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IN PHOTOS: ‘We’re not going to be stepped on’

An intimate group of Native peoples gathered on Puvungna Sunday morning to call for an end to the desecration of their sacred land and protection for the site.

Nearly one year ago, construction crews began to dump piles of construction-related debris onto the land as a part of the Parkside North Dormitory project. The piles were filled with rebar, wiring and trash.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for a year,” said Michelle Castillo, member of Friends of Puvungna and organizer of the event. “I’m hoping, the elders are hoping and our community is hoping that [the university] takes into consideration how valuable Puvungna is. Not just to the Tongva, not just to the Acjachemen, but to all native communities in general.”

The demonstration began around 3 a.m. with a sunrise prayer then transitioned into a rally in front of the university at the intersection of Bellflower Boulevard and Beach Drive.

Throughout the rally, participants called for an end to the desecration of Puvungna, as well as for the university to reopen parking lot G2 and rid of fees associated with going onto the land such as parking permits. Many held signs that read “Protect Puvungna” and that criticized CSULB. 

Debra Villa Becerra, a member of the Pascua Yoeme Yaqui tribe, said that although she is not of Tongva or  Acjachemen descent, the two tribes that are indegenous to Puvungna, the sacred land still represents home.

“Puvungna is a place where I have prayer, [am taught] ceremony I learned about my culture,” Becerra said. “I am Yoeme Yaqui and my family comes from Sonora and Sinaloa Mexico, but I am so far from them that this is my family. Here we are inter-tribal, we have lots of different tribes that come here, and we’re family and we’re community and we stand together.”

When asked about how she felt about the university’s actions, Becerra began to tear up.

“I felt like once again, my people have been treated badly. I felt like we didn’t have a voice, I felt like a big shoe [was] stepping on me,” Becerra said. “Like, pulling me down trying to hold me down once again. That’s how it felt, kind of like suffocating. But I prayed. I pray to my ancestors, I got together with my community. And we’re like, we’re not gonna let this happen. We’re here to make our voices heard, for something that’s right.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, access to CSULB’s campus has been restricted. This includes restrictions to Puvungna.

“Who are they to say that we have to get permission to pray, and to have ceremony and to sit with our community?” Becerra said. “You know, it’s just it’s heartbreaking, it’s ridiculous.”

Alyssa Bishop, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, played a singing bowl throughout the demonstration.  

“I’m ashamed to be an alumni of CSULB for continuing the desecration of sacred land and acting like it’s a progressive school but then acting the completely opposite way,” Bishop said.

Sage was continuously burned to bless the gathering and cleanse the air while traditional dances and songs were performed. 

“We’re just doing the best we can, to do what we can, to be heard in a peaceful loving, kind of way,” Becerra said. “So we’re not coming with violence, we’re coming in a spiritual loving place, but we’re not going to be stepped on.”

Castillo said that as long as there continues to be tension, she and her community will continue to fight to protect Puvungna. 

“This is the heart of our community,” Castillo said. “And I don’t know if they truly understand the depth of that.”

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