LAn-235: Native Americans and CSULB

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Living in the Los Cerritos dorm my freshman year at CSULB, I quickly learned of the empty field near the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden and the “story” behind it. According to several third and fourth years, the site was the remains of an Indian burial ground, and was often visited by students for late night “medicinal” purposes. Others claimed that this burial site was haunted, and would bring bad luck to those who did not respect it. While I was not going to believe much of what these upperclassmen told me, the issue of respect for another’s land stuck with me, and I chose to investigate into the history of the lot, formally known as LAn-235

To begin, almost the entirety of CSULB’s campus, along with the nearby strip malls and the Rancho Los Alamitos, are all remains of an Indian tribe known as the Tongva (Or Gabrielino). By the time CSULB was built in 1949, the history of this tribe was all but forgotten, excluding the remaining tribe members who at that point existed elsewhere. Then, in 1972, workers in the midst of installing a sprinkler system unearthed the remains of a Indian boy, whose bones were then placed in the Archaeology lab on campus. This discovery helped increase the awareness for the American Indian presence on campus, leading to this site, as well as several others, to placed on National Register of Historic Places in order to preserve the land which the tribe, was known as Puvungna (Or Puvunga). Despite all the positive awareness, some chose to remain ignorant to the sacredness of the site, and those ignorant people just happened be campus officials.

In 1992, these officials wanted to demolish the sacred site to make room for a parking lot, something that caused outrage within the American Indian community. The officials issued a declaration saying this land was free to be used for the parking lot and contained no cultural significance to anyone, despite it still being in the register of Historic Places. This led to what became known as the Sacred Site Struggle. American Indians pitched tents on the land and held prayer vigils, even under threat of arrest by the campus officials. These officials also tried to discredit and keep secret the Historic Places register by claiming there was not enough evidence to prove it was a “sacred” place. This was when the American Civil Liberties Union became involved. They fought the campus officials and filed to have the law be preserved until the situation was resolved in court. The legal battle cost close to 2.5 million dollars. which was mostly paid for through the General Fund of CSULB, which was made up of the taxpayer’s money and student fees.  Luckily, in 1995, the campus president Robert Maxson pledged to keep Puvungna a sacred place and free from development. This lasted until 2006, when F. King Alexander became president and refused to acknowledge such a pledge. The battle for keeping this piece of land is still continuing today.

The struggle for such a small piece of land may be silly to some unaware of it’s implications. American Indians have been shut out of virtually every piece of land they used to occupy. To have even a small piece of land on CSULB remaining is a testament to the effort, care, and love shown by those who understood the importance of such a site. According to Native American Heritage Commission Secretary Larry Myers, “Puvungna means a gathering place…It’s there for anyone who wants to honor the site.” So to all those underclassmen, upperclassmen, and simply the curious, you are more than welcome to travel to the site. To honor such a site will simply be your acknowledgement of the history and preservation of a land that belongs to the ancestors of America as we know it. Go check it out.

3 Comments

  1. Kirsten Miller

    After reading about the abuse of the Indians by the Spanish settlers, I think it is safe to say that we were all appalled by the lack of respect for the Natives of this land. It is agreed upon that throughout American history the Natives were subject to unjust treatment, having their lands seized from them, being denied citizenship, and being treated as second-class citizens in their homeland. And while we acknowledge the wrong-doings that occurred in the past, this post proves that we still have not completely corrected our behavior. As recently as ten years ago, we were still blatantly disrespecting the land that once belonged to the natives. Our behavior may not be as extreme as that of the early settlers, we are not literally taking people’s homes out from under them or forcing them to work under harsh and inhumane conditions, but by building upon the sacred lands of their past and ignoring their protests to doing so, we are still sending the message that their opinion and their history is of less importance than our desire to develop. We are still disrespecting the original inhabitants of our land. So have we really learned from history, or are we just paralleling it in a more subtle manner?

  2. Elvin Mabborang

    I remember learning about the spot during my freshmen year; I was asking some friends why that empty plot of land existed and I was surprised to hear that it was an Indian burial site (which I quickly jumped to call BS on). Astonishingly enough it was all true! I never dug (hah) deeper into the topic, so this post has satisfied most of my curiosity. I do still however think about the future of the land: will CSULB just keep fighting for the right to turn it into a parking structure? Or will they just leave the land empty as it is? I personally feel like they should do something to honor the site; erecting some sort of monument or tribute informing people of the history of the land and its sacred nature would not only satisfy the Native Americans who have the right to preserve the last of their land, but it would also satisfy our school officials’ insatiable desire to spend money.

  3. Christopher Fernandes

    I lived next door to you freshman year, and I never heard about this until now. It’s pretty sad to hear yet another example of how the Europeans have just taken for their own selfish desires. A huge irony of this is the subject of immigration (which comes up a lot with the recent Presidential election coming up), because America was taken by immigrants, and now many conservatives are really strict about border control and having immigrants leave. I pray that we at least respect the Native Americans by keeping this land reserved for them, even though it doesn’t even begin to make up for how we treated them.

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