Long Beach State and the Native community are at odds again over claims that the university has plans to build a parking lot on the sacred site of Puvungna.
“The least [campus officials] can do is leave what’s left to the local tribal people,” said Michelle Castillo, a land caretaker for Puvungna.
Initially, members of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes and California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc. filed a lawsuit against CSULB in October 2019 for dumping dirt that contained construction-related debris on Puvungna during construction of the Parkside North Dormitory.
“While the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against CSULB are pleased to see so much support for Puvungna in the community, they were not involved with any communications around a potential plan to build a parking lot on the land,” said Mary Derr, project manager and representative for the plaintiffs.
According to President Jane Close Conoley, approximately three years ago, the university was asked by the Native community to provide dirt from the campus to be used as a berm, or barrier, for the site when ceremonial activities were being held at night.
“We were asked by Native Americans on our campus to use dirt that might become available from the campus to build earthen berms, you know, little hills, around the ceremonial area, around the undeveloped area on our campus,” Conoley said, referring to Puvungna. “So when we started construction of the new student housing…we had Native American monitors at that site as the dirt was dug up. ”
The Daily Forty-Niner reached out to Castillo for a comment. She did not respond.
Conoley denied there ever being debris on Puvungna and maintained that “if you go walk around there, you’d see there’s no wires, there’s no debris.” She said that the dirt “was from a 10th of a mile from that Puvungna area and was brought to put in the berms that we’ve been asked to do.”
“There was never any debris. The picture of that was printed in the Daily Forty-Niner, I don’t know where you guys got it, but it was a total fabrication,” Conoley said. “I’m sure it was a picture of something somewhere.”
Members of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc. and Friends of Puvungna are continuing their fight to protect the sacred site from further construction projects or dumping of any kind.
In’yoni Felix, who is from Acjachemen descent, made a TikTok video that has received over 478,000 views, 209,000 likes and 58,000 shares as of Dec. 9 expressing how she felt about the university’s plans.
@inyoni.little.bird#CSULB #afroindigenous #nativetiktok #calstatelongbeach #activism #nativeamerican #californiahiddengems♬ original sound – In’yoni Felix
“It’s a big huge spiritual blow because Puvungna is the center of the universe for our tribes; that’s where life began,” Felix said. “It used to span over about 500 acres, so Cal State Long Beach is literally sitting on what used to be Puvungna… It infuriated me.”
Home to the Tongva and Acjachemen peoples, Puvungna remains just a 22-acre plot of land and is frequented by the local Indigenous community for rituals like the Ancestor Walk and annual Ceremony and Pilgrimage.
Felix encouraged those who viewed her TikTok to contact university officials about Puvungna. Many viewers took to social media, including leaving comments on the university’s official Instagram page, to express their views on the administration’s decision.
Members of the Indigenous community have also been promoting a GoFundMe campaign created in 2016 to “Protect Puvungna” that has raised nearly $25,000 of its $50,000 goal as of Dec. 9.
CSULB alumna Courtney Ramirez said she heard about the proposed plans through TikTok and Instagram and is unhappy with the way the university is approaching the situation with Puvungna.
“I was really disappointed because I do have Indigenous roots, and I also just think it’s really important that we honor people’s sacred land,” Ramirez said. “So finding out that the school that I love, and that I spent four years at, wants to completely disrespect Indiginous lands just upset me and made me really disappointed.”
Castillo also promoted the cause on social media and posted a video on Instagram describing her feelings toward CSULB’s Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, located on Puvungna.
View this post on Instagram
In response to these concerns, Conoley has denied allegations that the university plans to build a parking lot on Puvungna.
“There has never been a plan to do that,” Conoley said.
According to the university’s 10-year master plan, which details construction plans for campus grounds within the coming years, there is no documentation of a proposed parking lot on the 22 acres of Puvungna.
During a Q&A with the Daily Forty-Niner in September of 2019, Conoley said that the university’s parking committee had been considering allocating 500 parking spots onto the land near the Japanese Garden, which is where Puvungna is located.
“In terms of additional parking we’re looking over near the Japanese Garden,” Conoley said at the time. “That’s still in the environmental investigation, so it’s not a done deal, but we’d like to add another 500 spots over there. [The spots] would be used only during those first eight weeks and then we’ll leave it alone.”
Conoley regarded the current allegations of a parking lot as a “public relations assault against the university.”
“We have a decades-long history of promoting the use of that as a ceremonial site,” Conoley said, in reference to Puvungna. “This to me is a major disinformation campaign. I’m very sad about it because my goal was to attract more Native American students to come to Cal State Long Beach, where they would have a great American Indian Studies program, and they would realize we have a lot of respect for their heritage.”
According to Conoley, the university was asked to look into building ceremonial housing on campus, something other universities in the U.S. and Canada have done. After CSULB contracted famed architect Johnpaul Jones a few years ago, he recommended building a new parking lot along Earl Warren Drive and removing the current lot, G2.
This received overwhelming backlash from the community and even from across the globe, with protestors expressing that CSULB should not follow through with construction as it would have interfered with Puvungna, which sits alongside Earl Warren Drive.
Currently, the lawsuit between the university and the Native community remains ongoing. The Native community received confirmation from campus officials Nov. 19 that CSULB would cease any further dumping of dirt, though Castillo believes the work is not done yet.
“We hope to protect Puvungna for an eternity because this is still an active ceremonial grounds,” Castillo said. “Local tribal leaders are still using Puvungna as a place to worship, a place to teach, to learn, to take their kids through the rights of passage.”
Julia Terbeche, news editor, contributed to this story.
This article was updated on Jan. 8, 2020 at 1:06 p.m. to better reflect the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes and California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc.’s stance on the issue.