Community unites to advocate for the protection of sacred Puvungna land

Supporters of Puvungna protest at the main entrance of Cal State University Long Beach on Bellflower Boulevard and Beach Drive, advocated for the removal of all the dumped debris and for protection of the sacred land. Photo by Lissette Mendoza

Although many celebrated Valentine’s Day at home or at an outing with their loved ones, a group of individuals instead decided to show love to the sacred land of Puvungna and advocate for its protection.

Along Earl Warren Drive and beyond an asphalt parking lot at Cal State University Long Beach, a socially distanced group of about 30 people gathered on a lush green meadow at Puvungna.

Upon entering the area, one was greeted by elder-in-training Christopher Diaz, member of the Chumash tribe, who was tending to a fire and cleansing participants with sage prior to the ceremonial prayer.

The gathering was organized by the Friends of Puvungna, an advocacy group whose mission is to preserve the 22-acre parcel of sacred land which has been desecrated by CSULB.

The existing site has been and is a center of local and regional Indigenous ceremonies and activities.

In’yoni Felix, of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, performed a traditional jingle dance before Diaz led the attendees in the prayer and a reflection on the destruction caused by CSULB on the sacred land.

In’yoni Felix of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, performs a traditional jingle dance on Puvungna on Sunday, Feb. 14. Photo by Lissette Mendoza

“This was a central place for many people, my own people, Chumash, we would come down here and we would be here at Puvungna to meet with Tongva and other tribes and they would all gather here,” Diaz said. 

In the 1980s Diaz’s own grandmother Rosita Moreno, mother Susan Diaz and aunt Georgiana Sanchez, who was also a Native American studies professor at CSULB,  camped out on the land, to protect it against CSULB’s planned development for a strip mall. 

The plans ended up not coming to fruition after several Indigenous community members including Diaz’s own grandmother, mother and aunt filed a lawsuit against the university. 

However, that wasn’t the last time the Indigenous community would have to take legal action against CSULB to protect their land.

In 2019, the University dumped debris from nearby construction onto the sacred land.

Mounds of debris dumped by Cal State University Long Beach appear a stark contrast to the greenery of Puvungna. The debris was dumped in 2019 and the University has yet to remove it. Photo by Lissette Mendoza

However during an interview with the Signal Tribune Diaz stated that no Indigenous groups were ever consulted.

In a previous interview, Joyce Perry, the Tribal Cultural Resource director for the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians-Acjachemen Nation-Belardes also stated that they were not consulted. 

The Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes, and the California Cultural Resource Preservation Alliance (CCRPA) filed a lawsuit against the university in October 2019.

The litigation is currently ongoing and according to Acjachemen Tribal Culture Bearer Rebecca Robles, a judge will hear the case in June 2021.

See related: The struggle to preserve sacred land of Puvungna continues, judge to hear case in June

Elder-in-training Christopher Diaz lights sage to cleanse participants prior to the ceremonial prayer on Puvungna. Diaz grew up on the land which he now works to protect. Photo by Lissette Mendoza.

In a video on Jan. 13, 2021 CSULB President Jane Close Conoley spoke about Puvungna and the dumping but did not mention the ongoing litigation.

Conoley also made the disputed claim that the dumping was done in the presence of “Native-American site monitors and archaeologists.”

“There’s all kinds of acknowledgments but it doesn’t mean anything without some kind of action,” Diaz said. “‘I see you guys, I know you’re here, I respect you, but we’re going to put a parking lot’, you know, what kind of crap is that?” 

Currently the university already has 34 existing parking lots and structures combined.

Of those 34 lots, 19 are designated as general parking for students, 11 are designated as employee parking, three are designated as residential parking for the students who live on campus and one lot is designated as parking for foundation members.

After the prayer and reflection the attendees protested at CSULB’s main entrance on Bellflower Boulevard and Beach Drive, holding up signs that advocated for the removal of all the dumped debris and the protection of Puvungna.

Before the participants left, Diaz thanked them for being there.

Supporters of Puvungna protest at the main entrance of Cal State University Long Beach on Bellflower Boulevard and Beach Drive, advocated for the removal of all the dumped debris and for protection of the sacred land. Photo by Lissette Mendoza

“Thank you so much from my mom, from my grandmother, Rosita Moreno, for being here today, I pray that you have faith out there. I hope that you take this home with you, tell people about Puvungna. You are loved very much by me.”

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