Sacred tribal burial ground bulldozed early Thursday, tribes say

North County Times 2.23.12
Sacred tribal burial ground bulldozed early Thursday, tribes say

American Indian monitors look for human remains as they guard a site where human remains were found in a construction zone north of Escondido early Thursday morning

Construction crews early Thursday morning bulldozed a Fallbrook property considered sacred by tribes in San Diego and Riverside counties, fueling tensions between the tribes and those planning to build a small city on the site.

"This is obviously a most devastating time and day," Bennae Calac, secretary and treasurer for the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians, said by phone from near the construction zone. "We're not going to back down. We're going to continue to fight."

Tribal members occupied the land, guarded sites that were not yet graded and said they were prepared to block work Friday.

Palomar College is building Horse Ranch Creek Road, the main boulevard for its future campus and three housing and commercial projects at the site, northeast of the intersection of Highway 76 and Interstate 15.

Tribal officials say they have discovered ancient human remains and artifacts across the construction site, including numerous pieces in recent weeks. They said archaeologists contracted by the college had not completed a full examination or inventory of all sites in the construction zone.

The college and the site's other developers maintain they have worked with the tribes to address their concerns, and are following all laws governing the discovery of remains.

Calac, however, said a tribal official witnessed bulldozers clearing the sacred area at 6:30 a.m., half an hour before crews normally start. That also was before the arrival of dozens of tribal representatives who held a protest at the site for the second day Thursday.

San Diego County's noise ordinance bans construction work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., except for "emergency work."

The site appeared scraped clean later Thursday morning. A handful of tribal officials sat or stood in the construction zone guarding what they said were two sites with remains and artifacts that had not been disturbed during the morning's earthmoving.

Calac said the American Indian cultural experts who monitor the site, as required by state law, had not yet arrived when the bulldozers started.

Laura Gropen, the college's spokeswoman, would not respond to questions about what time the college started construction Thursday morning and whether tribal monitors were present when it commenced.

She said the college's policy was to not comment on matters tied to ongoing litigation. The Vista-based San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians recently sued the college, Pardee Homes and San Diego County government over construction at the site.

The San Luis Rey band also filed requests last week for a restraining order against the college's construction contractor.

That request won't be heard until Tuesday because a judge pushed the hearing date back, according to the office of Stephen McDonald, the La Jolla-based attorney representing the San Luis Rey band.

Fallbrook sheriff's Sgt. Edward Jackson said deputies went to the site after tribal officials called them Thursday morning.

"At this point, it seems like a civil matter, so we're not getting involved," Jackson said.

The sergeant said he was not aware of the tribe's contention that construction started before 7 a.m. He said deputies would enforce the county noise ordinance if contacted about crews starting early in the future.

Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, said Thursday morning in a statement: "To excavate our ancestors without abiding by the law and protocol that applies to this particular project is deeply disrespectful and a violation of our rights as tribal people."

The college provided the following statement late Thursday afternoon: "Palomar College is cognizant of the sensitive nature of the Horse Ranch Creek Road project. The (Palomar Community College) District greatly values its relationship with the Native American community and will continue to work closely with them. The District continues the work on the road, as approved by all necessary government agencies, exercising the highest level of safety and security measures for its crew, the neighbors and the community-at-large."

Call staff writer Chris Nichols at 760-740-5426​. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNicholsNCT.

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