Open Mic: Why Juneteenth Belongs to All

By Reno Keoni Dono Franklin

As a CA Indian, I feel a strong tie to the celebration of emancipated Black people. It is a celebration that crosses racial and cultural boundaries. A shared set of broken chains. But while it did not end there for tribal people living here in CA, it was the road to the end of the enslavement of CA Indians.

In his book, Unholy Traffic in Human Blood and Souls, author Benjamin Madley details the gruesome history of slavery in California and documents instances of Indians being worked or beaten to death. In other cases, enslaved people were abandoned in the wilderness after their labor was complete.

A financial solution to the cheap labor need, CA slavery was propagated by the state’s first non-Indian residents. Those Anglo Americans, Europeans and Mexican land owners used religion as their moral pacifier to weaponize their churches and the Mission system here in CA against CA Indians.

The celebrated priests and monuments to genocide built along the El Camino Real stand today as a reminder of the church’s use of the Missions as their slavery distribution centers for CA Indian women, children and men.

In 1863, five months after the emancipation proclamation, California repealed its Indian apprenticeship laws. These prohibitions were strengthened by the 13th Amendment, which California immediately ratified in 1865.

We were not set free on June 19th, 1865, but the writing of freedom had been set in the pages of history and it would only be a matter of time until we were. Slavery in CA ended in 1873 when tribal people were given the right to testify in court, ending the ability to claim an indian was a vagrant.

I say today we celebrate that the freedom for one is the freedom for us all. I say we embrace our brothers and sisters of all races who were enslaved, and acknowledge the lives that were lost and the trauma our communities still suffer from. This day belongs to all of us. Happy Juneteenth to all of you.

Reno Keoni Dono Franklin lives in Santa Rosa. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected]
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