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WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST STOP? SAVE THE ANCESTORS AT YAANGNA AND EL PUEBLO CAMPO SANTO

Rest in Peace: Ancestors Finally Return to El Pueblo KCET

Human remains excavated at El Pueblo Campo Santo, Jan. 10, 2011 (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Rest in Peace: Ancestors Finally Return to El Pueblo

After improperly excavating the remains of more than 100 people who were buried at the first cemetery in El Pueblo de Los Angeles, next to La Placita Catholic Church, downtown, the County of Los Angeles finally returned the remains to their eternal resting place in April. County officials acted in response to the outrage of Native Americans and descendants of the Pobladores — the original 44 settlers of Los Angeles — whose Ancestors are buried at the site, a media outcry, and federal pressure to follow the law. The remains traveled a trail of tears from the burial site, to offices in Whittier, to Cal State L.A., to the County Museum of Natural History at Exposition Park, to the Pomona Fairgrounds Fairplex, and finally back to their burial site. We bear witness to the truth of what happened, out of respect for the Ancestors, to commemorate the pain of their descendants, to preserve history – and to hold public officials accountable so this never happens again. Public records and witness accounts depict what happened.

The excavations were appalling and horrific. The county excavated 27 “almost complete adult skeletons,” 4 “almost complete burials,” 74 other sets of “human remains,” including skulls that could not be pieced together into complete skeletons or burials, and 82 sets of “associated funerary objects” such as pieces of coffins, crucifixes and beads, according to the county’s own draft inventory obtained under a public records request. The remains were carted around the county in over 315 bags, 16 buckets, 7 boxes and 2 jackets.

The county dug up all these dead people and their artifacts in 11 weeks between October 28, 2010, and January 14, 2011, in a small space said to be the size of a basketball court. That’s a skeleton or burial every other weekday, plus more than one other set of human remains every weekday, plus more than one set of associated funerary objects every weekday, on average. The sheer magnitude of what the county dug up belies any claim that the excavations were accidental.

An archeological field worker who had recently graduated from UCLA blew the whistle on December 28, 2010. He is a hero here. According to an email that day, “He quit the project today when they uncovered a burial with a partial biface and some beads that appear likely to be Native. The supervisors were planning on doing nothing about it, saying the ‘coroner’ had already checked off on the removal of the bodies a few weeks ago (well before most had been uncovered) and that there was no legal obligation to notify potentially affiliated tribes. [The worker] was pretty upset about the whole thing . . .” The email continues, “According to [the worker], there was no provenience system until he arrived about 40 burials into the project. The original plan had been to remove bones as they came up in the backhoe digging trenches to install a fountain in the garden. I think they started finding so many burials very quickly that plans changed. . . The whole thing sounds like a company that is completely overwhelmed by the scale of what they’re doing and that whatever agency is responsible for oversight is completely asleep at the wheel.”

The worker contacted the Native American Heritage Commission that day. Action by commission staff, Native Americans, the Catholic Church, public interest attorneys, the media and the community forced the county to stop excavations at the burial site belatedly on January 14, 2011.

Brian McMahon, the Director of the Cemeteries Department for the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles wrote to project officials on January 11, 2011: “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. 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.” Again, “our original impression was that there would be relatively few fragmentary remains.” Mr. McMahon emphasized: “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.”

El Pueblo Plaza Church Cemetery Excavation January 7, 2011 | Courtesy of The City Project

El Pueblo Plaza Church Cemetery Excavation January 7, 2011 | Courtesy of The City Project

 

Why didn’t they just stop?

Why didn’t the county stop until January 14? County Supervisor Gloria Molina did not want any publicity that would delay the April 9, 2011, grand opening of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, whose mission is to celebrate Mexican and Mexican American culture.(The center is an official project of the county and the county CEO is the official project manager, although the project has nominal non-profit status.) An investigator for the county coroner recorded in her case notes when remains were first excavated on October 28, 2011: “Today, approximately 15 small fragmented human bones and teeth were unearthed by a back hoe, after it began digging below undisturbed top soil.” The executive director for the project, Miguel Angel Corzo, told the investigator that “Molina is out of town for a few days but does not want media attention drawn to this project until its opening.”

Christina Swindall-Martinez, secretary for the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians whose Ancestors are buried at the site, told the Associated Press that tribe members pleaded with museum and county officials to delay the opening until an agreement could be reached on reburial of the remains and restoration of the cemetery. “She said members felt particularly affronted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has long championed the project, serves on its board and was scheduled to be honored at the gala.”

Prof. Paul Langenwalter testified before the Native American Heritage Commission in March 2011 that human remains were removed piecemeal; legs, skulls, and beads were separated; accepted archeological practices were not followed; and the supervisor’s office put undue pressure to keep going despite the unearthing of the remains. Prof. Langenwalter testified that there was reason to believe the remains and artifacts included Native American remains and artifacts. He pulled his archeology students from the site after a few days rather than associate them and Biola University with the devastation. Click here to read Prof. Langenwalter’s testimony.

Archeologist Monica Strauss testified at the same hearing that she was “flabbergasted” by the way human remains were unearthed because conventional archeological practices were not followed. Click here to read Ms. Strauss’s testimony.

Elizabeth Miller, an anthropologist and osteologist at Cal State L.A., told the L.A. Weekly that the environmental impact report prepared for the county by the Sapphos Environmental Inc., which should have provided enough information to guard against the excavations, was “incredibly poorly done. I do not see how you can do a legitimate assessment of a site where you know there was supposed to be a cemetery at one time, and not find any trace of the over 100 individuals that ended up being excavated.” She added: “I’m completely at a loss.”

But Miller’s own actions raise an eyebrow. Miller worked with the Sanberg Group to move the remains, seek funding and study them. After Sanberg apparently moved the remains from the burial site to their own offices in Whittier, Miller moved the remains to Cal State L.A. and sought over $220,000 in funding to do research on them. When the university president found out, he directed that they be removed because having the remains on campus was against university policy, according to public records obtained from Cal State L.A. The remains were then moved again to the County Museum of Natural History in bags, buckets and boxes on January 25 and February 3, 2011.

The planned research disturbed the Catholic Church, according to its January 11 letter. “We were disturbed to learn that an NPR radio report suggested that archeologists were preserving recovered remains and might be contemplating use in academic study. That was not part of our understanding of what would happen to these remains.”

Gloria Molina told a hearing by the Native American Heritage Commission in March 2011, “it truly pains me that this . . . has unfolded in this manner and in this way. And I’m truly sorry for it,” according to the L.A. Times. “We took their word,” referring to Sapphos, which prepared the environmental impact report. “Had they done better work, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” According to L.A. Weekly, Molina admitted: “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.”

The county continued to retain Sapphos to handle the repatriation process despite the fact that their flawed EIR created an apparent conflict of interest. A Los Angeles Times editorial called on the county to retain a professional mediator, but the county refused. The county refused to allow Native Americans to visit the excavated burial site to honor their ancestors unless they signed agreements to work for Sapphos. The county refused to allow descendants to visit the remains at the Natural History Museum unless they waived all claims arising from the excavations.

To its credit, the National Park Service (NPS) has worked to protect the remains and the descendants. NPS notified the county by email on February 15, 2011, that NPS had just learned about the uncovering of the cemetery and was withholding federal grant funds until the issue was resolved. NPS followed up with a letter on March 24, 2011, directing the county to consult with all concerned parties to ensure historic properties were protected under section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. NPS withheld $104,209.64 from a $197,058 grant to the county issued, ironically, to “Save America’s Treasures” program. The project instead has devastated Americas’ treasures at El Pueblo. Los Angeles Plaza Historical District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Soil that surrounded remains, in bags for reburial at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Campo Santo April 2012 | Courtesy of The City Project

Soil that surrounded remains, in bags for reburial at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Campo Santo April 2012 | Courtesy of The City Project

The federal process nevertheless has not been a model of democratic engagement based on full and fair information. The process has been confusing, inconsistent, and incomplete. The real consultations, decision making and work takes place with federal staff. Indeed, NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repartriation Act) staff told the review committee on November 8: “staff functions . . . nationally [are] where all of the real consultation and decision making is done . . . between museums and Federal agencies and the tribes, where the actual NAGPRA work comes.” The investigation, reassembly and reburial process here has involved federal staff working closely with county and project representatives. The federal staff generally has not consulted with the Native Americans and descendants of the Pobladores themselves. Thus federal staff worked closely with the county for months, advising the county on section 106 consultations and the NAGPRA. For example, federal staff urged the county to act quickly to prepare an inventory of excavated remains and artifacts, in time for the NAGPRA review committee meeting in November 2011, so the public would know what the county dug up. The county concluded that the human remains included at least four Native Americans, although which four specifically was hard to tell. “So the number of Native Americans in this assemblage is unknowable, but it’s likely far more than four,” according to an expert who testified for the county before the committee.

The committee nevertheless voted as follows on November 8: “In this instance, as the same treatment and disposition is agreeable to all Native and non Native parties concerned [sic], . . . the Review Committee conclude[s] that it cannot make a determination whether the remains are Native American or not; second, that we believe that Los Angeles County may therefore proceed under other law; and third, that we request that the Secretary’s letter reflect this view.” NPS sent a follow up letter to the county on December 9, 2012.

In apparent conflict with earlier staff recommendations for an inventory, and the review committee’s decision that it had no jurisdiction, the Department of the Interior sent another NAGPRA letter to the county on January 3, 2012, stating that the county had two years to prepare an inventory, that “repatriation of human remains and associated funerary objects cannot occur until after a Notice of Inventory Completion has been published in the Federal Register, and the notice cannot be published until the inventory has been prepared.” But the remains and objects have been repatriated without an inventory or published notice.

Sound confusing? It is. The California Native American Heritage Commission itself wrote to the Department of Interior that “NAHC is confused” by the federal actions.

 

What remains to be done?

The excavations of the human remains was a travesty. The consultation process was haphazard. The county has not yet released other records that would demonstrate whether the reassembly and reburials were any better. Record requests are pending. The county’s description of what it claims happened is a paragon of banal bureaucratic prose that masks the truth of what really happened.

To date, no one has been held responsible and accountable for the excavations to deter others. U.S. Air Force officials were recently disciplined for losing the body parts of two service members, according to the New York Times. Although the loss of the two body parts “equates to an aggregate success rate slightly greater than 99.9 percent” based on thousands of remains and body parts at the mortuary, “the success rate for families of the deceased in the two individual cases is zero percent.” The investigation termed this “mission failure.”

The Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians continue to question the county’s actions.

A Los Angeles Times editorial recently called on county officials to follow through on a pledge to allow all groups claiming Ancestors to hold ceremonies at the site, “even if it means 100 ceremonies over 100 days.”

The county should abide by the statement of principles and goals that diverse allies presented after the excavations were disclosed:

  • Engage in respectful consultations with Native Americans and descendants of the Ancestors buried at the site
  • Provide an appropriate memorial at the site to preserve and celebrate the remains, Sacred Site and burial ground
  • Provide interpretive elements about the Native Americans and Pobladores buried at the site
  • Provide a transparent process, records and information to address theses questions about the excavations: what did they know, when did they know it, what did they do about it, when did they do it, and why didn’t they just stop.
  • Unite people around these principles and goals and bridge differences
  • Follow best practice examples from the African American Burial Ground in New York City and the original site of JamestownNative Americans and descendants of the Pobladores are watching. The Ancestors are watching. The whole world is watching.

    Ramya Sivasubramanian, a Staff Attorney with The City Project, contributed research and analysis to this column. The City Project has worked with diverse allies to monitor the excavations and reburials and will continue to do so.

    More references:

  • Letter: Maria Carmen Ramirez to county 9/28/11
  • Letter: Pobladores to county 9/27/11
  • Click here for updated public records as they become available.

El Pueblo Campo Santo Diverse Allies and Principles

Diverse allies are united to help save ancestors, save Campo Santo and save Yaangna. Diverse allies include (partial list): Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians and Andy Salas; 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); 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.

Principles and goals:

Respectful reburial of 118 sets of human remains including Native Americans at the site of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Camp Santo

No more excavation at the site of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Camp Santo

Leave remains undisturbed at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum until this matter is resolved

County of Los Angeles and other agencies engage in respectful government to government consultations with Tongva Gabrielenos about the remains, reburials, permanent memorial and site

County and other agencies engage in respectful dialogue with Pobladores and others whose ancestors are buried at the site about the remains, reburials, permanent memorial and site

Access for Native American monitors at the site during construction

Access for Native Americans to the remains at the Museum until this matter is resolved

An appropriate memorial at the site of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Camp Santo to preserve and celebrate the remains, sacred site and burial ground in a respectful way through respectful consultation and dialogue with Tongva Gabrielenos, Pobladores and others whose ancestors are buried at the site.  The County of Los Angeles creates an appropriate space for interpretive elements about Tongvas Gabrielenos.

The County of Los Angeles and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes (”LPCA”) provides a transparent process, records and information to address the questions about: what did they know, when did they know it, what did they do about it, and when did they do it regarding the excavations of human remains and cultural artifacts

Publish a report within 30 days prepared in consultation with Tongva Gabrielinos, Pobladores, and others buried at the site to address the question: Why didn’t they just stop

Unite people around these principles and goals and bridge differences

Click here to learn about best practice examples: the African American Burial Ground in New York City and the original site of Jamestown

El Pueblo Campo Santo “No Construction or Excavation Work Since Jan. 14, 2011”?

Posted: March 16th, 2011

Counsel for the County of Los Angeles and LPCA has provided the following information in response to our request:

“Per our discussion, the drawing depicting the area of the site where no construction or excavation work has occurred since January 14, 2011 is available at the following website: http://www.sapphosenvironmental.com/external/laplaza/Documents.html

nodigzone

Please visit www.saveancestors.org, www.savecamposanto.org, www.saveyaangna.org for regular updates.

El Pueblo Campo Santo Location of Cemetery “Not Tested or Validated”

Posted: March 15th, 2011

The County of Los Angeles presented the drawing below of El Campo Santo “Preliminary Conceptual Design” at a public “meeting” on March 9, 2011. The drawing purports to depict the “;Historically Documented Area of Campo Santo Cemetery,” as well as the “Conceptual Campo Santo Memorial Area” that the County is suggesting in the wake of its unearthing of 118 sets of human remains.

The drawing does not show where the County has unearthed 118 sets of human remains.

The area marked as the Campo Santo cemetery in the drawing “is not tested or validated,” according to the president of Sapphos Environmental Group who presented the drawing at the March 9 “;meeting.”

Indeed, the 2008 Sapphos Archeological and Human Resources Assessment (see below) explicitly states that one cannot tell where the Campo Santo cemetery was: “The exact extension of the southern portion of the cemetery is unknown. Existing documentation describes its location but there is no mention of the dimensions of the plot.” Page 9.

The Assessment highlights problems with historical maps to determine the boundaries of the Campo Santo: an 1872 map “lacks a scale and was drawn nearly 30 years after the cemetery was closed.” The Assessment incorrectly states that the 1873 Ruxton map has “no indication of a boundary on the west side.” Page 9. In fact, the 1873 Ruxton map does indicate the boundary for the Old Cemetery — well beyond the area depcited in the County’s drawing. According to the Assessment, 1830, 1855 and 1850 maps “do not show anything that provides an indication of the location of the cemetery.” Page 10.

Attachments 2 and 4 to the Assessment also show the Campo Santo Memorial Garden far to the west of where the County is now saying the Campo Santo was (see below).

Preliminary Conceptual Campo Santo Design 20110309

The 2008 Archeological and Human Resources Assessment is available here: http://tinyurl.com/6hj52le

Click here to see Assessment Attachment 2 and Assessment Attachment 4, which show the Campo Santo Memorial Garden far to the west of where the County is now saying the Campo Santo was.

Tongva Demand that County Stop Excavations of Ancestors and Human Remains

Posted: February 23rd, 2011
Plastic covers site where human remains were being excavated as of January 14, 2011. City Project Photo by Seth Strongin

Attorneys have asked the County of Los Angeles to cease and desist construction and excavations of human remains including Native Americans at the site of the Campo Santo. 117 sets of human remains have already been excavated at the Campo Santo (Spanish for Sacred Ground or cemetery) next to La Placita Catholic Church at La Plaza de Los Angeles National Historic District and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument in downtown Los Angeles, at the site of the Tongva village of Yaangna.  Remains were originally unearthed beginning in October 2010. There have been reports of additional excavation activity as recently as February 12, 2011.  The remains have been moved from the site first to California State University at Los Angeles and then to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

The attorneys sent the letter on behalf of Johntommy Rosas, a member of the Tongva Gabrielino Native American Tribe and a descendent of the Pobladores who first settled El Pueblo de Los Angeles; and the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation (“TATTN”).

Mr. Rosas and TATTN have requested that Los Angeles County; La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, an official project of Los Angeles County, and the Department of Coroner:

  1. Cease and desist any construction including ground-breaking and excavation work where remains have been found;
  2. Cease and desist any construction on the entire project site that now occupies over 4 acres; and
  3. Make reasonable good faith assurances that dialogue will begin between the County and Mr. Rosas, TATTN, the Tongva Gabrielino community, other Native Americans, and others whose ancestors have been laid to rest at the project site.

If the County does not agree, Mr. Rosas and TATTN will seek access to justice in court under laws protecting Native Americans, sacred sites, and historical resources.

Contributions to save the Ancestors at Yaangna and the Campo Santo can be made to The City Project, a 501c3 non profit organization, securely online or through the mail.

The attorneys submitting the letter include The City Project; Schonbrun, De Simone, Seplow, Harris, Hoffman & Harrison LLP, and the Law Offices of Carol Sobel.

Click here to read the demand letter.

Excavation Halted at El Pueblo Campo Santo by Native Americans, Commission, Media Outcry

Posted: January 14th, 2011
Plastic covers site where human remains were being excavated, January 14, 2011. City Project Photo by Seth Strongin

Native Americans — including Desiree Martinez and Johntommy Rosas, the Native American Heritage Commission, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, pressure from the county coroner and a media outcry have halted the excavations at El Pueblo Campo Santo.

LA culture center suspends construction after American Indian concerns over unearthed remains

By JACOB ADELMAN , Associated Press
Last update: January 14, 2011 – 8:11

LOS ANGELES – Construction at a Mexican-American cultural center was suspended Friday after American Indian groups raised concerns that human remains unearthed were being disturbed. . . .

State Native American Heritage Commission staffer Dave Singleton, who called on officials last week to stop work on the project pending an investigation, said he was relieved.

“We are pleased by reports that the project has stopped finally,” he said.

The site, part of the city’s El Pueblo historical area, was the location of a cemetery that had been exhumed in 1848, project officials said. . . .

Indian groups . . . cited records taken from California’s historic mission registers that showed that about two-thirds of the roughly 670 people buried in the graveyard were American Indians.

Desiree Martinez, an archaeologist and member of the Gabrielino/Tongva Indians, said she had been showing center planners documentation that the remains were likely those of Indians for a week and a half. The tribe had a strong presence in the area before the arrival of Europeans. . . .

“Just because it has stopped, it doesn’t mean that it’s over,” she said. “We have a lot more work to do, and we want to make sure that the ancestors are taken care of properly.”

Read the rest of this AP story by clicking here.

Zach Behrens reports at KCET:

County coroners in California have the power to stop projects when Native American remains are found, but the L.A. County one determined it had no jurisdiction based on evidence at the time. Corzo said he had no records of who was buried there.

The answer to that, however, may have been a few clicks away on the internet, thanks to the nearby Huntington Library. In 1998, the institution embarked on a project to transcribe records from 23 locations: California’s 21 missions, El Presidio de Santa Barbara and the Los Angeles Plaza Church, commonly known as La Placita.

A search for death records in the Library’s Early California Population Project reveals that 127 people of Native American descent were buried there. But Steve Hackel, a professor at University of California, Riverside, and a Library researcher, estimates that up to 381 Native Americans could be buried there. That’s based on a lack of surnames in the records.

“They were very good record keepers,” explained Hackel. “If somebody doesn’t have a last name, it’s either a cleric error by the mission, which is pretty unusual, or it’s an Indian.” He added that other supporting information, like origin, can clue in researchers to Native American descent.

“They kept on falling back on ‘there’s no records,’” said Desiree Martinez, an archaeologist and Gabrielino community member who says she has documented ancestors that were buried there. “His mouth dropped,” she said about Corzo, when at a meeting on Thursday she handed over the records she found in the Library’s database.

Lawyer Robert Garcia of The City Project was also present at the meeting and said Corzo explained the excavation could not be stopped until the nonprofit board gave its approval and that “it would take a week to give notice under the bylaws.”

In an interview with KCET on Wednesday, Corzo said they would “wrap up excavation in a week or so.”

Read the rest of this story on KCET . . .

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles condemned the excavations for raising “new ethical and legal questions” that developer “LA Plaza” had not disclosed.  ”We are not interested in helping to manage your public relations issue in order that the project may continue; we want to see the right steps taken and taken quickly to deal correctly and responsibly with this matter.”  Read the letter from the Archdiocese . . .

Click here to find more information on The City Project blog

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

Posted: January 13th, 2011
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 . . .

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

Posted: January 8th, 2011
American Indian panel: Halt downtown LA project
By JACOB ADELMAN
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.

Resources

The following resources are posted here to make them publicly available to support the reburial of the remains at the site, to protect the remains that are currently held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, to foster respectful government to government consultations between Tongva Gabrielenos, and to foster respectful dialogue with Pobladores and others whose ancestors are buried at the site.

Click on each file name to see the document.

Letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, March 1, 2011.

Letter to the Los Angeles Mayor and City Council, March 3, 2011.

Letter to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, March 1, 2011.

Public Record Act Request to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, March 3, 2011.

Public Record Act Request to California State University at Long Beach, March 3, 2011.

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The 2004 Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the LPCA project is a large file that is available here: http://file.lacounty.gov/bos/supdocs/13998.pdf

The 2010 Addendum to the FEIR is available here: http://file.lacounty.gov/bos/supdocs/56770.pdf

The 2008 Archeological and Human Resources Assessment is available here: http://tinyurl.com/6hj52le