Associated Students Inc. discussed the university’s ongoing dumping of soil at Puvungna at Wednesday’s Senate meeting.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, several members of the audience used this time to ask the Senate for help.
“On Friday, Sept. 27, it was California’s Native American Day,” said Michelle Castillo, who is part of the Acjachemen Nation. “The governor was in Sacramento with tribal leaders and they were celebrating with handshakes and hugs and tears. While that was going on, [we] were here, watching the desecration of our ancestors.”
In 1995, the community rallied together to save the organic gardens that were founded on the first Earth Day, but it was later bulldozed. The university’s plan at the time was to have a strip mall built on top of the land. However, the land was later placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Now, the university appears to be planning a parking lot on the site, according to a Daily Forty-Niner interview with President Jane Close Cononley.
“This to us, is a sacred site, and we’ll fight for it, and we’ll fight, and we’ll fight and if I drop dead, somebody else will take my place,” said Tahesha Knapp-Christensen, who is part of the Omaha tribe, quoting now-deceased elder Lillian Robles.
As a result of the initial struggle over the land, Puvungna is registered by the California Heritage Commission and is also recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. However, Knapp-Christensen said tribal leaders fear that despite its protected status, Puvungna still isn’t safe.
“There’s been a continuous history with always having to protect this site,” Knapp-Christensen said. “This isn’t just about dumping on the land. The land is valuable to the university because they see money and buildings and opportunities for students…which you deserve, but it doesn’t have to happen there.”
Following the public comments, ASI Vice President Leen Almahdi said she would pass along the information to the commissioner for environmental justice.
“I think the disruption of sacred ground is a really big problem [and] I’m really glad they came in and brought this forth and showed us pictures of the disrupted land,” Almahdi said. This is an issue that we care about.”
ASI President Lizbeth Velasquez followed up with Anna Christensen, another concerned member of the audience, and invited her to their Monday ASI Cabinet meeting to connect with the rest of the commissioners, including Environmental Justice Sylvan Streightiff, to discuss how students can help.
“People call us protesters, but we’re not protesting out there, we’re in mourning,” Castillo said. “When I first saw those tractors out there, and those dump trucks, I fell to my knees.
Castillo urged the Senate to help them get the construction vehicles off the land and get the soil dumping to stop. She pleaded that if they could not end the desecration, at least try to get them to stop for two weeks so the native ceremonial traditions could be performed.
“I’ve been doing my best the past 10 years, to take care of that land,” Castillo said. “That’s the heart of your university and your president wants to destroy it. I’m just asking for help right now. Do whatever you can to help us out.”
Puvungna is central and vital to Southern California Indian tribal history and, many nations come together and share the land, and it’s important to them that the 22 acres remain in its natural state.
“There has not been consultation with tribal leaders, and in an open letter from the native community dated Sept. 29 [we] requested that no further soil be deposited to the site,” Knapp-Christensen said. “The university has failed to follow that request, continuing to deposit soil the following week and announced plans to dump more.”
The next ASI Senate meeting will be held Oct. 9 at 3:30 p.m. in USU 234.