Pictured: The bronze statue of Father Junipero Serra at Ventura City Hall. Photo by Stephen Heap.

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

For the first time in Ventura County, a statue representing the colonization, enslavement and killing of the Chumash people, the indigenous people who lived on the land that today is called the City of San Buenaventura, will be removed. 

A joint statement made today by Father Tom Elewaut, priest at the San Buenaventura Mission Church, Matt LaVere, mayor of Ventura, and Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, Chumash leader and elder with the Ventureño/Barbareño band of Mission Indians, announced that the process is underway to remove the statue of Father Junipero Serra in front of Ventura City Hall. 

LaVere had reached out to the parties and set up a meeting that took place earlier this week.

“The three of us are confident that a peaceful resolution regarding the Father Junipero Serra statue can be reached, without uncivil discourse and character assassination, much less vandalism of a designated landmark,” the written statement reads. 

“The energy now shouldn’t be anger,” said Tumamait-Stenslie about her hopes for the event being planned for Saturday, June 20, where the statue stands. She agreed that people should “vent and talk their truth,” but that because the process to remove the statue has started, it is not the time to go after city hall. She wants the public and event organizers who are expressing passionate support to recognize that “They [the city and church] get it, they understand,” she said. 

Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, Chumash leader and elder with the Barbareño/Ventereño Band of Mission Indians in Oct. 2019. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

She hopes those who might not understand why the statue is being removed will consider that while Serra “is an iconic figure representing a lot of history,” that the Chumash people had a history that is not being told. “That was a very dark time for our family, and it continues past the missionization [era]. It went on… and it continues.” 

“History has just changed to a different color, with different protagonists. Now we are not getting punished, we have the freedom to move about. We’ve found our voice to speak freely about our concerns and advocate for our culture,” Tumamait-Stenslie said. “There are times when we see stories or articles about the Chumash. Most times they are incorrect. Some people think they can tell a better story.”

As for the action planned for Saturday, she said, “I would have liked to have known in advance that it was being planned. That way we could have decided if this was something we wanted to do. Many of us were not told. It would have been better to let us decide what that would look and sound like. We are strong people. I am very confident the city will do the right thing.”

Tumamait-Stenslie emphasized, “I know we have support, we know we can count on people, and do appreciate people are rallying and coming together and supporting the cause. We would like to call them in when it’s necessary.”

The nine-foot bronze statue of Father Junipero Serra was erected in 1989, replacing a cement version that had deteriorated since it was first erected in 1936 with funding from the New Deal. A wooden version sits inside city hall. Serra oversaw the construction of nine of the California missions. 

Details on the removal are not yet worked out, and the item still needs to be brought formally before the Ventura City Council. Early ideas include a temporary shrouding of the statue until the physical removal is approved and takes place and a new location is determined.

Update: Friday, June 19: City clarifies final decision not yet made 

Following yesterday’s release of a statement (link below) and the article above being released, the City of Ventura has clarified that the final decision about the removal of the statue will be based on input from the community and all stakeholders at a future public meeting and that the city has not yet made the decision to authorize removal of the statue. 
 
While the June 18 statements signed by representatives of the Chumash, church and the city did state that they “believe the time has come for the statue to be taken down and moved to a more appropriate non-public location,” the city must properly agendize the item at a city council meeting, notify the public and receive input. 
 
The June 18 statement reads, “We all believe that the removal of the statue should be accomplished without force, without anger, and through a collaborative, peaceful process. This process has already commenced through our initial meeting and we look forward to continuing the discussion with the community to help guide further action on this.” 

A gathering, march and story telling is planned for Saturday, June 20, at 1 p.m. in front of Ventura City Hall. 

Story update: The full statement issued June 18 is online in English HERE. 

And in Spanish HERE.