As part of a prayer rally, members of the Native American community picketed on the route of the JetBlue Long Beach Marathon for Indigenous People’s Day Sunday morning.
With signs that read “Respect our past and our future” and “Save Puvungna from CSULB,” they stood at the corner of Merriam Way and Atherton Street to inform the runners about the possibility of a temporary parking lot on Puvungna.
“What better way to celebrate than to raise awareness for Puvungna, our sacred site on campus,” said spiritual leader Rebecca Robles, who is part of the Acjachemen tribe.
On Sept. 20, a company contracted by the university started dumping dirt at Puvungna from the construction site of the new Parkside North Dormitory. Since then, the school has agreed to stop dumping as a part of “a good-faith gesture,” according to Jeff Cook, chief communications officer for CSULB.
The university’s decision came after the Native community filed an injunction to stop the dumping. Robles said they are working on filing a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit to find out if Long Beach State obtained the correct permits to dump on the land.
“This is the last remaining site that’s open,” Robles said. “It’s protected and it’s precious.”
During the rally, people chanted “Protect Puvungna” and “No parking lot on sacred ground” to the runners passing by at the marathon. Some runners showed support, but most ignored the chants.
Debra Villa Becerra said she wanted to bring awareness to the possible parking lot at Puvungna because the land is like home to her. Many others in the community echoed her sentiment, including the young children that attended the rally.
Spiritual leader Michelle Castillo said having the kids out there with them was a blessing.
“More than likely, they’re going to be out here doing the same things as adults,” Castillo said.
She said that seeing the generations of the Native community coming together strengthens the feeling of family between them.
Elders fought with the university like this in the ‘90s and Castillo said they hoped they’d never have to see it again. Many got emotional while talking about the impact the university’s involvement with Puvungna has had.
“There could be mornings where I wake up in tears,” Castillo said. “We’re in a spiritual battle…to save our existence.”
Last week, the Native American community celebrated its annual Ancestor Walk and Bear Ceremony at Puvungna. Castillo said there were about 500 people there, which is double the amount of last year. The community was worried it would be the last ceremony, she said.
The school has a specific committee, the Native American Graves Protection, and Repatriation Act Review Committee, that it consults with for matters concerning the 22-acres. According to Robles, the NAGPRA committee is under the university with only some tribal representatives on it.
Castillo said the community knows the fight isn’t going to be over in a day, and there is a division between the committee and the community. Many, like Tahesha Knapp-Christensen, don’t think they are being included in the process.
“I don’t know if you can speak truth to power if you’re working for the university,” said Tahesha Knapp-Christensen.