Student Opinion: Listen to Native Americans, Destroy the Mission Bells

By Kayla Ngai

What do mission bells represent in our history? “The Californian missions began at the end of the 18th century” according to History.com“for the purpose of converting Native Americans to Catholicism and expanding European territory.

Missions were developed to erase Native American culture and force Native Americans to conform to European rule. KION 5/46 news explained that the missions enslaved thousands of natives, treated them brutally and caused the death of 150,000 people. Mission bells have become a symbol of Indigenous trauma.

In my opinion, due to our grave history associated with mission bells and the treatment of indigenous peoples, additional mission bells should not be established and we should work for the removal of the bells already in place.

Gilroy, Calif., announced that a new replica mission bell will be erected this month despite opposition. According to abc7, Gilroy City Council approved the bell as a gift to the town in September 2020 for its 150th anniversary commemorating the El Camino Real route. Last week scores of people spoke at a Gilroy Town Council meeting to express their outrage at the bell. During this meeting, it was put to a vote whether the pouring of the missionary bell would be put back on the agenda and likely to be revisited, but the motion was voted down four (including the mayor) to three.

One of the council members who voted to revisit the mission bell issue, Zach Hilton, has announced his support for the removal of mission bells and is a leading advocate. However, the bell plan is still ongoing and in the making as most council members won’t listen to the cries of the public.

Indigenous communities, such as the Amah Mutsun tribal band, have called for action. Valentin Lopez, the president of the Amah Mutsun tribe, had declared that “the day after this bell is rung, we will then begin our campaign to have this bell removed.”

In addition to the horrific history associated with mission bells, this particular bell is a replica and has “no historical value, and is in fact in the process of being made”. There should be no deliberation, the bell should not be put up.

In my experience, mission bells won’t fail. I don’t know anyone who would walk past a bell and admire the history it symbolizes. Especially if the bell is placed on the “busy street of Monterey” as shown in this par abc7 news, no one will stop to watch. The bell only brings harm to the community. It proves that indigenous voices are continually being silenced and, like Lopez States“The city council obviously doesn’t understand.”

“This is a great example of a gift that doesn’t mean the same to everyone,” the Hilton council member said. Missionaries with their bells have a long history in California, but we must recognize that the pain caused by missionaries is still felt in communities today. They are a representation of how aboriginal people were treated terribly and a reminder of our colonial past.

In elementary school, I took a field trip to Mission San Francisco and the guide mentioned that the area everyone was standing on was the graves of many indigenous people. In fact, there weren’t enough graves, so the bodies were piled on top of each other. His words remain etched in my memory.

There needs to be more consideration for the different cultures and histories that make up our nation. A bell has already been dismantled in Santa Cruz in 2019, which sets a precedent for the removal of future bells, as mentioned in this article. As a diverse community, we should work together to understand Native Americans and their concerns regarding the installation of new mission bells and assist in the dismantling of older bells.

Nohemi M. Moore