With the scent of burning sage permeating the air, members of the local Native community gathered on Puvungna Sunday morning for a socially distanced ceremonial prayer and dance in honor of Indigenous land.
Organized by Friends of Puvungna, the event featured about 30 mask-wearing participants, a few of whom dressed in ceremonial attire, and a local hawk circling the land. A National Lawyers Guild legal observer was also present to ensure the ceremony remained peaceful.
“Today is Valentine’s Day, it’s not just to love people, it’s to love the land,” said Christopher Diaz, fire keeper, Elder and member of the Chumash people. “We are here today to pray.”
Once spanning over 500 acres, Puvungna remains a 22-acre plot of land located alongside lot G2 at Long Beach State, often frequented by the Native community for rituals like this one.
Diaz, whose mother and aunt advocated for the protection of Puvungna as sacred land 25 years ago, led the group in a prayer circle.
In’yoni Felix, who is from the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, performed a ceremonial dance in the circle. Felix, a resident of Fresno, drove out to Puvungna to be able to participate and offer a dance.
“There’s nothing like being around trees your ancestors saw, there’s nothing like being on this land,” Felix said. “The land heals itself.”
Felix created a viral TikTok video, which has over 500,000 views, discussing the Indigenous community’s struggle with the university over protecting the land.
A dancer for about a year, Felix said she feels ceremonial dancing is a way to “reclaim Indigenous culture.”
“It’s like we’re not people, we’re a political stance,” Felix said.
The group made its way along Earl Warren Drive to gather at the Beach Drive campus entrance, with several participants holding decorated signs that read “protect the sacred” and “hands off Puvungna.”
When conducting the prayer circle, Diaz discussed how the Indigenous community has been at odds with CSULB for decades. As someone who grew up going to Puvungna, Diaz expressed his frustration with the university’s treatment of the land, citing how ancestral remains had been unearthed in the past.
“Puvungna goes almost to the water’s edge,” Diaz said, his voice breaking. “We’ve had some presidents at the university, some cared and some did not.”
Participants included members of other local tribes, supporters of the cause to protect Puvungna and attendees of past events.
“I’m just really here to be present with my spirit and with my heart,” said Azcatl El, Mexica dancer who performed at a rally in September.
Andrew Salinas, who is of Indigenous descent, said he attended the ceremony to show support for the Tongva and Acjachemen peoples.
“I’m here to show solidarity to my brothers and sisters and protect all of our land. It’s sacred,” Salinas said.
According to a University Police Department officer who drove by Puvungna, parking lot G2 was reopened for Sunday’s event and confirmed Parking and Transportation Enforcement was not collecting payment.
Felix said she “made the trek” from Fresno with her cousins because it is important to them to protect the land.
“It feels very peaceful, I feel my ancestors here, and I feel the good vibrations of just everyone,” Felix said. “I feel also saddened that it’s come to this point and that we’re still fighting this fight because it really should be a simple moral choice, and it’s such a struggle for the university.”