One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indian Rifts at Bolsa Chica

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For Chief Anthony Morales of the Gabrielino-Tongva Band of Mission Indians, his long fight for the dignified treatment of Native American remains unearthed on the mesa overlooking the Bolsa Chica wetlands may finally be coming to an end.

Healing a rift with rivals from the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, will likely take much longer. 

Addressing the California Coastal Commission meeting Thursday at Huntington Beach City Hall, Morales revealed that Hearthside Homes vice president Ed Mountford had agreed to sign a document by Monday directing his company to sort through and catalog - by a July 1 deadline -- 5,500 bags of dirt that are believed to contain bits of Native American bones, teeth and artifacts. The dirt, which was dug up during Native American-monitored archaeological work on behalf of Hearthside at the site, has sat in trailers at Bolsa Chica and in Temecula for at least two years even though state law and Indian custom stipulate its quick reburial. Part of the agreement Mountford says he will sign directs reburials to be completed by July 1 also.

Morales, a state Native American Heritage Commission-recognized most likely descendent (MLD) of the Gabrielinos, was making his sixth appearance before the state coastal development regulators in the past 10 months, pleading once again for respect of his ancestors at the Brightwater Hearthside Homes site. "I've been to Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Oceanside," the San Gabriel resident told me outside the chambers later. He left out San Francisco, Long Beach and Huntington Beach, which he hopes to be his last.

That remains to be seen, not only because Mountford had not yet put pen to agreement as Morales spoke, but the chief's very presence at Bolsa Chica was being questioned by fellow Native Americans.

 

More than 174 sets of Indian remains have been unearthed during development of the mesa, which is believed to have once been an ancient village and burial ground populated by Juaneños and Gabrielinos. Chief David Belardes, a MLD of the Juaneños (and this week's Weekly cover model), has been a Bolsa Chica monitor and conducted several reburials there over the years.

 

"We have been the only consistent tribal group monitoring this project," Joyce Perry, the Belardes group's tribal manager, reminded Coastal Commissioners. "For the last several years, Hearthside Homes has worked diligently with us and in a respectful manner."

 

She said Gabrielinos and Juaneños are "two different cultures" that are in conflict with one another.

 

Asked outside the chambers what she meant by that, Perry said she has too much respect for the Gabrielinos to go into it before trying to first resolve their differences internally.

 

(Later asked about a conflict with the Juaneños, Morales shrugged and said, "I was lost on that one.")

 

The differences likely stem from Perry's contention that Belardes has done the heavy lifting at Bolsa Chica while five or six different Gabrielino MLDs have come and gone.

 

Morales did not dispute those numbers.

 

"That may be true, but the thing is these are our ancestors. Gabrielinos are most likely descendents. I remember some of those original MLDs. My dad was one. There have been different Juaneños, too. This project has lasted 20, 30 years. Of course, some of the elders are going to die off. This is nonsense. Turnover has nothing to do with it."

 

Reminded that he and Belardes told the Native American Heritage Commission meeting December in San Juan Capistrano that they were in agreement about a strategy to deal with the bagged remains, Morales said that is what he thought at the time. "I have not heard from David Belardes since then. All I have heard has been from her," Morales said of Perry. "It's coming to me second hand. She told me that's not what David meant."

 

Based on internal communications between the Belardes group and the Coastal Commission that Morales says he has seen, Belardes now wants individual sets of remains buried before the rest of the bags' contents are sorted through, cataloged and returned to the earth in a second reburial. Morales is adamant that everything be matched together first so all of a particular individual's bones, teeth and artifacts can be buried together at the same time, a much more costly, labor intensive--but respectful--process.

 

"We are their voice," he said of his bagged-up ancestors. "Their blood runs through my veins. We've got to protect them." 

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