featured graphic for the California Office of Historic Preservation during COVID-19

State agency criticizes Cal State University for damaging sacred Native site

The California Office of Historic Preservation, the agency responsible for protecting the state’s archaeological and historical resources, has criticized the actions of California State University Long Beach (CSULB) for damaging Puvungna, a 22-acre parcel of land sacred to the area’s Native American Tribal groups. In a recent letter sent to Design & Construction Services at CSULB, the state Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) cites numerous ways in which CSU’s actions have adversely affected this sacred land, which holds religious, cultural and historical significance for the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation – Belardes, the Gabrielino/Tongva, and other Native American people in Southern California.

The land is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the California Native American Heritage Commission’s Sacred Lands Inventory.

A decades-long simmering controversy over control of Puvungna came to a boil last fall when the university dumped large quantities of construction debris and dirt on the land. 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) filed a lawsuit against the university. In settlement talks that have been slowed by the pandemic, the groups have asked that the university clean up the debris, grant conservation easement to permanently protect the land, and enter a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure adequate consultation in the future.

“We appreciate the Office of Historic Preservation standing up for the rights of our tribe,” said Matias Belardes, Chairman of the Tribal Council of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation. “The state needs to do more. We call upon the University Trustees to re-engage with us on a plan to restore the land and ensure that Puvungna remains protected and treated with respect.”

For the last year, the Juaneño Band has argued that dumping the soil, along with concrete, rebar and other debris, on land that holds archeological artifacts and that is actively used by local Tribal groups for ceremonies and celebrations is not acceptable.

The OHP letter, from State Historic Preservation Officer Julianne Polanco, agreed, stating that “construction materials and debris should not be deposited on an NRHP listed property” and that “all of these materials should be completely removed.” The letter goes on to assert and explain that:

  • “The use of heavy machinery…on an NRHP listed property…constitutes an adverse effect because the movement and vibration…have the potential to adversely affect buried deposits.”
  • “Although capping archaeological sites is a common practice, it is also common that no more than 6 – 12 inches of soil are used… to avoid excessive pressure on buried resources.”
  • “Depositing soils on the Puvungna site as the only location on the campus… is not a long-term solution for the myriad existing and future CSULB construction projects. The action of soil deposition has the strong potential to become an adverse effect to the historic integrity of [the site].”

OHP then asks the university to submit a final Treatment Plan that “reflects a consensus of all the Tribes’ views” and recommends that the university “consider the development of an MOU between the university and the tribes that have an interest in the site.”

Governor Newsom last summer issued an executive order apologizing for the state’s history of “violence, maltreatment and neglect” of Native American peoples and urging the state to move toward healing.

“As a member of the CSU Board of Trustees, Governor Newsom has an opportunity in Long Beach to put his words into action, to demonstrate he is sincere and not just giving lip service to Native American rights,” said Matias Belardes. “Newsom and the Board of Trustees can take a simple action today that will make a real difference for us and send a clear message that they respect California’s Tribal cultures.”

This article was released by the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation.

Editor’s note (9/29/2020): Originally, this article was erroneously attributed to the California Office of Historic Preservation.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for bringing attention to this important issue. Puvungna is a beautiful, sacred space that must be protected. My friends worship there and celebrate their ancestors. Please keep following and sharing their story.

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