Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Forty Groups From Around California Sign Letter to Cal State University Trustees Calling to Protect Puvungna, Sacred Native American Site at CSU-Long Beach

Growing controversy pits Southern California’s Native American community against state university system for dumping construction debris, planning parking lot construction on sacred site

 


LONG BEACH, Calif. – Native American and social and environmental justice organizations from around California today submitted a joint letter to the California State University Trustees and Governor Newsom. The groups ask CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro, CSU Board of Trustees Chair Lillian Kimbell, and Governor Gavin Newsom to act immediately to restore and permanently protect Puvungna, a 22-acre parcel of land on the 322-acre CSU-Long Beach campus that is sacred to the area’s Native American Tribal groups.

The decades-long simmering controversy over control of Puvungna came to a boil in the fall of 2019 when the university dumped large quantities of construction debris and dirt on the land. The university also sprayed pesticides on the meadow and drove heavy equipment over ceremonial areas on the site. The Juaneño Band has argued that dumping the soil, along with concrete, rebar and other debris, on this land that holds archeological artifacts and that is actively used by local Tribal groups for ceremonies and celebrations, is not acceptable. But almost a year and a half later, the university has yet to address the damage caused to the site.

The joint letter comes as momentum around the controversy is growing between the university and local Tribal groups, including the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation - Belardes, the Gabrielino/Tongva, and other Native American people in Southern California. Puvungna holds significant religious, cultural, and historical importance to these groups and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the California Native American Heritage Commission’s Sacred Lands Inventory. The signees include the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, Confederated Villages of Lisjan, San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, Indian People Organizing for Change, Sacred Sites International, Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, Society of Native Nations, Mujeres de Maiz, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, and many others.

In an attempt to protect the most significant remaining undeveloped parcel of their sacred tribal land in Southern California, the Juaneño Band and the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA) in late 2019 filed a lawsuit against the university. That lawsuit is ongoing, with the Tribe and CCRPA to file an opening brief in mid-March. The groups have asked that the university clean up the debris, permanently protect the land, and enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure adequate consultation in the future.

University leaders have made statements on social media that they have no current plans to develop this site, but the only way to protect Puvungna in perpetuity is for the university to enter into a written, legally binding agreement that would protect this land. To date the university has been unwilling to enter into such an agreement.

“This is not about what the University President says, or the Trustees or even the Governor,” said Matias Belardes, Chairman of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation - Belardes. “It’s about the actions they take and what they are actually willing to do through the law. Native Americans have been given all sorts of promises over the course of the last 250 years. But it’s the legally binding agreements that have provided some measure of protection for our lands, our peoples, our spiritual traditions and our cultural heritage.”

Internal communications clearly indicate that the university had intended to pave over parts of this last remaining parcel of sacred land to build a parking lot. At first the university publicly denied this plan; but when presented with evidence, they backpedaled and adjusted their statement to say they were no longer pursuing the idea.

Chairman Belardes added, “There is long, tragic history in California and across this continent, of oppression and cultural erasure of Native Americans. We have an opportunity right now -- with this matter of protecting Puvungna -- to right past wrongs and begin a healing process. The generation of young people going to school at CSULB support our cause and our fight for justice. I invite the leaders of CSU to stop misappropriating our sacred land and join us in this endeavor to heal and to move forward.”

The Board of Trustees is meeting next on March 23-24. The Juaneño Band’s Tribal leaders have requested that this issue of protecting Puvungna be put on the agenda. They ask that the Trustees take the initiative to end this controversy by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding and directing CSULB to restore and preserve Puvungna in perpetuity.

 

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