Burning sage during a vigil at a construction site in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., January (9th?), 2011, after dozens of human bodies, believed to include the remains of indigenous people, were found under the site. Local indigenous people and others gathered to demand proper respect for what is apparently the oldest known cemetery in Los Angeles. On January 14th the construction project was put on hold “in light of the unexpected number of human remains uncovered and their great historical significance.” Questions remain as to how construction was allowed on the site in the first place and what will happen now.
(Photo Brian van der Brug/L.A. Times)
According to Mission San Gabriel records found by Desiree Martinez, an archaeologist who is a member of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe, 673 people were buried at the cemetery, which was established in 1822. Some 20 years later, it was deemed too small and a new area was designated for burials.
Native American cultural materials, such as shell beads, bi-face fragments (a two-sided stone tool) and burials in which bodies were purposefully not placed inside a coffin, or semi-flexed burials (the bodies are not in coffins; they are loosely bent in a near-fetal position), told archaeologists that Native American remains were indeed being unearthed.
[Desiree Martinez says] “There were many Native American peoples buried in the cemetery, Luiseno, Cahuilla… and for a lot of people [the record] just states Indio, Indio, Indio, but those are most likely local tribes like the Gabrieleno/Tongva, who were one of the larger communities in the Los Angeles vicinity and were very much under the influence of San Gabriel mission. […] Native Americans were the labor force in the missions, they intermarried and many Tongva people were Christianized either by force or by will.”
“Not only were Native American people buried here but also Irish, Mexican Americans, African Americans and Europeans,” said Lylliam Posadas, the Native American Grave and Repatriation Act Assistant at the UCLA Fowler Museum. “This is not just a Native American issue but also an issue of the city of Los Angeles.”