“I am sorry they are not here,” said Clifford Trafzer, a Wyandot Indian and Native American Studies director at UC Riverside, of Church officials. “Shame on you, that’s what I say; shame on you, Church.”

In the end, the NAHC voted unanimously to ask the city why no penalties against the mission were deemed appropriate and demand the mission assess its entire property for culturally sensitive areas, document all archaeological and cultural resources, contact all Juaneño tribal leaders about any future work that goes on there, and publicly apologize for any disturbances the Rectory Garden may have caused.

Days later, Connor expressed surprise, then blamed tribal politics.

A fountain similar to this one at the mission has caused a battle royale
Courtesy Mission San Juan Capistrano
A fountain similar to this one at the mission has caused a battle royale

“Frankly, we feel the mission is caught in between two competing factions—the recognized Juaneño faction and this other faction led by Mr. Belardes, who is trying to get recognition for himself,” Connor says. “He wants to get the spotlight turned on him, when, in fact, we have been working very closely with and have the support of the one faction the federal government has been working with, Anthony Rivera’s.”

The mission has already apologized, complied with city conditions and tried to make amends, he contends. “This goes far beyond whatever makes sense,” Connor says. “A number of tribal factions are supporting us. I guess it’s just par for the course down at the mission.”

He questioned whether the NAHC even has jurisdiction. “It is a Catholic cemetery; it always has been,” Connor says. “Anyone buried there was buried by a priest. It’s not a Juaneño burial ground.”

Miles tells the Weekly that the cemetery is on the NAHC sacred-land list, that more than 1,000 Native Americans are buried there and that Catholic funerals “don’t have any bearing on whether it’s sacred land that has cultural significance with respect to Juaneños and their ancestors.”

But, he says, he understands Connor’s rationale. “From day one, that is what led the mission to decide to break state and municipal laws and construct the Rectory Garden project in the first place,” he says.

He concedes “there is a history” between his client, Belardes, and Holquin, but adds, “oftentimes, I believe, the mission will try to defer focus to the damage they caused. They want to talk about other matters. David Belardes observed illegal activity. Now the mission is reacting to him because he’s the one who called them to task.”

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