L.A. Developers Won't Stop Building at Indian Burial Site

Arizona Daily Sun 
22 March 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Developers have refused to stop work at a site where a state commission on American Indian heritage says a 200-year-old cemetery holds the remains of at least 169 bodies.

Officials with Playa Vista, a residential and commercial development company, said a 13-year-old agreement with the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe allows them to remove the bodies.

The Native American Heritage Commission board has no authority to stop the development, but it is considering legal action, officials said.

"It is vexing that these activities can continue in what can be interpreted as an ethnocentric disregard of Native American cultural concerns," Larry Myers, executive secretary of the commission, said in a Feb. 19 letter to Playa Vista.

Workers discovered the burial ground in October while digging a waterway to catch runoff from Playa Vista and neighboring housing developments.

Since December, the commission has sent Playa Vista six letters asking them to stop removing the remains, which have been found on a near daily basis.

Playa Vista officials said the excavations are allowed under an agreement signed by the company, three representatives of the tribe and government regulators 13 years ago. The agreement -- extended for 10 years in 2001 -- outlines procedures for handling cultural artifacts or bodies if they are found.

Company president Steve Soboroff said Playa Vista was "doing a comprehensive and respectful job" under the agreement.

The Native American Heritage Commission claims the agreement should be revised considering the large number of remains.

"We didn't know they would find a cemetery," said Rob Wood, the board's Southern California program manager. "They should consult with the Native American community and look at alternatives."

Attempts to reach tribal leaders Sunday were unsuccessful. But the tribe's Web site was critical of continued development now that the cemetery has been discovered.

"Let our ancestors rest," the message said. "The meaning of Tongva is People of the Earth, if these remains are not allowed to go back to the earth as intended, our culture may never be the same."

Opponents of the excavation include Robert Dorame, who was named by the commission the "most likely descendant" of Indians buried at the site.

"If there's two or three remains, yes, you may follow those recommendations," he said. "But we're talking about a cemetery. Every Indian knows it's a cemetery. The protocols can change."

Copyright 2004 Arizona Daily Sun


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html