Protecting Puvungna from Cal State Long Beach

Credit(s): Protect Puvungna Facebook Page

This is Puvungna. A sacred land belonging to the Tongva nation and found in California. In 2019, California State University Long Beach (CSULB) dumped trash and other debris there.

This is their story.

What Is Puvungna?

Known as an ancient village and gathering place, Puvungna is a key part of Southern Californian tribes’ culture and history. It occupies land, including Long Beach, Seal Beach, and 22-acres of a meadow at CSULB. From holding the Creator-God Wyot’s funeral to hosting many significant rituals, Puvungna has continued to play a major role in many lives. Recognized for both its spiritual and historical connection, the site has become more active over the years, even hosting the Peace and Dignity Run. Every 4 years, this run begins in Alaska and ends in Ecuador with people passing through Puvungna.

Credit(s): CBC

Both the National Register for Historical Places and the State Office of Historic Preservation recognizes Puvungna as a place to be protected. However, CSULB refers to it as an “undeveloped university property” and does not seek to include it on their online map of the area.

Before diving into the more recent situation, one must understand the relationship CSULB has cultivated with Puvungna.

So, What Happened In The Past?

In the 1990s, CSULB demolished the borders of Puvungna to establish the Miller Japanese Garden, a 4-acre parking lot that was supposedly “temporary”. However, this “temporary” build can still be found today.

In 1992, CUSLB went on to deny that there were any marked archaeological sites located on their campus, proposing to destroy the Puvungna meadow for the “West Villiage Project” (which included a strip mall amongst other builds). However, after learning about this plan, gardeners from the project organized protests against it and were subsequently joined by students, faculty, alumni, community members, and tribal leaders of Tongva and Acjachemen. The Save Puvungna Coalition was born soon afterwards.

As Erin Foley describes:

When CSULB bulldozed the garden, Acjachemen elder Lillian Robles began a 24/7 spiritual vigil on the site, joined by Tongva tribal activist Jimmy Alvitre and others.

These efforts led the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit in defense of Native American Religious Freedom. The Center of Constitutional Law followed suit by filing a second lawsuit on behalf of the California Native American Heritage Commission as excavating this area would damage sacred land. In response, the Commission officially recommended that CSULB should avoid building in this area. Eventually, the university abandoned the project altogether, after spending over $2.3 million of public funds on the lawsuits.

Fast forward to 2019, CSULB struck again.

What Did They Do This Time?

In 2019, CSULB dumped tons of trash and debris from a campus construction site onto Puvungna’s meadow. Not only that, but it also fenced off an area for contractors’ trailers and announced plans to build out the current parking lot.

Credit(s): Thomas R. Cordova

Both local communities and allies saw this as an act of aggression, and it caused them to renew the fight to protect the land that rightfully belonged to their ancestors. The university responded by saying that they had still honoured the past agreements between Puvungna and themselves. This earned even more backlash as the university had seemingly never consulted with the tribes, which was a part of the initial agreement.

So, What Should You Make Of This?

Though Puvungna was victorious in their efforts, Indigenous communities are still fighting to protect areas that originally belonged to them. People must come together to protect Indigenous lands. We must continue to fight for Indigenous rights. We must fight for human rights.

References & Resources to Learn More:

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