Concerns over Indian remains stall LA museum grant

By Jacob Adelman
Los Angeles, California (AP) April 2011

More than $104,000 in federal grant money could be withheld from a Los Angeles County-supported museum if officials fail to resolve American Indian tribes’ concerns over remains found during the facility’s construction.

The National Park Service sent a letter to county capital projects manager Dawn McDivitt saying that settling the issue is a condition of the grant money’s release.

The letter from NPS historic preservation grants chief Hampton Tucker, which was provided to The Associated Press, reminded McDivitt that the funds would not be released “until this issue was resolved in consultation with all concerned parties.”

Tucker did not return a phone message, and county spokesman Brian Lew had no immediate comment.

The grant makes up a small portion of the total cost of around $24 million for the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes project, a Mexican-American cultural museum set to open April 16.

LA Plaza president Miguel Angel Corzo said in a statement that staff has already completed the work for which the grant was awarded, which included restoration of the county-owned historic buildings that house the museum.

The remains were unearthed in October by crews constructing a garden for museum, but tribal leaders did not use burial records to establish that the bones belonged to Native Americans until early January.

The records proved that the 118 sets of remains belonged to Gabrielino-Tongva Indians and other tribes, leaders said. The bones were found at the site of a former cemetery that was thought to have been completely exhumed in 1848.

Museum administrators stopped work in the segment of the garden where the remains were found about a week after the leaders began raising concerns.

Some tribal members say they want work to stop on parts of the garden site beyond the immediate area where the bones were discovered.

Corzo has said there is no reason to expect remains to be found outside the former cemetery area. He said in his statement Friday that county and museum officials were working with the state Native American Heritage Commission to address the Indian groups’ concerns.

“The county is communicating with tribal leaders and other interested parties regarding the discovery of human remains, and that process is under way,” he said.

But some tribal members say they’ve received no assurances that the county will appropriately reinter the bones. They also say they haven’t been consulted about plans to avoid disturbing additional remains as work continues.

“They’re still going out and doing stuff based on what they think needs to happen, as opposed to a plan that’s been developed with all stakeholders,” said archaeologist and Gabrielino-Tongva member Desiree Martinez.