Bay Area Native Americans oppose replica mission bell installation, say it represents dark history

Zach Fuentes Image
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Local Native Americans oppose replica mission bell installation
The indigenous community in the Bay Area is fighting the installation of a replica mission bell in Gilroy approved more than a year ago.

GILROY, Calif. (KGO) -- The indigenous community in the Bay Area is fighting the installation of a replica mission bell approved more than a year ago.

It's set to be installed in the City of Gilroy.

Despite the opposition, the city council has not decided to bring it back for further discussion.

Mission bells have been a site seen on Highway 101 or El Camino Real for more than a hundred years now.

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Long before they lined the highway, Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun tribal band, says bells like them were used by missions to order oppressed Native American people around.

"If you didn't follow that bell, they would punish you and oftentimes that punishing was with a whip," Lopez said of the history, "That's what the bells represent, nothing but brutal control and domination of indigenous people."

The dark history of the bells have been brought to the headlines in recent years.

In 2019, a bell was removed from the grounds at UC Santa Cruz.

This month, the City of Gilroy plans to install a new replica bell on Gilroy's busy Monterey Street. So far a pole is up, the bell itself still set to be installed.

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It was introduced and approved by the City Council in September 2020 as gift to the city to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Last week though, dozens spoke in person at the council meeting and emailed, asking that the bell not be put up.

"This is a great example of a gift that doesn't mean the same to everybody" said Gilroy City Councilmember Zach Hilton.

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Hilton, who was not on the council when the bell was approved, was one of three councilmembers who voted in favor of a motion to put the bell back on the agenda last week.

If they weren't outvoted by the mayor and other councilmembers, the issue could have been revisited.

"This has nothing to do with cancel culture, I believe that some of my council colleagues are falling under that trap," Hilton said, "This is a chance to do something right, before we do something wrong."

Lopez responded to the vote: "They're trying to erase indigenous history, because they don't want to listen to it, and they don't want to talk."

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Hilton says he will continue working to get the item back on the agenda for discussion.

As for the Amah Mutsun Tribal band, Lopez says their fight against this mission bell and all of the others in the state, won't end until all of the bells are gone.

"We think in terms of generations," he said, "I mean, (if) it doesn't happen to our generation, it'll be the next."

ABC7 News reached out to the Gilroy Mayor and a city spokesperson and have so far, not heard back.