by Sara Lin, Times
March 21, 2004
state's Native American Heritage Commission is asking
developers at Playa Vista to stop excavating land near
Centinela Creek, where workers uncovered a 200-year-old
Indian cemetery containing the remains of at least 160
Vista officials have refused to stop work, saying an
agreement with tribal representatives allows the removal
of the bodies and provides guidelines on handling of the
discovered the burial ground of the Gabrieliño-Tongva
tribe in October while removing dirt to create a
waterway — Playa Vista calls it a "stream,"
critics call it a "drainage ditch" — to
catch water runoff from Playa Vista and neighboring
housing developments near Marina del Rey.
state commission, responsible for identifying Native
American cultural resources, has sent Playa Vista
officials six letters since December, asking them to
stop removing the remains, which workers continue to
find almost every day.
a Feb. 19 letter, Larry Myers, the board's executive
secretary, wrote: "It is vexing that these
activities can continue in what can be interpreted as an
ethnocentric disregard of Native American cultural
Vista officials say that they had expected to find
Indian remains, and that excavations were permitted
under an agreement crafted by state and local regulators
13 years ago and signed by Playa Vista and three
representatives of the Gabrieliño-Tongva. The pact
included detailed procedures for handling cultural
artifacts or bodies found during construction. The
agreement was extended in 2001 for 10 years.
are doing a comprehensive and respectful job here in
accordance with a long-standing agreement with Native
American stakeholders," said Steve Soboroff,
president of Playa Vista, the giant residential and
commercial complex near Marina del Rey. The agreement
was "signed by Native American parties and they
included instructions for dealing with issues exactly
like this. Nothing new has come up," he said.
the Native American Heritage Commission says the
agreement needs revision, given the significant number
of remains uncovered.
didn't know they would find a cemetery," said Rob
Wood, the board's Southern California program manager.
"Neither the agreement, nor the environmental
documents, anticipated such a big find. They should
consult with the Native American community and look at
Vista officials say the documents still apply,
regardless of the number of remains found.
state board has no law enforcement powers. It can ask,
but not compel, Playa Vista to stop work. It is looking
at possible legal action, Wood said. A commission
representative visited the site for the first time March
keep writing letters, trying to get the developer to
stop and look at preservation," Wood said.
those opposing the excavation is Robert Dorame, a
Bellflower resident who has been designated by the
Native American Heritage Commission as the "most
likely descendant" of the Indians buried at the
site. That designation gives Dorame authority to
recommend how the remains should be handled. Though his
comments carry weight, they are just recommendations and
may be ignored by the developer.
has asked that the remains be left where they were
found. On a visit to the construction site, he clutched
a stack of more than 100 letters from the Indian
community expressing concerns about the treatment of
human remains at Playa Vista.
major concern is that moving the remains will damage
human remains in buckets that they're going to shake
through sifters," said Jordan David, who works on
the site as a Native American monitor. "Even using
a brush breaks the bone. There's no way to remove these
burials without causing destruction."
overseeing the excavation say all of the work is done by
hand. Bones and burial objects, such as beads and
baskets, are drawn and mapped so they can be reinterred
as they were found. Dorame himself approved these
detailed procedures for handling remains and identifying
requested maps; we created maps," said Donn Grenda,
director of Statistical Research Inc.'s California
office, which was hired to remove the remains. "The
human remains, the funerary objects, the soil — all
that goes back into the ground. We're trying to comply
and put people back with the right stuff; that's the
goal of doing this."
Dorame says those procedures were not meant to apply to
a large burial ground.
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."
have known the site contained Native American remains
since the mid-1940s, when artifacts were unearthed for
the Southwest Museum.
far, the remains are confined to an area approximately
100 feet by 65 feet. To excavate and catalog all of the
remains, Playa Vista has hired more than 45
archeologists from Statistical Research, a well-known
firm that has done work throughout the western United
law requires that the remains be reinterred somewhere on
the property, and Dorame will recommend a new burial
protesting the development say Playa Vista should look
at alternative plans, such as redesigning the waterway
to avoid the cemetery.
Vista also plans to build a cultural center near the
stream that will celebrate the history and traditions of
Native Americans — in particular the
Gabrieliño-Tongva. Developers have been working
alongside the Gabrieliño-Tongva to develop those
have long tried to block construction of the Playa Vista
project. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take
up a legal dispute over a federal permit for creating
the waterway, letting stand a lower court ruling
favoring the development.
people who are making the ruckus here are long-standing
opponents of Playa Vista who have always done the same
thing: to say and do anything to hurt the project,"
the Gabrieliño-Tongva, divisions have emerged, with
some supporting Playa Vista and others denouncing it.
Each side has gone out of its way to criticize the
said he represents the viewpoints of most tribe members.
so, said Martin Alcala, a member of the Santa Monica
branch of Gabrieliño-Tongva, who has been monitoring
the excavation. He believes the remains are being
treated with respect.
a perfect world, I would love for my ancestors to just
stay there," Alcala said. "But it's not a
perfect world; they have to move in this case."