Campus, News

Native Americans upset about CSULB dumping dirt at Puvungna

For weeks, Long Beach State has been dumping dirt from the construction site of the new Parkside North Dormitory on the Native American land, Puvungna. This action has angered many Native Americans who have personal connections with the land.

The controversy has prompted the community to start a GoFundMe campaign for an injunction against CSULB. They have raised almost $3,000 of their $20,000 goal.

The Native American community held their annual Ancestor Walk and Bear Ceremony at Puvungna Oct. 5. The Daily Forty-Niner asked the Native American community if the publication could photograph Bear Ceremony but was denied “as no cameras or videos are ever allowed at the ceremony.” 

According to Ximalli of the Tarahumara tribe, the current situation at Puvungna has not physically affected the ceremony, but it has emotionally impacted the community.

 “Some elders didn’t want to come [to Bear Ceremony], they were too heartbroken by the construction,” Ximalli said.  

According to Ximalli, the school planned on charging visitors for parking for the Bear Ceremony, but the day before the celebration began administrators decided to allow free parking for up to 200 vehicles in Lot G2. 

He said the charge for parking would be a violation of Assembly Bill 4239 which serves to “prevent irreparable damage to designated sacred sites, as well as to prevent interference with the expression of Native American religion in California.”

Ximalli added that the firekeeper, who tends the fire during the ceremony, told visitors to focus on the ceremony and not the controversial dumping on the sacred land. 

Ximalli said administrators told the native community that the construction is a part of a “beautification project.”  

“It has affected us emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” he said. “I don’t see anything beautiful about it.” 

Jeff Cook, chief communications officer for CSULB, said that the university has decided to stop dumping as “a good-faith gesture” to the community who have expressed concerns.

This method of managing excavated earth was based on the original counsel of both internal and external Native American advisors to keep soil from campus here on site,” Cook said in an email. 

In an email statement, Vice Provost for academic planning Dhushy Sathianathan said that the method the university used is the best way due to financial and environmental reasons.

“We have been in ongoing communication with those who have an interest in the site even as we have disagreed with many of the assertions that have been made about this work,” Sathianathan said.

According to an email sent by Craig Stone, director of American Indian studies, a company contracted by the university originally started dumping dirt from the construction site of the new Parkside North Dormitory on the 22-acre parcel on Sept. 20. 

The day before the vehicles were spotted, Stone said he was told that there would be no activity on the site. He also said that this was the third time that Long Beach State had not consulted the Native American community, despite the university saying it would not happen again.

Native community members inspected the dirt and found PVC pipes, plastic sheets, rebar and a manhole cover. Ximalli referred to the dirt as “toxic.” 

Michelle Castillo, who is part of the Acjachemen tribe, said that she was at Puvungna preparing for the annual Bear Ceremony when she saw the construction vehicles.

“I told an elder that it felt like I was at a funeral,” Castillo said. “It was a shock.”

Castillo said she has worked on the land for years and has bonded with it; she considers it the heart of the university. Ancestors have been buried on the land, some not too long ago, she said.

Puvungna is one of the most sacred things that the community has, and Castillo said it should be respected at all times.

“It’s almost like you’re suffocating the spirit of a sacred site,” Castillo said.

Despite blowback from the Native American community about dumping that occurred the previous week, the university continued dumping on the 22-acre parcel.

While CSULB celebrated the groundbreaking of the new Parkside North Dormitory on Sept. 27, the Native American community protested the dumping of dirt from the construction at Puvungna.

“We don’t bring machines like that, and these people think that that’s OK,” said Maggie Acosta, who is part of the Apache and Yaqui tribes. “[It’s] a complete disregard for what we’re about and what we do here, and I don’t understand that.”

Stone said any construction at Puvungna requires an Environmental Impact Statement as well as a consultation with representatives from the Native American community. Cook said there are no plans for any permanent construction at Puvungna beyond what is already there.

“A temporary expansion of parking spaces to the south and north of Lot G2 is currently being assessed in response to increased parking pressures on campus as evidenced this fall,” Cook said. “The university will conduct an Environmental Impact Review regarding this proposed work in consultation with designated tribal leaders.”

According to Cook, contractors inspect the dirt before and after it is transported to Puvungna.

“There are monitors both at the student-housing site as dirt is excavated as well as on the parcel east of Bellflower where the dirt is being relocated,” Cook said in an email.

This article was update Oct. 7 at 3:10 p.m. 

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