LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – In light of the discovery of the remains of 270 Native Americans at a real estate development site, tribal members are calling on the developer to side-step a 13-year-old pact that permits the excavation of bodies during construction.
If they had dug up George Washington or another person closely related to this country, they would be screaming like a son of a gun.
executive secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission
As expected, according to the parties, the Playa Vista Development unsurfaced human remains during the digging phase for a water throughway that will collect run-off from nearby neighborhoods. Although the firm set a programatic agreement on the guidelines for handling remains with the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe, the large discovery has sparked debate over renegotiating procedures. Opponents want digging to stop and the throughway redirected.
The problem, stated Tongva Tribal Chair Anthony Morales, is that when the parties entered into the agreement, neither knew that a cemetery, rather than a few remains, would be found. Nevertheless, the amount of remains has no bearing on the agreement, and despite several written requests to reconsider by Larry Myers, executive secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission, developers are not legally bound to act.
“I think it’s an atrocity. They’re just mowing right through a cemetery,” Mr. Morales stated. “As Native Americans, we are beginning to be of the thinking that because of his ties with the city, Mr. Soboroff believes that he’s above and beyond environmental laws, and the City Planning Commission has not stepped forward and recognized that a cemetery is being destroyed. That is not development. That is plain, sheer barbaric,” he continued, referring to Playa president Steve Soboroff, who previously ran for city mayor and his ties with the Los Angeles County Recreation and Parks Commission.
Playa spokesman Steve Sugarman said that it has legally and responsibly satisfied its obligations. “Our focus is to do this in the best way we know how, with sensitivity, respect and spending,” he said.
In fact, he added, the development will feature an interpretive discovery center with historical exhibits on the origins of the Tongva Native Americans, as well as house over two dozen parks, a public library, school, and fire and police stations.
Tongva ancestors and Native American preservationists question at what costs, however.
“The public–and by that I mean local city officials, county supervisors, and planning departments, is not really understanding that what the Indians are screaming about is that this is their ancestral remains. If they had dug up George Washington or another person closely related to this country, they would be screaming like a son of a gun,” Mr. Meyers stated.
A spokesperson for the City Planning Commission could not be reached by Final Call press time.
The Heritage Commission was established in 1975, during a period when Indian remains were being destroyed by heavy equipment, robbed by curiosity seekers, and disregarded, he further explained.
Ultimately, he said he would like to see better laws and real protection–consultation, meaningful talk, and information centers–of Indian remains, but an acceptable mitigation would be to cap the site with dirt and make it a park. Playa and the Commission, he further stated, could easily honor the site as a cemetery under a 200-year-old law that recognizes six or more remains as such.
Unable to change laws through L.A.’s election process because of their location, the Tongva continue to request, recommend and wait, although change is not likely. The Tongva Tribe’s Mother Village, which boasts a membership of about 400, sits just 10 miles outside of Los Angeles County in San Gabriel, and is not federally recognized. But Mr. Morales believes that federal recognition has nothing to do with human dignity and wants the digging to stop.
“You simply do not destroy a sacred ground like that. They’re making things up as they go along. That’s a developer’s cover-up,” he said.
According to Mr. Sugarman, excavation for Playa’s residential, commercial and neighborhood retail project. which spans from the 405 Freeway to the Pacific Ocean, is 75 percent complete, yet workers expect to uncover more remains.
“According to oral history, church records, and archeological research, Tongva has been around for 7-10,000 years,” Mr. Morales said. “We founded the San Gabriel Mission in 1971 and a decade later, Los Angeles. To not honor the cemetery law is downright racist, and for L.A. not to stand up for the founders of L.A., the Indigenous people of its own city, is insane and shameful.”