Following protests, native tribe enters legal battle with CSU over use of sacred land

The dumping of dirt from a nearby student housing project onto sacred Native American land at Cal State Long Beach last year prompted a legal battle between tribal leaders and the school system.

The Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes tribe filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance Inc., which supports sacred and archeological sites in the state.

Patricia Martz, a member of the alliance, said Thursday that they had been in negotiations with the CSU earlier this year before the height of the coronavirus pandemic hit–– which closed the courts and slowed down the talks.

While the pandemic has hindered the negotiation process, the tribe is waiting for the State Historic Preservation Officer to weigh in on the case.

The lawsuit claims that CSU project developers did not consult with the appropriate native tribes before moving the soil onto the Puvungna site–– a 22-acre parcel of land located north of Beach Drive and east of Bellflower Boulevard that is of cultural significance to many California native groups.

CSULB spokesman Jeff Cook said it is not customary for the school to comment on ongoing litigation, but said that moving the soil was based on counsel of both internal and external Native American advisers to keep the dirt from the housing project campus on the site.

As part of the negotiations, Martz said the tribe wants CSU officials to include the site in their master plan as a way to preserve it.

Cook said the location would be included in the university’s broader planning process taking place over the next two years.

“We are hopeful this process will yield a vision for this area of our campus that is responsive both to the evolution of our university as well as the meaning that some stakeholders have ascribed to this land,” Cook wrote in an email statement. “We have always sought to listen to the diverse perspectives from our broader community and remain committed to ongoing dialogue.”

In September, over a dozen people came out and protested the soil dumping at Puvungna.

The Puvungna land is regarded as one of the most culturally significant areas to local Native American groups, Martz said. She compared it to Israel’s Jerusalem, and according to the tribe’s oral history, it is believed a god appeared on the Puvungna site.

“It’s one of the most sacred sites,” Martz said. “It’s like their church.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify Patricia Martz’ position with the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance Inc.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.
- ADVERTISEMENT -

More