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Indian Graves' Desecration Resurrects Reburial Plan

November 01, 1986|DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Souvenir hunters who dug up Indian graves in a Ventura County flood-control channel may have provided the impetus needed to break a stalemate between Indian groups and government agencies over how to protect the ancient remains, Chumash leaders said Friday.

After learning this week of the vandalism, the leaders of two Ventura County Indian organizations called for the immediate excavation and reburial of their ancestors' remains to protect them from both flooding and intrusion by artifact-hunters.

Friday, they reported that Ventura County Supervisor Ed Jones had promised to support the excavation and reburial.

The Board of Supervisors had previously voted for a less expensive plan: to cover the burial site with rock and sand as protection against annual flooding in the Calleguas Creek channel.

Jones said he will now propose a plan to move all remains that have been disturbed to Oakbrook Park in Thousand Oaks.

Cultural Center Suggested

Jones said the park, which opened this spring, already contains some Indian artifacts, including cave paintings. He proposed that the county give 5 to 10 acres of the park to the Indians and build an Indian cultural center to be leased to the Chumash.

The center would be financed by a $240,000 fund for improvements at the park, Jones said. He said the money required for the excavation and reburials would have to be found elsewhere, adding, "That's a problem we're going to have to deal with."

Richard Angulo, a board member of the Candelaria American Indian Council and the Ventureno Chumash of Ventura County, said the Indian leaders would have to take the plan to the Chumash people before approving it. Angulo praised Jones' plan, however, as the only way to protect the remains from weather and further disturbance.

"The longer we leave them there, the more this is going to happen," Angulo said. "It was really bad," he said. The souvenir-hunters "went in there, and they just desecrated the whole grave site. It was sickening to see the bones sticking up."

Archeologists who have been working on the plan to protect the burials agreed.

"It just tells us that we need to get on with the program and that we need to get those burials out there," said Patricia Martz, archeologist for the Army Corps of Engineers.

However, a leader of a third Indian group, which opposes removal of the Indian graves, said the disruption of the grave site only proves that more effort is required to protect the burial ground.

Sidney Flores, attorney for the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, said that group believes that the removal of any bones is forbidden by Indian religious beliefs and would protest any such removal.

Excavation of the recently discovered Chumash cemetery in a natural creek bed near Point Mugu was halted in August when an archeological team from California State University, Northridge unearthed more burials than they expected, raising the possibility that they had found the primary cemetery for a Chumash provincial capital that flourished from the 3rd Century to the 18th Century.

In light of that discovery, the Candelaria and Ventureno Chumash groups, which had previously favored the reburial, reconsidered their approval, said their attorney, Tom Malley. The groups wanted to be sure that no bones were disturbed until a satisfactory site was found to rebury them, Malley said.

A consultant hired to find out how the burial ground could be protected from annual rainwater runoff reported that effective measures would cost $5 million to $10 million.

Covering of Site Favored

Recently, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors rejected the most expensive--and effective--of four plans suggested by the consultant, voting instead to cover the site with rock and sand at a cost of $5,000.

Earlier this month, however, a group of archeologists, state and federal officials and Indians who drew up the original excavation plan rejected the proposal to cover the burial ground as inadequate to protect it from either flood or human intrusion.

Gerald Nowak, director of the Ventura County Flood Control district, said one of the participants, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, threatened to withhold about $785,000 in federal flood-control funds if the county fails to remove the Indian graves from the flood channel.

Nowak said he intended to take that news to the supervisors at their meeting Tuesday.

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