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Native American Heritage Commission: Halt excavation at Campo Santo in El Pueblo UPDATED

American Indian panel: Halt downtown LA project
The Associated Press
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 9:16 PM

LOS ANGELES — The state Native American Heritage Commission asked coroner’s officials Thursday to order a halt to work on a Mexican-American cultural center in downtown Los Angeles over concerns that Indian remains are being disturbed.

Commission staffer Dave Singleton said in a letter to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department that the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes project should be suspended until an investigation into the remains is completed.

Singleton said archaeologists observing the project have reported that none of the remains belonged to Indians, but that Native Americans living in the area fear that may not be the case.

“Given the strong concerns expressed by the Native Americans of the Los Angeles basin, the Native American Heritage Commission respectfully requests that the Los Angeles Department of Coroner stop the project,” Singleton wrote.

The coroner’s office has the power to halt work on the project because of its jurisdiction over unclaimed human remains, Singleton said.

Messages left with coroner’s office director Anthony Hernandez were not returned.

LA Plaza president Miguel Angel Corzo said that remains have been found at the site, but that coroner’s officials confirmed that they dated from when the parcel was a church cemetery during the first half of the 19th century.

Read the rest of this AP story in the Washington Post . . .

Click here to read the January 4, 2011, NAHC letter to the Los Angeles County Coroner.

Click here to read the January 6, 2011, NAHC letter to the Los Angeles County Coroner with related attachments.

Click here to read the January 7, 2011, letter from County Supervisor Gloria Molina to the Native American Heritage Commission.

Click here to read the January 7, 2011, letter from LA Plaza CEO Miguel Angel Corzo to the Native American Heritage Commission.

Click here to see the blog post on KCET’s Social Focus.

Campo Santo excavation, January 7, 2011.  Click on the images to see more pictures of the Campo Santo.

Campo Santo excavation, July 17, 2006

The Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC)  is the state “trustee agency” pursuant to Public Resources Code §21070 for the protection and preservation of California’s Native American Cultural Resources.  (See also Environmental Protection Information Center v. Johnson (1985) 170 Cal App. 3rd 604).  Letter from NAHC to the City of Los Angeles Planning Department re El Pueblo Father Serra Park, Nov. 30, 2009.

“The Village of Yaangna is . . . recorded as a Sacred Site with a burial ground; recorded in the NAHC database that catalogues Native American cultural sites, established by the California Legislature and codified in Public Resources Code §5097.94(a).” Id.

In 1836, the Indian village of Yaanga was relocated near the future corner of Commercial and Alameda Streets. In 1845, it was relocated again to present-day Boyle Heights.

The Tongva or Gabrieleño people who lived at or near El Pueblo for about 3,000 years were for the most part exterminated by succeeding onslaughts of Spaniards, Catholic missionaries, Mexicans, and Yankees beginning in the late 1700s. About 200 Tongva/Gabrieleños lived in Yaangna, the largest of some 100 villages that were home to about 5,000 Native Americans in the Los Angeles region, when the Spaniards arrived in 1769. Eventually, the Tongva/Gabrieleños were relocated to the east side of the Los Angeles River. In the mid-1800s, Yaangna was destroyed. See generally Nancy Bonvillain, Native Nations: Cultures and Histories of Native North Americans 393 (2001); Cecilia Rasmussen, “L.A. Then and Now: A Sycamore Deeply Rooted in the City’s Past,” L.A. Times, Sept. 2, 2002.

Today a small plaque at Union Station across the Plaza from Campo Santo commemorates Yaangna and the Tongva/Gabrieleño people.

Remarkably, Tongva or Gabrieleño people have survived. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that there were 2,000 Tongva or Gabrieleño still living in Southern California. Jessica Garrison, “Battle over a Casino Divides Gabrielino Indians,” L.A. Times, Nov. 26, 2006.

1,428 sets of the remains of Tongva or Gabrieleño people have been discovered during Phase I of the Playa Vista Project, with the City of Los Angeles as the ‘lead agency’ under the California Environmental Quality Act and the Corps of Engineers as the lead federal agency under the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act section 106.

The history of the Tongva or Gabrieleño people and can be understood only in the context of local, state and federal action against the California Indians.  Clicke here to read more about that history in the attached letter from The City Project to the City of Los Angeles re El Pueblo Father Serra Park at pages 5-8 (Dec. 3, 2009).

Click here for more updates on Native Americans and El Pueblo Campo Santo.