This story details how the Gabrielino-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, among others, lost a round to prevent what they consider shoddy treatment of their ancestors' remains amid home building on the Bolsa Chica mesa. As Anthony Morales (pictured), the Gabrielino-Tongva group's most likely descendant, put it, "This action is an attack on our culture and considered a hate crime."
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But Morales can chalk up a win in a separate battle seeking quiet dignity for his ancestors' remains. With some high-powered help from the high-powered San Manuel Band of Mission Indians out of Highland, remains that had been in a Los Angeles museum's storage for 54 years will be turned over to the Gabrielino-Tongva for reburial. Repatriation of human remains to the rightful descendants of ancient tribal groups is guaranteed under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act that Congress enacted in 1990. But the Gabrielino-Tongva are not federally recognized and, therefore, could not make a claim under the act. The feds do recognize the San Manuel, however. According to a statement the San Manuel sent to the Weekly today, the repatriation effort was made possible when Angeles National Forest officials determined that the San Manuel Band "showed a cultural affiliation with the Serrano people, who are neighbors to the Tongva people of the Los Angeles basin." The officials concluded a "shared group identity" reasonably connects the San Manuel Indians with the Native American human remains and associated funerary objects contained in the Chilao collections that had been in the possession of the Southwest Museum in the Mount Washington area of Los Angeles.
San Manuel's chairman James Ramos conducted a short ceremony on Nov. 20 to assist the Gabrielino-Tongva, whose leaders will conduct their own, private reburial ceremonies at a later date, according to the San Manuel statement.
"It was essential that we took steps to return these remains to the rightful descendants," Ramos said. "By working together, the Gabrielino-Tongva people can provide a proper reburial."
Message to Morales: take Ramos with you to the Dec. 12 California Native American Heritage Commission hearing in San Juan Capistrano, where the Gabrielino-Tongva get possibly their last chance to intervene over what they say is happening at Bolsa Chica.