Peter Carr Peace Center News
March 3, 1995


Still Here After Three Years of Struggle!

As the Puvungna Sacred Site Struggle enters its fourth year, the Save Puvungna Coalition looks forward to 1996 as an important year of decision. We look forward to a reversal of the unfair court decision of last April and to developing new cultural and educational programs for the Puvungna site.

Puvungna supporters will recall (or refresh their memories by reading the background material below) that the Puvungna lawsuit is based on Section 5097.94 of the Public Resources Code which protects Indian burial grounds and sacred places on public land. In April 1995, CSU lawyers finally found a judge who agreed with their contention that this law violates the principle of separation of Church and State and is therefore unconstitutional. Our lawyers think this decision is "flat out wrong," and have filed an appeal.

Before the Appeals Court could address this constitutional issue, the terms of the injunction during the appeals process had to be worked out. CSU agreed that it would not develop the site until after all appeals had been completed, and that Indians would continue to have access to the site for spiritual purposes throughout this process. However, CSU lawyers insisted on conducting invasive archaeological digs on the siteQa violation of Indian religious beliefs and a clear attempt to harass the Indian plaintiffs. Further, CSU lawyers insisted that the plaintiffs pay the CSU's legal expenses of over $800,000Qa clear attempt at intimidation.

The Court's rulings on these issues were first, that the University could conduct its archaeological digs on the site if it wished, but second, that there was absolutely no legal basis for requiring the plaintiffs to pay the University's legal expenses.

The Puvungna lawyers asked the Appellate Courts to overrule the first of these rulings even before deciding whether 5097.94 is an unconstitutional establishment of religion, but to no avail. In October, the California Supreme Court declined to issue any ruling on an emergency basis. Consequently, there are no legal barriers to archaeology on the Puvungna site at present. However, CSULB President Robert Maxson has assured the Indian community that he has absolutely no intention of any such digs. And if the Appellate Courts decide that 5097 is constutitional, the "no digging" rule will go into effect again in any case.

The second ruling was appealed by the CSU's lawyers, but the CSU decided to drop its appeal, apparently recognizing that it was futile and that no court was ever going to order the plaintiffs to pay the CSU's legal expenses.

The way is now clear for the Appeals Court to address the issue of the constitutionality of Section 5097.94, and we expect that a court date will be set for sometime this Summer.

While the legal proceedings are moving forward, the situation on the Cal State Long Beach campus has dramatically improved with the arrival of a new President, Robert C. Maxson. Although Maxson has declined to become involved in the legal proceedings of the CSU Trustees, he has consistently been opposed to the commercialization of University property. After last April's court ruling, Maxson pledged that he would preserve the Puvungna site as open space as long as he is President.

Consistent with his pledge, Maxson ordered a cleanup of the Puvungna site in August 1995. The fence has been taken down, the staging area removed, the trash and debris removed, and the weeds mowed. Puvungna is now peaceful and serene and, with the coming of the Winter rains, green.

The Save Puvungna Coalition is pleased that it was able to successfully block the University's planned strip mall until wiser heads within the campus administration could prevail.

But the present situation is temporary. Although campus thinking on Puvungna has changed, the thinking of the Chancellor's office and the CSU Trustees has not. The CSU's lawyers are continuing to attack, not only Puvungna, but Native American religious freedom itself.

Coalition members have pledged to continue our struggle so that future generations can enjoy and benefit from this important cultural, historic, and educational resource on the Cal State Long Beach campus.

The following is some background from the reverse side of this flyer.


Background on Puvungna and the Sacred Site Struggle

What Is Puvungna?

Puvungna is the Indian village which once occupied the land where Cal State Long Beach now stands. Puvungna remains sacred to the Gabrielino and other Indian people as a spiritual center from which their lawgiver and god -- Chungichnish -- instructed his people.

Ethnohistoric evidence clearly identifies Puvungna with Rancho Los Alamitos, a portion of which became the Cal State Long Beach campus. More than a dozen archaeological sites spread over an area of about 500 acres on and near our campus have been identified as Puvungna village sites. Most of these have been destroyed by development.

In 1972, campus workmen uncovered portions of an Indian burial on one of these sites, LAn-235, located on the western edge of campus. These remains were placed in our archaeology lab. A few years later, LAn-235 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places to "represent" Puvungna "as a means of perpetuating the memory of these native peoples and their religion, and as an aid to the program of public education." Two other sites were included in the National Register: the adjacent LAn-234 and LAn-306, located just east of campus on the grounds of the historic Rancho Los Alamitos.

In 1979, the human remains were reburied on LAn-234, after a long struggle by Indian students.

In addition to the burial and reburial sites, the area slated for development included about two acres of community garden plotsQknown as the Organic GardensQwhich were established on the first Earth Day. There is also a large natural area where numerous native birds, mammals, trees, and grasses flourish and where summer day camps for children have been held for many years.

Unfortunately, the tradition of learning and teaching which began with the Indian elders was poorly understood by campus officials. Plans to build a strip mall on the Puvungna site were blocked by the Puvungna Sacred Site Struggle.

What is the Struggle About?

Officials decided to develop the site in 1992. The first phase of development was to replace the Organic Gardens with a temporary parking lot. When the gardeners were told of this, they organized the Committee to Save the Organic Gardens. Students and residents joined the movement and gathered thousands of signatures on petitions to save the Organic Gardens, using slogans such as "Save It, Don't Pave It!" and "Let My People Grow!"

Officials turned a deaf ear to community protests 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. State officials and local Indians objected, pointing out that the site was not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places but also that the University itself had posted a sign near the reburial site which read: "Gabrielino Indians once inhabited this site, Puvungna, birthplace of Chungichnish, law-giver and god."

Frustrated in their attempt to conceal the National Register status of the site, campus officials began to argue that there was insufficient evidence to claim the site was actually Puvungna and announced a "cultural review" to determine through archaeological excavation whether the land was in fact sacred.

Such a dig was opposed not only by the Native American Heritage Commission but also by professional archaeologists. As one archaeologist put it, no amount of digging will come up with a prehistoric sign that says "Welcome to Puvungna!"

Campus officials turned a deaf ear to the concerns of the Indian community and proceeded with plans for a massive archaeological dig which would have involved using a backhoe to dig 20 meter long trenches every 20 meters over the entire site.

When Indians pitched tents and began a prayer vigil to protect the site, campus officials built a fence and ordered them off the site under threat of arrest.

This action prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to enter the case. According to Raleigh Levine of the ACLU: "This case is about the First Amendment rights of the Native Americans to whom Puvungna is sacred. 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."

The ACLU obtained a Preliminary Injunction which blocked any digging for archaeology or development purposes, and ordered that Native Americans be granted access to the land for spiritual purposes. This injunction was to remain in effect until the case could be decided in court. After three years and millions of wasted taxpayers dollars, the legal battle continues.

How Much Has this Cost the Taxpayers?

The bill for Cal State's "Indian Wars" continues to grow. The total acknowledged by campus officials is over $2.3 million. Much of this comes from the General Fund which is the state allocation from the taxpayers and student fees and is intended to be used for instruction and instructional support.

The Indians, by contrast, are being represented on a pro bono basis by lawyers from the law firm of Strumwasser & Woocher, as well as the ACLU and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

Are There Real Indians in Los Angeles?

There are over one hundred thousand Indians in Los Angeles. Like most other Angelenos, most of them have moved here from other states in search of a better life. Many of these Indians also regard Puvungna as sacred land, since "what is sacred to one Indian tribe is sacred to all Indians."

There are also thousands of Gabrielino/Tongva Indians who were the first people of the Los Angeles area. These Indians are survivors of the twin holocausts of the Missions and the Yankee invasion and today live as refugees in the land that once was theirs. Their world of great natural beauty was taken from them so that we would build our world of concrete, subdivisions, freeways, and shopping malls.

Present day Indians are trying to save a small part of what is left of their world. Puvungna was, and is, an important part of their world. Their struggle to save Puvungna deserves the support of all Southern Californians.


Visit the Puvungna Web Site:

Ask your school or public library to order the Puvungna video: "Sacred Lands, White Man's Laws." Available for about $149 from Films for the Humanities & Sciences: (800) 257-5126.

A background packet of newspaper clippings with other information of Puvungna is available. $10 donation to cover xeroxing and mailing requested, call the PCPC at (310) 985-5364.

Call the Puvungna Hotline for the latest news: (310) 985-4619

This document posted: October 24, 1994.

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