Indian Burial Grounds Fate Unknown
By Amanda Parsons
The future of Puvungna lies uncertain, because with President Maxson’s retirement, his promise to preserve the sacred Indian burial grounds from the destruction of being developed is retired with him.
When President Maxson came to CSULB in 1995, he announced that he would preserve the Indian burial grounds, on the western edge of campus known as Puvungna, and prohibit construction on the lands as long as he held office. Maxson is no longer president here, leaving the future of Puvungna uncertain.
Puvungna was discovered in 1972, when campus workmen uncovered portions of an Indian body on the area. Two years later, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a way to preserve “the memory of these native peoples and their religion.”
In 1979, Indian students received the honor of reburying the human remains of their ancestors on the site, following a long struggle with CSU officials.
Officials decided to develop the area in 1992, covering two acres of community garden plots planted by community members on the first-ever Earth Day with a temporary parking lot. Students across campus, as well as community members, joined the Committee to Save the Organic Gardens, signing petitions and using slogans like “Save it, don’t pave it!” and “Let my people grow!”
“Officials turned a deaf ear to community protests,” the Background of the Puvungna and the Sacred Site Struggle website states, “and filed a Negative Declaration as required by state environmental law before the parking lot could be built. The Negative Declaration stated that there were ‘no cultural resources on the site.’ This is when the compost hit the fan, so to speak.”
The compost that the website refers to is the ensuing battle that followed. Indians objected to the Negative Declaration’s claim of the land is holding no cultural resources and pointed to the site’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the University-placed sign labeling the site where the human remains had been reburied. The sign states, “Gabrielino Indians once inhabited this site, Puvungna, birthplace of Chungichnish, law-giver and god.”
Campus officials suggested that a “cultural review” be held in response to the protests, in order to determine whether or not the lands could be deemed a cultural resource. The method of cultural review consisted of an archeological dig which would backhoe 20-meter-long trenches every 20 meters and essentially destroy the gardens.
Indians pitched tents and began a prayer vigil to protect the site, which prompted campus officials to threaten arrest. The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, entered the case and obtained a preliminary injunction that halted any digging, for construction or for archeological purposes, until a decision was made in court.
“This case is about the First Amendment rights of Native Americans to whom Puvungna is sacred,” Raleigh Levine of the ACLU stated. “They have the right to freely exercise their beliefs without the state stepping in to pave over their place of worship and put a mini-mall on it.”
“In April 1995 the California court of appeal overturned the trial court opinion,” state the CSU Board of Trustee’s Minutes for Mar 14, 2000, “ruling that because it is a part of the state the CSU lacks standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute which permitted the plaintiffs to file this suit. The CSU’s petition to the California Supreme Court was denied. The parties are engaged in settlement discussions. Plaintiffs’ counsel has not responded to a CSU proposal for many months. The trial court has not resumed its jurisdiction over the remaining claim.” The most recent account, found was in 2002, stated that the situation remains unchanged.
Current CSULB Provost Gary Reichard announced last week that because CSULB is expected to grow to 31,000 full-time students in a few years, one campus concern is where to house the new students.
“We need to figure out if we need those lands,” Reichard said. He also suggested setting aside an area of one and a half acres as a tribute to the burial grounds. The question of what will happen to the human remains displaced by the possible construction also attracts turmoil.
According to the Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act, or NAGPRA, all universities had to initiate a process of documenting and returning all Native American remains, burial objects, sacred objects, and cultural artifacts to the survived and affected Native American tribes. The NAGPRA has caused CSULB some problems in the past. Summaries of the archeological collections were to be submitted by November 16, 1993. After the deadline had already passed, CSULB found some unaccounted-for remains and were taken to trial over the issue. The lawsuit included many of the same plaintiffs as the Puvungna lawsuit. The NAGPRA at CSULB organization website posted on July 21, 1995 reads, “CSULB is the only university that has filed a lawsuit over the issue; hundreds of universities nation wide have and continue to comply with the law.”
Some faculty argue that the displaced remains could be better used for scientific research and the land better used for new classrooms, more student housing and additional parking.
“No one would build on any other cemetery,” 1994 CSULB Graduate Aviss Pikney Bell said. “Why is this one any different?”
Currently Puvungna is the site of various Indian ceremonies including the annual Pilgrimage Honoring Our Ancestors, held in October of every year.
F. King Alexander, newly announced President of CSULB, has not announced his stance on the future of Puvungna.
Long Beach Union Weekly Mon Oct 31st, 2005