The Orange County Coroner has completed an investigation involving human bones discovered in Fullerton's Hillcrest Park last December and determined they are of Native American origin. Dave Singleton, program analyst with the California Native American Heritage Commission, said the portion of a skull and a tooth were not of "modern forensic interest" and not believed to be part of a crime scene.
At least not a modern crime scene.
Singleton's agency is charged with determining a most likely descendant (MLD) for Native American remains, and in this case has made a designation in favor of the Juaneño group chaired by San Juan Capistrano's David Belardes. Singleton said the decision may spark controversy as the area of the bones' discovery was also shared by the Gabrielino-Tongva people.
"We made our decision based on the fact that (Belardes) was the MLD in a nearby area previously," Singleton explained.
Indeed, to utter Belardes' name is to court controversy. In February 2009, Weekly staffer Matt Coker wrote an article detailing Belardes' feud with Mission San Juan Capistrano over a memorial garden he argued was built on top of Indian remains. The Catholic diocese and Belardes later settled, but the Weekly article, which portrayed Belardes favorably, led to follow-up stories about Juaneños who refused to recognize him as a leader and went so far as to call into question the veracity of his Native American heritage.
At the time, then-tribal leader Anthony Rivera, who headed the largest of four separate Juaneño groups including Belardes', was quoted as saying of his rival chairman, "Just because you wear a head band, it does not make you an Indian." Rivera in January was voted out as chairman of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, which like Belardes' group is based in San Juan Capistrano. Chairwoman Teresa M. Romero won in an election that swept in the Juaneños first-ever all-female Tribal Council.