blood and the very marrow of my bones are all quite literally made from the fruits of injustice. What I mean by this is that the Central Valley that was stolen, the Central Valley that I was raised in, is an incredibly fertile region. Agribusiness is the prime business and my father has worked in agribusiness as an accountant all of my life. He bought food and provided shelter for my family from his participation in this business. My mother, when she was pregnant with me, ate of the fat of the land. She ate primarily locally grown fruits, nuts, vegetables and locally raised and slaughtered meats because we don’t really need to import anything in the Central Valley.
The molecules and atoms that wove together in her to form me came from the this fertile land that was stolen. Even considering that our body replaces all of its cells every seven years, I grew up eating this same food, from the same stolen land, so this fact still holds.
Third, I am part of a faith that has been complicit in much of the European colonialism. I was raised Catholic and Protestant. Later, I was baptized into the Christian faith in the muddy waters of the Stanislaus river. This river named after a Native American chief who led a resistance against the Spanish, and I’ll come back to this later. I was baptized by a white pastor into a very white and affluent church. Some of our members actually own the land around Modesto.
Christians, like me, both Catholic and Protestant, have been very involved in colonialism, not just as passive beneficiaries but active participants and supporters. Christian theology and language was used to justify the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans as we scripted Africans as the cursed sons of Ham, and the Native Americans as the “New Canaanites” in this new “Promised Land” that Europeans were being given by God. Aside from this spiritual support to the colonial project Christians have directly participated in colonization. Christians scalped Native Americans for $5 from the state on Saturday and then went to church the next Sunday. Christian settlers, such as my ancestors, took the land. Christians also ran many of the residential schools. Residential schools were government sponsored programs in the United States and Canada that were attempts at forced assimilation. Native American children were taken from their families, put in these boarding schools, and again “civilized” and “Christianized.” This meant that they had their tongues cut if they spoke their Native languages and many suffered sexual, physical, spiritual and emotional abuse at the hands of people who represent my God. Christians have sat by as Native American rights lagged behind all others and attempts at forced assimilation and land theft have continued. Christians now by and large ignore Native American issues and Native American communities just like the rest of the dominant culture, even though we are called to seek justice for the poor and marginalized.
(Sidenote: Apparently we Christians are more content frantically pretending we are the oppressed and persecuted group in the U.S.A., and pretending that the Christian faith is all about protecting family values and the “biblical model of marriage.” But I write a lot more about my criticisms of Christianity, especially American Christianity elsewhere.)
All things considered my very existence has not just been shaped by colonialism, but it has been contingent upon colonialism. Colonialism is not just a shadowy force that has shaped my experience in some ways, colonialism, in one sense, is why Kevin Gonzaga exists.
This is not abstract musings, this is concrete fact. And what is also fact is that the legacy of colonialism that has benefited me and provided for my existence has had a steep cost that has been laid on to other people whose plight is rarely if ever considered. It is people like the Miwuk tribe and the Carrier Band, people from the over 500 tribes that lived on this land before we came, that have paid this price.
And while Native American issues are largely ignored in the mainstream dominant society, colonialism is still happening and this price is still being paid.
[On my final page I talk about the actions I have decided to take as a result to the answer I have found to these questions.]