puvungna pic

Debris from this construction site for housing on the Cal State Long Beach campus has sparked a lawsuit by Native American tribes concerning dumping on Puvungna historic site.

California's Office of Historic Preservation has sided with Native American tribes trying to force Cal State Long Beach to clean up construction debris dumped on Puvungna, a 22-acre parcel on campus considered sacred to the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe and others.

Also, one of the plaintiffs said Thursday, Oct. 8, that settlement talks are failing and the tribes will push forward with the lawsuit.

"We're moving forward with the lawsuit because the terms of settlement are not acceptable," said Joyce Perry, cultural resource director for the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation. "The university has not agreed to the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), the removal of the soil, removal of the plastic and more."

CSULB spokesperson Jeff Cook said he could not comment on the status of the lawsuit or settlement talks because it still is being litigated.

"Relative to the August 10 letter that you reference, we are working with the state Office of Historic Preservation to resolve the open issues raised in the letter," Cook wrote in an email.

The latest controversy stretches back to last fall, when soil and construction material from a residence hall project was moved to Puvungna — land that parallels Bellflower Boulevard. That site is used by Native Americans for meetings and ceremonies, and has been a source of contention for more than a decade.

Native Americans and their advocates have successfully turned back efforts by California State University officials to make use of the land — the largest undeveloped parcel on campus.

In this instance, university officials say they were trying to follow an agreement to keep all soil on campus — the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Acjachemen Nation say the entire campus is sacred ground. The letter from Julianne Polanco, state historic preservation officer, acknowledges that effort, but says that the definition of soil does not include rebar, concrete and other construction debris. The methods used to move material, including heavy equipment, also is criticized.

"It appears what has been deposited on the NHRP contributing site, however, is not only soil but also contains construction debris such as asphalt, rebar, concrete and more," the letter says. "All of these materials should be completely removed."

Further, the letter says heavy equipment should not be used to remove anything on the site because that might disturb or damage buried artifacts. The debris should be removed using hand tools and wheelbarrows.

Cook said in June that the work last fall to demolish a residence hall and build a larger hall took place with site monitors watching, as agreed to in talks with Native American groups. But that agreement did not include the Juaneño Band, tribal officials said.

Once the tribal officials objected, work moving material to Puvungna stopped, Cook said. But by that time berms — long hills of dirt — had been created, covering ground with up to four feet of new material.

The Office of Historic Preservation letter from Polanco says dumping even clean soil on Puvungna is not a long-term solution to dirt moved for construction on campus, indicating other parts of the campus should be used as well. An estimate of the amount of soil put on Puvungna, and how that soil would be treated to blend into the site, should be part of a final treatment plan to be submitted to the office, the letter added.

Finally, Polanco said creation of an overriding MOU should be a priority.

"Such documents are the result of collective consultation efforts by tribal groups arriving at commonly developed decisions and solutions, and OHP recommends that CSULB consider the development of an MOU between the university and the tribes that have an interest in the site," the letter says.

The sticking point there appears to be a minimum requirement from the tribes for a promise the university would never build on the land. Several CSULB administrations have declined to make that promise. A campus-wide planning process underway now includes the site, Cook said in June, and while the tribes' stand will be considered, no promises will be made.

"We are hopeful this process will yield a vision for this area of our campus that is responsive both to the evolution of our university as well as the meaning that some stakeholders have ascribed to this land," Cook said in a statement. "We have always sought to listen to the diverse perspectives from our broader community, and remain committed to ongoing dialogue."

That isn't good enough, Perry said Thursday.

"I was one of the original plaintiffs when we started (legal action) in 1993 and ’94," she said. "Our goal here still is to preserve and protect the sacred site of Puvungna, for seven generations, and to have the university understand and accept that status." 

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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