A total of 40 Native American tribal groups, environmental and social activist groups cosigned a letter to the California Board of Trustees and the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for the protection of Puvungna.
The groups have called on the California State University system to enter into “a legally binding agreement to protect this 22-acre parcel of land in perpetuity, instead of systematically trying to pave it over or build on top of it,” according to a media release.
Home to the Tongva and Acjachemen peoples, Puvungna once covered 500 acres of land. Developments, including Long Beach State, have since been built on top of the land, leaving only a 22-acre parcel on the outskirts of campus running parallel to parking lot G2.
Previous attempts by the university to build on the land have been successfully blocked by advocacy groups, and tension between the university and the Native communities have been long-standing.
These tensions came to a head in September of 2019 when construction crews began dumping debris containing dirt, trash and rebar on the land while working on the Parkside North Dormitory.
In October of 2019, the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation-Belardes and California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, Inc. filed a lawsuit against CSULB to hold the university accountable for its actions.
Chairman Matias Belardes said in June of 2020 that the tribes are also seeking to establish a memorandum of understanding with CSULB that would require the university to consult with the tribal groups before making any further decisions regarding the 22-acre plot of land.
Little progress in the lawsuit has been made, however. Delays due to courts closing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Belardes, have held up the proceedings.
In November of 2020 the university made an official decision that they would cease dumping dirt on the land, despite not having dumped any construction-related debris in over a year.
Recent accusations of CSULB’s plans to build a 500-spot parking lot on Puvungna were brought to light on social media. Despite saying that there were in fact plans for a temporary parking lot in an interview with the Daily Forty-Niner in September of 2019, President Jane Close Conoley and other administrators have since denied such plans ever existed.
The main focus of the tribes now is not whether or not there were ever plans for a parking lot, however, but rather the establishment of a memorandum of understanding that would prohibit the university from making any further attempts to develop on or desecrate the land.
“This is not about what the university president says, or the trustees or even the governor,” Belardes said in the statement. “It’s about the actions they take and what they are actually willing to do through the law. Native Americans have been given all sorts of promises over the course of the last 250 years, but it’s the legally binding agreements that have provided some measure of protection for our lands, our peoples, our spiritual traditions and our cultural heritage.”