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El Pueblo Campo Santo Human Excavations “Welcome-Share Community-Redefine Pride.” Really?

More than seven months after 118 sets of human remains and artifacts including Native American remains were illegally excavated at the Project Site at the Campo Santo in El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, the County of Los Angeles and project proponent La Plaza De Cultura Y Artes Foundation (LPCA) continue to refuse to comply with relevant laws, including section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection Act, and the California Public Records Act.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina admits of her pet project: “There’s probably gonna be plenty of blame to go around on all of it. For us, we probably didn’t have as thorough an EIR as we probably should have had.” According to Molina, “Had they [Sapphos Environmental, Inc.] done better work, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” Yet Molina and the County have retained Sapphos in the repatriation process in an indisputable conflict of interest.

The City Project has received documents from the City of Los Angeles about the Campo Santo, the first cemetery in Los Angeles and a historical cultural monument. City officials knew that burials including Native Americans remained at the Campo Santo. Even minimal research by the County would have demonstrated the likelihood of uncovering Native American and other human remains at the Site.

The City Project has received over 1,500 documents from California State University, Los Angeles, where the human remains were first moved. The records include a preliminary artifacts inventory listing hundreds of artifacts, including thousands of beads. This is evidence of Native American burials at the site.

The City Project will make public records public because the County has failed and refused to do so.

Expert archaeologists testified at the March 28, 2011, the Native American Heritage Commission meeting that the County violated accepted archaeological practices. Human remains were removed piecemeal. Legs, skulls, and beads were separated. Molina’s office put undue pressure to keep going despite the unearthing of human remains.

The County has told the National Park Service (NPS) that it is consulting with all Native American groups as required by NPS and federal regulations. This is false. The County has failed to consult with Native Americans as required.

The Los Angeles Times in an Editorial wrote: “We urge Molina and [LPCA] officials to treat this process with the dignity that critics say the bones were denied during excavation. They can start by hiring a professional mediator to facilitate the negotiations over the disposition of the remains and access to them. County officials, [LPCA] administrators, Native American tribal leaders and other descendants should all be participants in the talks. Reaching a consensus will be difficult. But everyone can agree on this: The remains should be laid to rest again in a timely fashion.”

The County and LPCA must take the following actions:

1. Engage in respectful consultation with Native Americans, lineal descendants and other interested parties, as required section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”), the Native American Graves Protection Act (“NAGPRA”) and state law. Sham proceedings like the County’s March and June 2011 meetings are no substitute for legally required consultations.
2. Be truthful in the federal investigation about what consultations are taking place with Native Americans – and what is not in fact taking place.
3. Retain a qualified mediator to preside over the consultations. The County cannot be judge, jury — and defendant. Sapphos must play no role in the process when Molina admits Sapphos is at fault.
4. Follow the law regarding respectful reburial of the 118 sets of human remains including Native Americans at the site of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Camp Santo in a timely fashion.
5. Create an appropriate memorial at Camp Santo to preserve and celebrate the remains, sacred site and burial ground through respectful consultation and dialogue with Tongva Gabrielenos, Pobladores and others whose ancestors are buried at the site, under NHPA and NAGPRA and state law.
6. Create an appropriate space for interpretive elements about Tongva Gabrielenos.
7. Pay full and fair compensation for damages caused by the excavation of 118 sets of human remains and artifacts.
8. Publish a report prepared in consultation with Tongva Gabrielenos, Pobladores, and others buried at the site to answer the questions: Why didn’t they just stop — and what are they really doing to follow the law.
9. Unite people around these principles and goals and bridge differences.
10. Use the African American Burial Ground National Monument in New York City and the historical site of Jamestown as archeological best practice examples.

Signs at the excavation site ironically proclaim “Welcome – Share Community – Redefine Pride.”  Party goers danced at the graves at a fundraising gala in April 2011.

Diverse allies are united to help save ancestors, Campo Santo and Yaangna including (partial list): Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation and Johntommy Rosas; Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians and Andy Salas; Northern Chumash Tribal Council; Pobladores 200; Robert (Bob) Bracamontes, Yu-va’- tal ‘A’lla-mal (Black Crow), Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe; American Indian Movement Southern California; Marcie Lane, Committee Member, Protect Sacred Sites “Indigenous People, One Nation;” John Valadez, Andres Duarte families; Anahuak Youth Sports Association, California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA); Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians; Bishop Tribal Council; The City Project; Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles; Consejo Binacional de Organizaciones Comunitarias; Human Rights Attorneys Paul Hoffman and Carol Sobel; League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) California; The River Project.

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