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Native American Heritage Commission urges CSU, CSULB engage in ‘meaningful tribal consultation’ regarding Puvungna in letter to Chancellor Castro

In a letter sent to California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, the Native American Heritage Commission asserted that Long Beach State engaged in “improper consultation practices” regarding the dirt dumping on Puvungna in 2019.

“The NAHC strongly advises the California State University system and CSULB to reach out to the local tribes as soon as possible and engage in meaningful tribal consultation,” Enforcement Attorney Justin Freeborn wrote. “The NAHC cannot act as a proxy for consultation with tribes, and we have not been empowered to do so by any tribe.”

This letter is part of an ongoing exchange between the California Native American Heritage Commission and Castro to address actions taken by CSULB involving the 22-acre plot of sacred land and to affirm that consultation with NAHC staff does not serve as consultation with local tribal groups.

The NAHC first sent a letter to Castro on March 5 requesting protection of the land, to which Castro responded on March 11 claiming the university is addressing the situation.

“The campus is currently engaged in a process with the Native American Heritage Commission…to develop a permanent plan for that soil to better integrate it into the surrounding landscape and to introduce native plantings,” Castro wrote in his March 11 letter.

Sent on March 23, the most recent letter is a response to these claims, which the NAHC feels is a “mischaracterization” of the commission’s role in the ongoing dispute, according to Freeborn. Freeborn stated that the role of the commission was to “facilitate CSULB consultation with tribes,” not to “take the place of tribal consultation,” something the university failed to do.

During construction of the new Parkside North Dormitory in September of 2019, crews hired by the university used heavy machinery on Puvungna and dumped dirt containing debris onto the land. According to state legislation, agencies must seek commentary documentation from the Office of Historic Preservation before engaging in any activity that involves locations registered with the National Register of Historic Places.

The university moved forward with these actions on Puvungna, a NRHP-listed site, without prior consultation of tribal groups, which is part of the ongoing lawsuit brought on by members of the Native community.

The March 23 letter also references the university’s previous actions regarding the plot of land, including the attempt to construct a mini mall on Puvungna in the 1990s.

“The similarities between present day actions are of great concern to the NAHC as the Commission has previously taken steps to protect the site against similar CSULB actions,” Freeborn wrote. “The misrepresentations in [Castro’s] letter make it extremely challenging for the NAHC to continue efforts to facilitate meaningful tribal consultation or further problem-solving discussions between the parties — something that appears an ancillary benefit to CSULB.”

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