Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Inmate #A-93223: In the San Quentin of My Mind

Inmate #A-93223: In the San Quentin of My Mind


My father abused women.

This was my first thought when a Native woman contacted me to ask about a prominent Native male writer’s history as a sexual harasser.

My second thought was for the writer’s immediate family, his wife, his children.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s how a father’s sins follow his children like a storm cloud, waiting to burst when they least expect it.


My father was married three times, and during each marriage, he went on alcoholic rampages, yelled and threatened and carried out those threats. He beat his wives and children, belittled them, betrayed their love for him. As a young first-time husband, an older husband in the marriage that produced me, a middle-aged husband on a second try with my mother, and an elderly husband with his last spouse: his age did not matter, or how far he had come in terms of financial stability.  In his last marriage, he was so sick that he couldn’t even drink anymore, but his frustration and rage over his physical disa­bilities – and whatever demons he carried – still haunted him, his wife, his children and step-children.

I’ve written about my experience with my father when he returned from San Quentin after serving an eight-year sentence (Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir).  But I have not written about what it’s like to be the “out” child of an abuser.  What it’s like when everybody knows.

A few years ago, a colleague asked me, “Why was your father sent to prison?”

Everything stopped. There was a hard, dead beat of silence. My mind raced.  I could lie.  I could sugar-coat it. I could make a joke out of it.  But could I just . . . say it?

I’d written it down, published it even, but I had not said it aloud, in casual conversation, to someone I barely knew.  I had only ever said it in private, in confidence, in the safety of friendship or love.


The word came out of my mouth in an ugly gush of shame and reluctance and rebellion.  No, I would not keep this secret for him.  No, I would not make it my secret.  No, I would not bear the sins of my father for him. But yes: it was an awful thing to admit.

“Wow,” my colleague said: “That must have been hard to say.”

I shrugged.  It is what it is, I mumbled, or something like that.  

I’ve spent most of my life unpacking what it means to be the daughter of a man who has committed crimes against women.  My father’s sentence was harsh, in part, because he did not just rape a woman; he beat her, badly (he was also a very dark Indigenous man with a Spanish surname; that didn’t help his cause).  I saw his fury first-hand; I knew the terror of being caught out by it, trapped by it, made helpless and dehumanized by it.  I cannot imagine having it cut loose on me in a dark parking lot.

As a child, I knew that my daddy was in prison.  It was as much a part of my growing-up as knowing where my dark hair, dark eyes and brown skin came from – my Dad.  He was incarcerated when I was three years old.  I didn’t see him again until I was thirteen.  In the interim, he’d spent eight years in a maximum-security prison (then lived in Los Angeles for a few years before I saw him again).  Every once in a while, an envelope with intriguing, back-slanting handwriting showed up in our mailbox, even though we moved almost every year.  The return address corner of the envelope read Box No. A-93223, Tamal, California 94964. “A-93223” was my father’s inmate number.

I still have a few pieces of that correspondence. Some of the envelopes are addressed to me, “Miss Deborah Ann Miranda” and others to my mother, “Mrs Midgie E. Williamson.” Usually my father sent a cheap card, but sometimes he wrote long rambling letters – front and back of a single piece of unlined paper – in his odd, even hand.  In a 1968 letter he talked about sending out job applications, hoping for parole, looking for a place to live: “Santa Monica or W.L.A. for me, Midgie,” (it would be another two years before he actually made parole). My name comes up a lot, though reading the letter now, I suspect not because my father actually regretted missing out on eight years of my life; it was one way my dad could be sure he and his “Midgie” were still connected – “How’s Debby Ann making out? I sure have missed her very much, guess she has forgotten me by now, que no?” – then right back into how bad he felt for angry things he’d said in a previous letter “that hurt your feelings and your husband’s too.” 

My dad asked for money, sent along a “Christmas package authorization” form in bright red and green, checking off which of the approved gifts he would prefer.  The form lays out rules: packages sent to San Quentin would be accepted no earlier than November 29, no later than December 20; no more than 15 pounds; must be composed only of the approved items (‘NO HOMEMADE FRUITCAKE’).  Later, my dad wrote again to complain that he hadn’t even gotten a Christmas card from us – “It sure hurt me not to receive any,” he wrote reproachfully.

In 1968, the year my Dad sent that letter, I was seven years old.  I lived with my mom and step-father in the Cedar View Trailer Park in Buckley, Washington.  We were broke most of the time, though not as broke as we would be in a few more years when we’d drive from one store to the next searching for the cheapest price for hamburger, and settle on a pack of hotdogs instead.  Things happened to me in that trailer park that I am still coming to terms with fifty years later, things that left scars internally and externally.  I needed my father; he was in prison.  I needed rescuing; he had abandoned me.  What would I have told him, if I could have?

An inmate’s children serve their time, too.  At times in my life, it seemed as if my father’s inmate number was my permanent address. Aside from missing my father in ways I did not even have language to articulate, there was always that question: “where is your dad?” and then, “what did he do?”

My mother never did tell me about my father’s crime.  (The fact that, after his sentencing, she experienced a kind of breakdown, quite literally disappeared for a year into alcohol and grief, speaks volumes about the depth of her wound.) Somehow, I learned my father was imprisoned for rape, but of course, rape meant nothing to me at that time – even though one of my mother’s boyfriends molested me that same year my father wrote asking for money and Christmas presents.  Later, after he had moved back in with us when I was thirteen, my Dad asked me, “Do you know what I went to prison for?” and, saying he didn’t want me to hear it from anyone else, “It was rape.”  He hastened to add that it wasn’t really rape, the girl had just lied to him about her age, it was statutory rape, and she just didn’t want her brothers to think she “was that kind of girl.”

The real reason my father wanted to be the one to tell me was so he could craft the story his way; slant the truth backwards, like his handwriting, so that it became his story – not the story of the woman he’d attacked.

The woman he had attacked.  How much did it cost me to write that, just now?  And to remember the scent of my father, the rich darkness of his skin, soft as tanned deer hide against my cheek.  The joy of leaping into his arms and knowing he was strong enough to carry me, lift me up, swing me around.  The sound of his voice, like flowing caramel.  And to think: that same strength meant he was too strong for the woman he attacked to fight off.  She heard that same voice as he raped her.  She felt that skin against her skin.

Having a father who hurts women changes a child; it colored the way I saw the world as a little girl, before he left, and again as a teenager, after his return.  It helped create a silent space inside my body where I learned to hide secrets – not my secrets, but the secrets of men who hurt me.  Like a foreign object, my body formed a hard, rancid sack around that space, protected it from discovery, while letting its poison seep out into my sense of self.  I was ashamed to tell friends about my father’s crime, thinking they would feel less loyalty to me; thinking they would be afraid of him.  In fact, of the small group of solid girlfriends I had in high school, only one of them ever came to visit our trailer. I always went to them.  My home didn’t feel safe to me, either.

It’s one thing to know the statistics: More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence. We are told that most of those assaults are from non-Indigenous men, but what is it like knowing that your father, the Indian man you adore despite everything, preys on women, wants to dominate them, use whatever power he has to hurt them, demean them, diminish their dignity?

I’m fifty-six years old, and I’m still figuring out how my father’s crimes affected my own identity.  After years of therapy, I was still convinced that the mean, self-critical voice in my head was mine, my self-flagellation, until one day my therapist asked me, “Whose voice is that?” and without missing a beat I replied, “My father’s.”  I was stunned. 

“I fought all my life to keep him out of my head,” I whispered. 

“I think he got in,” my therapist said quietly.

Knowing that your father hurts women means you always wonder about that kernel of meanness in your own soul.  It means you question your ability to love, to support, the women in your life – girlfriends, wives, daughters. If you are an Indigenous woman, it can make you think that being Indian means nothing but pain.

If you are an Indigenous woman, it might mean believing that you must deserve pain.  It might mean wrestling endlessly with your own daughter about her womanhood.  It might mean letting men walk all over you because you have learned that is their right.

If you are a man, it means you have no clear path towards forming relationships with the women you love that is not fraught with second-guessing and fear.  It might mean excessive loneliness and longing for the very people you have been taught are weak and undeserving.

But most of all, knowing that your father hurts women means shame, and anger, and guilt, and a tear down the middle of your soul; it means knowing what you wish you didn’t know, and never being able to forget it.

In my case, I often think of the horrific patriarchal colonization that was my father’s tribal history in the missions of California: a form of historical trauma that traces directly from Catholic priests teaching Indigenous parents how, and when, to beat their own children as punishment; those same Indigenous parents had never seen or used corporal punishment but were, themselves, punished by the priests if they did not beat their children.  Follow that up with generation after generation of poverty, dehumanizing treatment from Spaniards, Mexicans and Americans, erasure of almost everything Indigenous, a culture of shame and pain in which all Indigenous people were devalued and debased, but especially Indigenous women. The only real power many Indigenous men could claim was over women.  For some men, misogyny becomes the norm. 

Misogyny becomes the norm. 

That’s the worst thing about knowing your father hurts women.  Knowing that just because your father was hurt by people and events beyond his control doesn’t give him the right to hurt others.

Knowing he should have been better than that, and he wasn’t.
Knowing that it was his decision.
Knowing that this is not ever going to go away, or not matter.  

Knowing that what he did is also a part of who you are, who you will be, who you will love.  It will be part of your children.  It will change the direction of your life.  It will require you to be stronger than you think is fair.  It will present you with challenges you did not ask for.  It will throw obstacles down in front of you.  It will make you want to tear your skin off because you inherited that skin from him.

It will make you want to tear your heart out because you can’t stop loving him.  Even if you convince yourself that you can stop, you can’t.

It might mean you act like you don’t love yourself.

As I write this tonight, a storm is brewing – on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, and in mainstream news outlets. That major Native American male writer being named one of the most relentless sexual harassers of Native women writers, as well as women in the film industry, has been lauded and celebrated for his (often uneven) work representing our under-represented culture; he’s won all the big writing awards, movies have been made of his works, and he is in demand as a speaker like no other Native writer, despite his high speaking fee. Early on in his career, he was chosen as the darling of reviewers and, with his charismatic, problematic, but always media-savvy verbosity, to represent . . . well, us.  And though it’s true that publishers seem incapable of acknowledging more than one Indigenous writer at a time, a lot of this writer’s success, both financially and as a writer, comes because the man knows how to work a crowd. He is a performer.

I lived in the Seattle area while this man was a rising star. We met a few times at writing events, conferences.  But I knew he was volatile, unpredictable, irreverent to the point of cruelty.  Back in the old days when we were all on the only Native Lit listserv, he joined under a pseudonym so he could see what we were saying about him.  Eventually, during a heated discussion about mixed-blood writers, this man outed himself and told us all what he thought of us – I don’t recall the details, except that he made it clear we were lesser beings.  I do recall thinking, or rather feeling, that this was a man to keep clear of.  So when we saw one another in person, I asked after his wife, his son, then (when another baby came along) his sons; I steered our conversations toward traffic on I-5, grandparents, sleep deprivation.  That was it.  He was never inappropriate with me.  He also never reached out to me, something most Indigenous writers do frequently with one another – do you have a piece for this anthology I’m editing, nice job on that poem in such-and-such journal, hey I heard somebody has a new reading series you’d be good for – but then he was mind-blowingly famous; he was busy.

Sure, he talked about anal sex during readings, blow jobs, cursed up a storm. He went on long rants that were funny, at first, but devolved into hatchet jobs for some poor target.  Significantly, he often said the things about white people, colonization, and anti-Indian sentiments rampant in U.S. culture that needed to be said, that many Indians longed to say but did not dare.  We loved him for those moments.  His humor almost always pulled his fat out of the fire.  But there are other stories, too, that circulated on the down-low: he backed Indigenous women into corners, stalked them by email, demanded sexual contact in exchange for not trashing their writing in public. He rewarded women who adored him with invitations to readings, dinner, book blurbs.  And just to complicate things, he did all these things for other women and never made a pass, creating a kind of cognitive dissonance when women compared stories.

I believe the women who are now naming Sherman Alexie as a man who has bullied, threatened, and sexually harassed them.  I know these women.  I’ve known most of them as long as I’ve known Alexie, and they are strong, honest, loving human beings who have supported me throughout my career as a writer, as a professor, through my life as a mother and grandmother. These are the women who didn’t bat an eyelash when I came out, who sympathized over rough reviews of my writing, shared their own stories of struggle with me; women who create spaces in the literary world for Indigenous women’s voices to live when Indigenous women’s voices are routinely ignored, silenced and maligned.

I believe the women, because they are my community, and have been, before and after whatever small successes I have had.  They have little to gain, and everything to lose, by telling their stories.

I know how hard, how painful, it is for an Indigenous woman to “tell” on a powerful Indigenous man who has accepted the privileges of power.  On a man who has elevated the literature of our people into mainstream news, classrooms, bookstores.

And I know that, bad as this situation is for those women, and for the field of Native American literature, these men create other victims, too; ripples of violence and grief.

I know that when a father hurts women, his children and his wife take a blow like nothing they’ve ever felt before. Though not guilty of any crime, they’ll face a kind of sentencing anyway. Tonight, as the storm gets ready to break, I am thinking of them, wincing at what is to come.  I wish I could say something wise that would make a difference. I wish I didn’t know how much hard work is in front of them. I wish I could say:

Look, nobody gets to choose their parents. We do get to choose how we parent.

Even if the only child we ever parent is ourselves.

My father abused women. I carry that knowledge with me. For a long time, carrying such heavy knowledge made me sick, depressed; it made me abuse myself. Sometimes, it still does – I won’t lie to you, this is a lifelong process. But at least now I use what I’ve learned from that experience: watch out for women and children. Raise a son who values the women in his life, and the tender side of his own soul. If your daughter struggles, stand as a model of strength but do not presume to be her strength. Never underestimate the destructive power of silence.

I don’t know the whole story behind Alexie’s actions. I might never know. Yet it is part of the pattern of an abuser to prevent those he abuses from sharing stories with one another, through threats, pleading hard-luck, asking for another chance.  Poverty, a shattering childhood of abuse, the shame of being Indian in a white world, brain damage due to seizures, brain surgery—in many ways, it really does suck to be Sherman Alexie.  And yet, life has sucked for many of us in very similar ways, and we've managed to pull ourselves through life, write, and engage with other Indigenous writers without sexually or otherwise harassing those weaker than us.

Native women are finally speaking about the fear that Sherman Alexie, a Native man, instilled in them through sexual harassment. That prison of fear often seems impossible to escape. I know those walls, those guards, those cells. My heart is with the women staging this break-out.

I know that nothing can contain this story now. The women are speaking. I’m listening. Are you?

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Short Correspondence About a Long Story

Dear Readers:

As a published scholar and poet, my email account is full of requests, comments, and conversations. When I can, I give the writers my best shot at a good response. Sometimes I receive lovely pieces of fan mail, or exciting questions about research. Sometimes I get asked to help come up with Esselen names for someone’s novel, or (honest), people who want to tell me that they’ve been Indian in all their reincarnations. Today, I’ve changed the name of this correspondent, but left the name of the high school – there are enough Junipero Serra High Schools that it’s not automatically an identifier.  I don’t have to change anyone’s name, of course, since emails that come to me are fair game for discussion.  However, in keeping with my previous practices, I’ll re-name this person “D. Thomas.”  Forgive me my small dig.


Dear Dr. Miranda,

Mr. D. Thomas
Theology Department

Saint Junípero Serra, pray for us!

Junípero Serra High School


Mr. Thomas,

I found this updated population information in the work of Dr. Russell Thornton (Professor of Sociology at UCLA) who has multiple articles and books on the topic of Indigenous populations in North America, their decline and rise.  In particular, his book American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 has been invaluable and meticulous in sorting out the mishmash of population estimates from various earlier scholars.

The long-used Cook and Mooney et al estimates are long-outdated; given what little they had to work with at the time of his estimates, this is not surprising, but it has caused wide-spread damage in terms of not allowing us to see the full extent of the consequences of contact.  What IS surprising is how little scholars and the general public question such an obviously erroneous number as “350,000” for such a densely populated and well-resourced area.  Thornton’s overall conclusion is that within North America (more specifically, Thornton says, “the area north of Mexico,”) (32), Indigenous peoples measured about 7 + million, pre-contact."  California’s rich resources (land, sea and weather) account for about one million inhabitants within what are now the state’s boundaries.  In fact, he notes, Indigenous populations could have been far higher but for the natural limitations (disease, war, famine) and the cultural curbs adopted by Indigenous communities for child-spacing (breast-feeding, restrictions on sexual activity, and customs relating to marriage). Indians were well aware of the suffering that over-population could bring upon them.

When I came upon Thornton’s work, I wrote to Dr. William Preston, another social scientist working in the specific field of disease in California missions, asking what he thought. Dr. Preston replied, 

“At this point I think that Thornton’s high number is totally reasonable. In fact, keeping in mind that populations no doubt fluctuated over time, I’m thinking that at times 1 million or more Native Californians were resident in the state.”

I hope this answers your question, and gives you a new direction for your own research.


Deborah Miranda
Professor of English


Dr. Miranda,

Thanks for the response. So you are saying that because a couple of thousand Spaniards came to California that 650,000 California Natives died? And don't you think you it would be fair to present the consensus view to children until the "1 million to 350,000" argument is widely accepted?


Mr. D. Thomas
Theology Department

Saint Junípero Serra, pray for us!

Junípero Serra High School


Mr. Thomas,

Actually, Mr. Thomas, I avoid make huge sweeping claims without considerable investment of time and energy on research before coming to conclusions. I have been actively researching the effects of both the missions and the gold rush on California Indigenous populations for about ten years, as part of my own work on what these experiences were like for the communities involved.  I am part of a larger community of scholars and Indigenous communities dedicated to the separation of truth from mythology.  May I ask, how long have you been working on this?

Because of my research, I know three key ways the Spanish missions impacted the death rate of California Indigenous peoples:

A.    along with “a couple of thousand Spaniards” came diseases that reached epidemic level, and which not only killed many Natives, but weakened the survivors and undercut their ability to birth and raise healthy children.  Because of this, the death rate far, far outstretched the birth rate both within and without missions.  Measles, for example, was rampant at most of the missions one time or another, and recent research has revealed that measles actually erase a body’s immunity for many other diseases; the body has to “re-learn” these immunities, and that can take years. If, as happened in the missions, Indigenous bodies were already weakened from poor diet (something the priests themselves complained about), a bout with the measles often killed them. But even those who survived the measles epidemic were so immune-compromised that they succumbed in the next months or year to other, lesser illnesses.  European syphilis, another disease brought to North America by the Spaniards (a different, much less deadly form existed here pre-contact but did little harm), also became epidemic as Spanish soldiers (and, I’m sorry to tell you, some priests – again, according to the Church’s own records) raped Indigenous women, who then could not help but spread the disease to spouses and children. Other diseases also contributed to the death and/or weakening of Natives, so view this as an example only, not a conclusive list.  Syphilis became an epidemic early on in missionization, resulting in stillbirths, sterility of both men and women, deformities, and early death. Steven Hackel’s work notes that the average life expectancy for a child born within a mission was 7 years. 

B.    along with the Spaniards came thousands upon thousands of European domesticated animals such as cattle, ox, poultry, horses, donkeys, pigs, etc.  These animals roamed freely, eating and destroying the seeds, roots, fruits, and displacing game and other food resources upon which the Indigenous tribes depended (again, the priests documented that they were often so short on supplies from Spain that they were forced to release Natives into their homelands to scavenge for food – which, as time went on, was increasingly absent). Rivers and streams were polluted by the waste of cattle and horses, run-off from cleared land, thus much reducing Native fisheries, not to mention, clean water.  The Spanish priests had little in the way of medicines, and often relied on Indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants, but those plants too quickly became difficult to find, so treatments for fever, childbirth-related problems, etc., became unavailable.

C.    Finally, don’t forget the emotional and psychological components of huge, often violent change and loss coming to a community in a very short period of time. Depression and grief take their own toll.  Please research the topic “Historical Trauma,” which, although founded by Jewish Holocaust scholars, has gone on to help shape our understanding of what long-term oppression does to a community’s soul and mental health.

Again, Mr. Thomas, this is all based on research of many years, by many scholars.  Rather than argue with me, you should be doing your own research and coming up with your own thesis and supportive facts. 

Let me remind you that, as a descendant of California Indians taken into Carmel, Soledad and Santa Ynez missions, I am the one who has a right to be angry, who grieves for all the lives and culture that has been lost, and who is still, at this late date of 2018, struggling to make our truth known to the larger American culture.  And yet, it is you, Mr. Thomas – a person with much privilege, whose version of history has long been accepted despite its flaws, mistakes, and outright lies -  who presents yourself as wronged, oppressed, and in denial of the facts.  Please, ask yourself why that is. 

You ask, “And don't you think you it would be fair to present the consensus view to children until the "1 million to 350,000" argument is widely accepted?”

I don’t think you are in any position to discuss fairness with me, Mr. Thomas, but let me add this: Indigenous children learn about the massive deaths of their Ancestors from the time they can listen to song, story, and take part in their culture. As do Jewish children whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, Black children who descend from enslaved Ancestors, and many other children who are the survivors of injustice.  I don’t think it’s asking too much of white children, or Catholic children, to learn a little about the impact of Spanish missionization, particularly when they benefit from the schools, churches and homes located directly on Indigenous land.

I wish you well on your research journey.  As an educator, you have a tremendous responsibility to do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. Don’t take my word for any of this. But also, don’t blindly recite the party line without researching that, too.  To do otherwise would be to cheat your students of the information they need to become righteous human beings.


Deborah Miranda


Dr. Miranda,

I am sorry that my question offended you. I am Catholic. Your assertion deals with my history.


Mr. D. Thomas
Theology Department

Saint Junípero Serra, pray for us!

Junípero Serra High School


Mr. Thomas,

Actually, based on your questions, I thought we were discussing California Indigenous history.  Hmmm.  Somehow, this has become all about you.

I won’t send this last response to you; it was obvious from your first email that you, yourself, have absolutely no respect for the work that I do, and in fact, probably disdain any research that does not agree with your own belief system and what you need to support that system.  Although I offered you my expertise and my research, my free time and my energy, you refuse to engage with that information in a thoughtful or constructive way. Instead, you continue to look for ways in which to make yourself and your religion “victims” of my research when, in fact, the Indigenous peoples of California have clearly borne the weight of missionization and the gold rush. Having taught Writing 100 (Introductory Composition) for many years, I know a weak argument when I see one; an opinion is not a thesis.  I’m not talking about your faith, Mr. Thomas; I’m talking about statements like “So you are saying that because a couple of thousand Spaniards came to California that 650,000 California Natives died?”  In my WRIT 100 course, that would not pass inspection as a rough draft. How can we have a conversation if you won’t invest in the details, won’t do the slightest bit of research?

Sometimes in my classes, I use thought experiments to jog loose the log jams in students’ heads. 

Let me ask you this, Mr. Thomas:  how many Catholics do you know?  Have you met Catholics in your neighborhood?  Have you ever had a Catholic doctor, librarian, mechanic, teacher?  Have you read a book by a Catholic author?  Have you been to a prestigious museum to see artwork created by contemporary Catholic artists?  Do you listen to music by people who practice Catholicism?

I’m pretty sure the answer to those questions is YES. 

Now ask yourself the same questions, but this time, replace “Catholic” with “Indigenous Californian.”  How small did your ‘yes’ become?

Now, ask yourself: why, in a land that was 100% Indigenous only 200+ years ago, do you know so few California Indians?  Why do so few California Indians have degrees from higher ed?  Why don’t you see more California Indians in your daily life?  In the media?  In entertainment?  What happened to that 100%?  What happened to their descendants?  What economic, social, cultural and psychological damage did losing most of their land, 90% of their population, and the freedom to choose their own religion, languages, and lifeways, do to them?

And what have you done, what will you do, to try and understand that disaster, work for justice on their behalf?

Those are the questions you should be asking, and which you owe it to your own moral code to try to answer honestly.  Particularly as someone who identifies with a religion founded on the actions of a man whose work on behalf of the poor, sick and marginalized, you might find that an interesting course of exploration.

Do I hate Catholics? Of course not! Many of my own family members are Catholic, and I could not love them more dearly.  I certainly don’t like what the Catholic Church did as missionaries in the post-Inquisition era; I don’t like what the Catholic Church is doing now, in regards to burying and denying its own crimes regarding pedophiles and responsibilities to Indigenous peoples around the world. Do I hate Jesus Christ? No, on the contrary, I have great respect and gratitude for someone who devoted a lifetime, short as it was, to caring for the poor, the sick, the undefended, the homeless, and who tried to pass on that creed to the world. 

What makes me angry, Mr. Thomas, are people who ask questions without ever listening for answers, who write bullying emails with absolutely no context, without bringing anything valuable to the conversation, and who in fact, don’t really want to have a conversation at all. What makes me angry are people who ask for my time, then walk away without one ounce of respect for what I’ve shared.

This is a long story in the lives of Native people. We are the ones living with the specter of historical genocide; we are the ones coming to terms with both historical and contemporary trauma; yet, we are the ones who, according to Euro-American history, know absolutely nothing about what happened to us.

Mr. Thomas, I feel that our “correspondence” (such as it is) will be instructive for others seeking knowledge, particularly about California missions and contemporary scholarship about that era, and its consequences.  So I’ll make this last reply to you here, on my blog, and leave it to be discovered by others more willing to grapple with difficult, but important, realities.

I’ll leave you with this thought: If you truly believe that Junipero Serra was doing the Lord’s work, and all the other missionaries too, then why does my work bother you at all?  How can one middle-aged, mixed-blood Chumash/Esselen Indian woman’s words possibly have any effect on the well-being of a saint?  Could it be that the truth of my words rings in your ears despite your protests?

Just wondering.


Deborah A. Miranda