A settlement agreement has been reached in a lawsuit brought by the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation – Belardes and the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc., against California State University-Long Beach (CSULB). The agreement provides permanent protection to Puvungna, a listed historical and cultural site on the CSULB campus that is sacred to the Juaneño Band, the Gabrielino, and other Southern California Tribal groups.
“This agreement honors the land and it honors the people who have been fighting to protect Puvungna for 30 years,” said Juaneño Band Chairman Matias Belardes. “This victory honors our history and it protects our religious and cultural practices on Puvungna into the future.”
The settlement agreement requires the university to record a Declaration of Restrictive Covenant, prohibiting the university from developing or damaging the land and allowing Tribal groups to use it for their ongoing traditional activities. The covenant “runs with the land,” meaning that it binds the university and any future owners of the land to follow the restrictions of the covenant.
The agreement also requires CSU to use best efforts to establish a conservation easement over the site in the future, which would supplant the restrictive covenant and would shift care of the land to a manager agreed upon by the settlement parties. Otherwise, the covenant may not be amended or terminated.
This settlement agreement closes the latest chapter in a decades-long conflict between CSU-Long Beach and Native American Tribal groups in the region. In the recent lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that the university acted improperly in the fall of 2019 when it dumped 6,400 cubic yards of construction dirt and debris on Puvungna, land that holds historical, cultural, and religious significance for the Tribes. Puvungna is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the California Native American Heritage Commission’s Sacred Lands Inventory. This 22-acre parcel of land is the most significant remaining undeveloped parcel of the Tribal group’s sacred land in Southern California. The settlement agreement resolves this litigation, which will be dismissed shortly.
The restrictive covenant prohibits certain activity including: constructing temporary or permanent structures or improvements (such as parking lots, classrooms, or retail buildings); depositing construction debris or materials; installing landscaping other than certain native plants; applying Roundup or similar pesticides to the land; storing or staging construction equipment; parking vehicles; operating motorcycles, dirt bikes or mountain bikes; operating heavy machinery; or installing improvements that restrict or prohibit access to California Native American Tribes and affiliated groups using the land for cultural, ceremonial or religious purposes.
The covenant specifically permits certain activity, including use by the aforementioned Tribes and affiliated groups; performing necessary maintenance (such as trash removal, landscaping maintenance, and removal of dead or dying trees); maintaining utilities; and acts to protect public health and safety (such as responding to a brush fire). The permitted activities also include several options for addressing the deposited soils.
“Members of the Tribe will be staying actively engaged in implementing the terms of this settlement,” explained Tribal Manager and Cultural Resource Director Joyce Stanfield Perry. “Puvungna holds the graves of our ancestors and serves as a place of worship and celebration for the Tribal groups across Southern California. We look forward to working with the university to restore Puvungna and protect this land for future generations.”
“We look forward to the restoration of our sacred Puvungna,” added Rebecca Robles, Culture Bearer – Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation. “This is a new era. It is a time of healing, a time of social justice for Acjachemen and Tongva people, cooperation among Tribal relatives and our allies. We look to the future to continue our culture and sacred traditions and fulfill our promises to the coming generations.”
The final settlement agreement can be found at https://bit.ly/PuvungnaSettlement.