The tribe has consistently objected to the treatment plan because, in the tribe’s opinion, it would damage the site and buried resources.
“We feel right now in the spring isn’t a good time to be out there moving all the soil,” said Rebecca Robles, Acjachemen Tribe leader and Friends of Puvungna organizer. “This is the most beautiful time of the year. The plan calls for seeding the soil, they’ll be seeding in August which is the driest time of the year, and since its subsoil and has been sitting there for four years, it’s not going to be garden soil.”
Friends of Puvungna is currently seeking state and federal grants to restore the site and assist in the removal of the deposited soils from the site of Puvungna.
Beginning on April 18, the Treatment Plan for Soils Placement on Campus plans to remove overgrown brush and weeds, shape berms and plant native flora and fauna within the northwest border of the main campus.
CSULB claims the plan is necessary to prevent stormwater issues, ensure public safety and minimize further disruption to the site, but Puvungna argues completion of the plan would compact and spread subsoil contaminated by plastics another four to eight feet, making it more difficult to remove.
In addition, the timing of the plan is inefficient and damaging.
“Because the space is a sensitive sacred cultural place, there needs to be a higher level of transparency and accountability about any and all university interventions and developments at the site,” said Theresa Gregor of the American Indian Studies program.
Gregor said the university has not consulted with the AIS program nor the Committee on Native American Burials, Remains, and Cultural Patrimony “on the settlement or any conservation activities.”
Puvungna was once a 500-acre piece of land sacred to tribes in the Tongva Nation that is now occupied by the university. Native Americans have been fighting for years with university administration to stop any building on the 22 acres of undeveloped indigenous land along Bellflower Boulevard.
The current issue ties back to 2019 when the university dumped more than 6,000 cubic yards of construction dirt and debris on Puvungna with zero warning or review.
In September 2021, the university reached a settlement with the Tongva and Acjachemen nations, the tribes of Puvungna, providing permanent protection to the 22 acres, the area on the northeast section of campus on Bellflower Boulevard.
The Puvungna Settlement Agreement prohibits the university from conducting certain construction operations, using certain equipment, dumping construction debris, installing landscapes other than specific native plants, applying pesticides and installing structures or improvements that restrict Native American Tribes from using the land for cultural, ceremonial, or religious purposes.
But what is berm stabilization? By filling material such as sand, rubble, asphalt, soil, or plant debris at the toe of a slope, small slides where slopes have been steepened by erosion or construction are repaired, therefore stabilizing the slope of a surface.
However, under certain circumstances, the construction of stable berms can negatively impact the environment as the slopes eventually risk collapse, causing damage, disruption in operations, and the weight of the soil damaging the environment.
“Those berms should never have been deposited on a sacred site or nationally registered site,” Robles said. “This wouldn’t happen in Rome or on a civil war battlefield so in some ways, it feels like there was a lack of acknowledgment of how important Puvungna is to the Native American people.”
The effectiveness of the berm reduces depending on the material used. For example, berms constructed of wood chips or compost are recommended for flatter areas while berms constructed of clays and sands are more suitable for steeper slopes.
Through the effects on wetlands, endangered species habitats, longer culvert pipe lengths which increase the likelihood of flooding, stream channelization which reduces sinuosity, and more unfavorable environmental impacts, stability berms need to be constructed of suitable materials and inspected and maintained consistently.
The university affirms the conditions are consistent with the land’s current restrictive covenant, including the agreement that workers will do most of the work using hand tools with limited machinery, and the location will receive trained workers including a Native American site monitor and campus project inspector.
“One thing I know for sure is that there need to be increased, open, and reasonable conversations about the site that are made more public and inclusive of all stakeholders and constituents with claims to or relations with Puvungna,” Gregor said. “Otherwise, these standoffs will continue.”