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Latino Daily News

Monday January 17, 2011

Native Americans Protest Over Excavation of Ancestors’ Burial Site for Mexican Cultural Center

Just outside the Los Angeles construction site of what was intended to be a Mexican cultural center, at least 50 Native Americans protested the excavation of what they believe to the grave sites of many of their ancestors.

Saturday morning, local members of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians said they have ancestors buried at the construction site, located on the grounds of La Placita church, and were not notified when workers dug up human remains in October. They was protesting and praying alongside other Southern California tribes, as well as descendants of Spanish settlers who were also buried there.

The La Placita church was Los Angeles’ first Catholic church, and many of those in attendance on Saturday held documents they said proved their family members were buried at the site.

The Native Americans are asking that the area be preserved as a cemetery and their ancestors remains be “respectfully handled.”

In October, when human bone fragments were initially discovered, the workers stopped the excavation, but continued after La Plaza officials said they contacted the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the coroner’s office. As the excavation continued, workers began removing full skeletons, coffins and other artifacts, though the Archdiocese says they were never informed of the discovery of full graves, and according to Catholic records, the cemetery attached to the church was relocated in 1844. Those records are incorrect, and records at the Huntington Library in San Marino describe multiple Indian burials at the site.

When the archdiocese and Native Americans laid on the pressure, the president and CEO of La Plaza, Miguel Angel Corzo, said work in the area was halted “indefinitely’ once human remains were found, but protestors said they saw crews working Saturday morning.

Katie Dunham, the La Plaza spokesperson said workers have been working on the western part of the area, where no remains were found.

“My sixth grandfather, Pedro, is buried here along with some of his family,” Tim Poyorena-Miguel, a Luise o Indian and archivist for the Montebello Historical Society said. “I don’t want them dug up.”