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El Pueblo Campo Santo Halt the Excavations: Native Americans, Commission, L.A. Times; “New ethical and legal questions” Archdiocese

Excavation continues at El Pueblo Campo Santo despite the pleas of Native Americans, the Native American Heritage Commission, and the Los Angeles Times. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles raises “new ethical and legal questions” about unearthing the remains buried in the first cemetery in Los Angeles alongside La Placita Catholic Church. Johntommy Rosas — a descendant of one of the original Pobladores who founded Los Angeles and a member of the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation — and other Native Americans are investigating the excavations in order to protect Ancestors and remains at Campo Santo, with the initial assistance of The City Project.

The Los Angeles Times writes in an editorial:

What happened to the old cemetery near Olvera Street where some of the earliest foreign settlers in this area were buried? Records of the Los Angeles Archdiocese say the remains of those buried there were reburied elsewhere in the 1800s — but give no clue as to where. Now, excavation of the site for the construction of a cultural center reveals that if the cemetery was indeed moved, the job was less than thorough.

This is an extraordinary archaeological find. Though the cemetery is far from intact, the patch of land nonetheless represents a unique piece of local history. . . . [E]xperts say the first residents of the newly formed town were buried there, including Spanish and Mexican settlers as well as Native Americans.

The cemetery must be treated with the respect it deserves. . . .

That’s not to say the county should scrap its plans. Rather, there is an opportunity to enhance the new center so that it’s more than another nice public project, and to honor Los Angeles’ cultural heritage by paying tribute to an exceptional part of it. For example, the county might revise the plans to create a grassy park area with a section of the cemetery marked and set off for the public’s appreciation. It also should allow representatives of the possible descendants and from the Native American Heritage Commission to observe the excavation and research, and to have a say in the disposition of the remains. Those are basic practices for the excavation of ancient burial grounds. . . .

Read the complete January 13 editorial in the L.A. Times here . . .

Excavation at El Pueblo’s Campo Santo continues on January 13, 2011

KCET reports:

[I]n a letter written this week, obtained by KCET, Archdiocese administrative officials appear to be caught off guard. “Frankly, I was surprised and disappointed to learn through a story in yesterdays’ Los Angeles Times that a substantial number of remains had been discovered and unearthed at your construction site,” wrote Brian McMahon, the Director of the Cemeteries Department, in a letter on [January 11, 2011]. “In your only communication with me about the discovery of the remains last November, the impression I received was that a few bone fragments were all that had been found, and that a few more might be found during the course of the project. Indeed, we believed that the site was no longer a cemetery, since our records indicated that the people buried there had been removed and reburied elsewhere in the 1840s.”

McMahon continued: “That you have possibly discovered substantial remains, including full burials, obviously goes way beyond the scope of my Nov. 17 letter to you, and raises for us a number of new ethical and legal questions concerning the current activity at your construction site.” . . .

Read the rest of this story by Zach Behrens on KCET . . .

Native Americans held a vigil at the Sacred Site on Sunday, January 9.  “A small crowd — some claiming to have Native American and Spanish ancestors in the first cemetery — gathered on Main Street where a chain-link fence cordons off the construction site. The smell of burning sage wafted through the cool morning air as people placed an altar of shells, oranges and flowers on the sidewalk. Tiny cloth bags of tobacco, tied with yarn, dotted the links of the fence — offerings to the dead.”  Read the rest of this story by Carla Hall in the Los Angeles Times . . .

Offerings to Ancestors and the dead at El Pueblo Campo Santo, January 13, 2011

Jacob Adelman for Associated Press broke the story, which has been widely published throughout the nation:

The state Native American Heritage Commission asked coroner’s officials [January 6] 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. . . .

“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. . . .

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 . . .

Read more about the correspondence between the Native American Heritage Commission and local officials on The City Project’s blog by clicking here, and see more images of the Campo Santo on our flickr site here . . .