It was an undertaking, but they did it.
The human remains of local tribes were reburied after three years of research by students and staff from 11 California State University, Long Beach, courses as well as scientists, tribes and others — working together.
“This is unique,” CSULB’s Indian studies program director Craig Stone said. “It’s the first university to do this. It’s an unprecedented project.”
School and tribal leaders formally recognized the reburial of remains and artifacts of local tribes at CSULB on Sept. 22. The actual July 23 reburial was unannounced, Stone said, as the tribal leaders wanted it.
“The reburial was quite the ceremony,” Stone said. “There were tribal groups from all over.”
The recognition event finished the project, he said.
“It’s the ancestors’ final journey,” Stone said. “We’re acknowledging, explaining it in authentic, respectful ways.”
To get to that point, the research included looking at every aspect of reburial and finding a place for them, he said. Since tribes don’t have a spot anymore, the nearest place was on campus, he said.
They arrived at CSULB after homes and the Los Altos shopping center began construction around 1953, Stone said.
“They found bodies,” he said. “They were brought here.”
Remains of more than 100 humans were located, Stone said; some were complete and some partial. All are about 1,000 years old and likely from the Gabrieleño/Tongva, Juaneño/Acjachemen and Chumash tribes.
Indian studies lecturer Cindi Avitre was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) coordinator, Stone said, working with students and scientists and others, as well as finding historical items.
Luckily, everyone came together.
“You need the support and goodwill of others,” Stone said. “And people from the archeology and American studies programs work together here. It’s a complete integration, a really neat collaboration. We’re all on the same page to try to fix what went wrong.”
In 1990, the NAGPRA was passed, requiring agencies to consult Native Americans about any remains found. In 1994, Stone said the remains were repatriated back to the tribes.
“There are many tribes that have been influenced by this place,” Stone said. “There’s a spiritual philosophy that grows out of Long Beach.”
That’s why organizers thought it appropriate to have the recognition on Sept. 22 — the eve of California Native American Day, Sept. 23, Stone said.
“It’s a way to show respect,” Stone said. “We wanted it to take place for acknowledgment and public showing.”
Emily Thornton can be reached at email@example.com.