He concedes it is a Catholic cemetery but adds that thousands of Native Americans are buried there, and the site is on the sacred land file under California resources law. Miles also questions whether it is sound legal strategy to raise the issue of Catholic baptisms of mission Indians. “They used Native Americans to build the missions. Do they really want to go into the history of the treatment of Native Americans, which shows many were forced to convert and essentially serve as slave labor?”

The mission has also said the Rectory Garden area is private and the bishop of Orange is the private landowner of the entire property, so state laws may not apply. But Miles notes the mission is also a state treasure that receives government funding. As for the fractured Juaneños, Miles says, “We all know there are different factions of the Juaneños. Everyone recognizes things would be better if they banded together. But this issue is not part of that tension. It’s fodder for another group. This is just David Belardes discovering a violation of the law.”

That is what the mission is reacting to when they disparage Belardes’ work as a Native American monitor, Miles says. Each project Belardes approaches is different and requires different forms of mitigation. However, with the Rectory Garden, “there was no opportunity for him to discuss this with them before,” Miles says. “There was no tribal monitor present.”

Jane Olinger of the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance is shocked permits were not pulled for the Rectory Garden.
John Gilhooley
Jane Olinger of the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance is shocked permits were not pulled for the Rectory Garden.

Miles notes that representatives of two other Juaneño groups told the Native American Heritage Commission they support Belardes’ fight and that no one other than Rivera voiced disagreement with the commissioners’ decision that December night.

“When the City Council heard the matter, they wanted compromise. Wrong. It was a violation of the law,” Miles says. “They see compromise as the legal solution. We don’t agree that’s the standard of the law. We’re arguing for full restoration. It’s not rocket science.”

Based on the gist of the mission’s statements, it sounds to Perry as if a church-vs.-state argument will be made in court. Miles says he’s ready. Besides the National Preservation Act, the California Environment Quality Act and various misdemeanors, Miles says, the Rectory Garden project may have violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a federal statute that provides stronger protection for religious freedom in the land-use and prison contexts.

“They are infringing on the Native Americans’ religious beliefs as well,” says Miles, who is sharp enough to recognize the irony of that statement.

*     *     *

Jane Olinger of the nonprofit, Irvine-based California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA) has joined Miles and Perry at the legal-office table, where she adds up the experience of five different professional contractors hired for the Rectory Garden project. “Together, they have over 100 years in the business,” she says. “And not one pulled a permit?”

Olinger was “personally offended” by workers who said they did not see any remains amid the unmonitored construction. “I’ve been with archaeologists on a site,” she says. “They will hover over a rock that no one else would know is something.”

She reserves special contempt for Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, the mission’s lay executive director. “If an administrator of an institution like this does not know this is a historic site, she should be called on the carpet,” she says. “That’s the opinion of Jane Olinger, not the CCRPA.”

Perry bets the case will be precedent-setting, and Miles believes the interest of a state agency such as the Native American Heritage Commission, which can call on the state attorney general’s office for legal muscle, opens the possibility of an expanded investigation.

Belardes had previously said the Rectory Garden project fit a pattern of “questionable activities” at the mission.

At the far northwest corner is an area known as the Monjero, where young Indian girls were locked up at night so men would not rape them. (It didn’t work.) Belardes has found no evidence of required archaeological reports having been filed for recent excavation work at the Monjero, the barracks building and the ceramics building. He further alleges cultural resources have been damaged or destroyed during construction. During excavations for what would become the Monsignor Martin Education Center, an 1817 hospital was discovered, but, again, no reports were filed, according to Belardes, who added that efforts to preserve the area proved fruitless.

Calls to the city were directed to Cultural Heritage Officer Teri Delcamp, who said she could not comment due to the Belardes litigation, which was technically filed against the city, with the bishop and mission named “real parties of interest.”

The Native American Heritage Commission has been made aware of Belardes’ other allegations about Mission San Juan Capistrano, but it has not received sufficient information to launch a formal investigation. Such complaints are becoming common. Indian leaders contacted the state agency over construction of a parking lot above Indian graves at Mission San Luis Rey near Oceanside and a lack of city permits pulled before construction that led to the discovery of 20 sets of Native American remains at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. The commission has also been alerted to mistreatment of Native American burials and artifacts at Central California’s Mission San Juan Bautista and Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, respectively.

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