Removal of Tongva Human Remains

Here is some troubling news that comes  from the Los Angeles area.  The Tongva People find themselves once again (2011) in an unthinkable position.  The removal of these remains clearly violates the Native American Graves and Protection Act (NAGPRA).  What is being done about this issue?  See the contact information and bibliography at the end of this publication.

TO: Members of the Los Angeles Community
FROM: Members of the Gabrielino (Tongva) Community
DATE: January 5, 2010
RE: Removal of 90+ Historic Human Burials at the La Plaza de Arte and Cultura, 501 North Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

The Background
“LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes at El Pueblo Historic Monument is a multi-million dollar museum dedicated to showcasing and preserving the history of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles. The museum is housed within the historic Vickry-Brunswig and Plaza House Buildings next to Our Lady Queen of the Angels Church (commonly known as “La Placita”)… (Molina 2011)”  LA Plaza is scheduled to open on April 15, 2011 (Painter 2010).  This project is the pet project of Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, First District.

The LA Plaza (see http://www.lapca.org/) is located at 501 North Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 and is within Los Angeles’s first consecrated cemetery (LA Cultural Monument #26). The cemetery contains the remains of not only early Spanish and Mexican settlers but also the Native Americans to whom they were intermarried. The cemetery opened in 1822 and closed in 1844 when it was determined that the lot was too small. According to the Los Angeles Archdiocese and other documents, the remains were to have been removed and re-interred at
Calvary Cemetery.

In 2004, Los Angeles County approved LA Plaza’s Final Environmental Impact Report prepared to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Project refinements were proposed thus an Addendum to the Final Environmental Impact Report was prepared and approved by the County on September 28, 2010 (Sapphos 2010).

The Facts
In late October of 2010 while beginning work for the Campo Santo Memorial Garden, human remains were uncovered (Painter 2010). Over 40 sets of remains were initially removed and “bagged” while trenching with a backhoe for a fountain, a fountain that is to celebrate the history of the Mexican-American people.

As remains continued to be encountered, an archaeologist was brought on-site to continue with the removal with contextual and archaeological information inadequately collected and/or destroyed. Over 90+ remains have been removed to date.

On Dec 29, 2010, an archaeologist employed by the Sanberg Group notified the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) of the discovery of possible Native American remains. The remains were interred with beads and a obsidian “biface” (Letter, Meyers to Hernandez, January 4, 2010). The NAHC has attempted to investigate the discovery but has yet to get a response from the responsible parties.

An informant on site stated that the project is “being rushed”, and that the rest of the remains need to be removed within ten days. This is a directive that is being given by Daniel Mendoza the on-site foreman and ultimately coming from Gloria Molina’s office and the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Mr. Mendoza is acting as community contact and incidentally, also happens to be the brother-in-Law of Gloria Molina.

The Issue
Once human remains were encountered, possible descendants should have contacted in order create a plan for appropriate removal and reburial. The Los Angeles Archdiocese has a list of those that were interred at the cemetery. This did not happen.

Additionally with the discovery of possible Native American remains, the NAHC should have been contacted by the project proponent, as per the California Health and Safety Code § 7050.5, so that a Native American Most Likely Descendant could be designated. This did not happen.

The Irony
This museum is supposed to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of the Mexican and Mexican-American communities to the development of Los Angeles. However, the fact that these early settler burials, the very people the Museum is supposed to be honoring, are being removed in secret is ironic. The excavation of this cemetery in a rushed, haphazard and unscientific way, without community involvement, is a travesty.

Additionally, the possibility that Native American remains are being removed without participation of the Gabrielino (Tongva)  Nation is illegal under California law. Although the LA Plaza opening on April 15, 2011 is imminent, this is no reason to desecrate burials or inadequately document this important part of history. Not only is the Mexican and Native American pasts being destroyed, but also the past of all Los Angeles’s citizens.

Who You Can Do
Please contact the following people, offices and public entities to ask why these burials are being hurriedly removed, why the most likely descendants have not been contacted regarding the removal, why the archaeological information is not being properly documented, why those who are doing the work are not professionally trained archaeologists with experience removing human burials. Tell them if they really want to celebrate the accomplishments of the Mexican and Mexican-American people, they need to do right by the early settlers and Native American ancestors interred in the cemetery.

City of Los Angeles
Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor
200 North Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 485-2121
Fax: (213) 978-0750
mayor@lacity.org

County of Los Angeles
Dawn McDivitt, Chief Executive Office-Capital Projects
500 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Gloria Molina
Los Angeles County Supervisor, First District
Hall of Administration Office
856 Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration
500 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 974-4111
Fax: (213) 613-1739
gmolina@bos.lacounty.gov

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes Foundation
Miguel Angel Corzo, President and CEO
LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes Foundation
1055 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 800
Los Angeles, Ca 90017
(323) 260-3412

Daniel Mendoza
1055 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 800
Los Angeles, Ca 90017
(323) 260-3412

Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Bishop Edward W. Clark
Our Lady of the Angeles Pastoral Region
3424 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2202
(213) 637-7000
info@la-archdiocese.org

Bibliography

Associated Press
2010 Crews unearth bones at downtown LA historic site. Signon San
Diego. November 9, 2010.
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/nov/09/crews-unearth-bones-at-downtown-la-historic-site/,

Los Angeles Department of City Planning
2009 Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) Report.
http://cityplanning.lacity.org/complan/HCM/dsp_hcm_result.cfm?community=Central+City,

Los Angeles Department of City Planning
2010 Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) List
http://www.preservation.lacity.org/files/HCMDatabase111510_0.pdf,

Molina, Gloria
2011 “About Gloria Molina: Biography”
http://molina.lacounty.gov/PDFs/About%20GM-BIO.pdf

Painter, Alysia Gray
2010 Plaza de Cultura y Artes Opening Set. NBC Local Media.
http://www.nbclosangeles.com/around-town/events/La-Plaza-de-Cultura-y-Artes-Opening-Set-102966004.html,

Sapphos Environmental, Inc.
2010 Addendum to the Environmental Impact Report for LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. http://file.lacounty.gov/bos/supdocs/56770.pdf,

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