Forty CA groups sign letter to CSU Chancellor, trustees, and Gov. Newsom, calling to protect Puvungna, sacred Native American Site at CSULB

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

A joint letter to the California State University Trustees and Gov. Gavin Newsom was submitted on Friday, March 5 and signed by forty groups from around California calling to protect Puvungna, a sacred Native American site at Cal State Long Beach.

The groups, which include Native American, social and environmental justice organizations, are asking CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro, CSU Board of Trustees Chair Lillian Kimbell and Gov. Newsom to act fast to restore and permanently protect Puvungna, the 22-acre parcel of land at CSULB.

Puvungna is culturally, historically, and spiritually significant for the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation – Belardes, the Gabrielino/Tongva people and other Native American groups in Southern California.

The controversy over control of Puvungna spans decades. However, it came to a breaking point when the university dumped construction debris and dirt on the sacred land in the fall of 2019.

See related: Inside the struggle to preserve Puvungna

“The university also sprayed pesticides on the meadow and drove heavy equipment over ceremonial areas on the site,” the press release said. “The Juaneño Band has argued that dumping the soil, along with concrete, rebar and other debris, on this land that holds archeological artifacts and that is actively used by local Tribal groups for ceremonies and celebrations, is not acceptable. But almost a year and a half later, the university has yet to address the damage caused to the site.”

According to the press release, the joint letter comes at a time where momentum around the controversy grows between CSULB and local Tribal groups, which include the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes, the Gabrielino/Tongva, and other Native American people in Southern California.

Puvungna is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the California Native American Heritage Commission’s Sacred Land Inventory. 

Some of those who signed the letter include the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA), Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, Sacred Sites International, Society of Native Nations, and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice among others.

A lawsuit was filed against the university in late 2019 by the Juaneño Band and California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance in an attempt to protect Puvungna. 

The lawsuit remains ongoing and the Tribe and CCRPA will file an opening brief in mid-March, according to the press release.

The groups ask that the university cleans up the debris, protect the land permanently and enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to make sure adequate consultation takes place in the future.

The press release noted university leader’s statements on social media saying there are no current plans to develop the site, but states that “the only way to protect Puvungna in perpetuity is for the university to enter into a written, legally binding agreement that would protect this land.”

“To date the university has been unwilling to enter into such an agreement,” the release said. 

“This is not about what the University President says, or the Trustees or even the Governor,” Matias Belardes, Chairman of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation – Belardes said in the press release. “It’s about the actions they take and what they are actually willing to do through the law. Native Americans have been given all sorts of promises over the course of the last 250 years. But it’s the legally binding agreements that have provided some measure of protection for our lands, our peoples, our spiritual traditions and our cultural heritage.”

Additionally, the release stated that internal communications indicate that the university had intended to pave over parts of the sacred site in order to build a parking lot. 

“At first the university publicly denied this plan; but when presented with evidence, they backpedaled and adjusted their statement to say they were no longer pursuing the idea,” the release noted.

Chairman Belardes added, “There is long, tragic history in California and across this continent, of oppression and cultural erasure of Native Americans. We have an opportunity right now — with this matter of protecting Puvungna — to right past wrongs and begin a healing process. The generation of young people going to school at CSULB support our cause and our fight for justice. I invite the leaders of CSU to stop misappropriating our sacred land and join us in this endeavor to heal and to move forward.”

The Juaneño Band’s Tribal leaders requested that an item on protecting Puvungna be put on the Board of Trustees’ agenda. Their next meeting is on March 23-24.

“They ask that the Trustees take the initiative to end this controversy by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding and directing CSULB to restore and preserve Puvungna in perpetuity.”

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