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Plans to Build on Indian Site Blocked : Courts: Judge issues restraining order until a hearing on whether to allow a mini-mall on Cal State Long Beach land that a group of American Indians considers sacred.

August 20, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered Cal State Long Beach officials to halt development of a piece of university-owned land that American Indians consider to be sacred.

Judge Stephen O'Neil issued a temporary restraining order that bars any university activity on the land until the matter can be heard in court next month. He said that American Indians may enter the fenced-off area for spiritual purposes until the Sept. 13 hearing.

At that time, O'Neil will consider a complaint filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of about 30 American Indians who are demanding permanent access to the site.

University officials announced earlier this year that the site--on the west side of the campus along Bellflower Boulevard--would be developed as a mini-mall. Earth moving was scheduled to begin today in preparation for an archeological dig.

American Indians praised the judge's ruling.

"(The court) is finally giving the original people of this land the recognition and the freedom of religion that we deserve," said Jimi Castillo, a spiritual leader of the Gabrielinos, whose ancestors inhabited Southern California centuries ago.

Castillo is among hundreds of American Indians who believe the land is the site of an ancient Gabrielino village called Puvungna and the birthplace of the deity Chunquichnish. However, Gregory W. Sanders, the university's attorney, argued that there is little evidence that the site is culturally significant. He said the proposed archeological survey of the land, which is scheduled to begin this fall, would make that determination.

Sanders also argued that allowing religion to be practiced on public property is unconstitutional.

"This results in the virtual dedication of 22 acres of public property for specific religious purposes," he said.

Until this year, the land had been used by organic gardeners and was accessible to American Indians. In February, the gardeners were asked to abandon the land and a chain-link fence was erected around much of the site.

In June, the Native American Heritage Commission, a state board that investigates possible endangerment of Indian cultural sites, ruled that the university's plans to conduct a survey and ultimately develop the land would "result in severe and irreparable damage, and bar Native Americans from the land."

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