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.