Monday, February 11, 2008

Tongva History in Playa Vista

The Daily Breeze ran a front-page story on reburying the bodies of hundreds of Tongva people--bodies found while excavating and leveling ground for Playa Vista, four years ago. Here's the link, though I don't think the Breeze keeps its stories up very long. This picture, taken by Sean Hiller of Tongva spokesperson Robert Dorame, accompanied it.

The Tongva, or Gabrielino, have no reservation. When California became a state back in the early 1850s, 18 treaties were signed with different tribes granting reservations. Those treaties were sent east, where Congress never ratified them. Instead, they locked them in a file cabinet, and went out for brandy and cigars.

Ok, lying about the brandy and cigars. They did lock the treaties in a file cabinet though, and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs at the time took the land promised to the Tongva/Gabrielino and made it his own private ranch. Sweet.

This picture is from Mayor Villaraigosa's inaugural back in 2005, credited to Al Seib of the Los Angeles Times. (The only thing I could find at their site when I searched on Tongva.)

Anyway, back to the piece in the Daily Breeze. Hundreds of bodies and grave goods were unearthed during Playa Vista's construction, and apparently archaeologists expected to find such remains. Most dated from the late 1700s, when the local populations were most vulnerable to diseases and abuse brought by the Spanish, according to the Breeze--OTOH, an expert from UCLA's Fowler Museum is quoted as saying that this cemetary spans several thousands of years.

The president of Statistical Research, the company handling the archaelogy of the site, says his firm "identified 386 burial features in total," accroding to the Breeze. Burial features? Does that mean bodies? Or not? In context, he seems to be talking about bodies--bodies that living Tongva people would like to have back. What a disgusting and dehumanizing way to refer to human remains.

Reburial was delayed because by contract, scientists get to study and analyze bones first. Why is that, and how would you feel if it were bones from, say, Holy Cross Cemetary (or wherever your grandma's interred) that were being "stored securely" and analyzed for as long as a bunch of strangers wanted?

Grrr. But at least, thanks to a lot of effort and interventions, the bodies will be reburied in June 08, which is better than June '10, or June-whenever-I-feel-like-it.

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