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La Jolla Parks & Beaches board sides with tribes on metate placement

La Jolla metate
The bedrock mortar (aka metate) prior to its removal in 2017
(Courtesy)

As the battle for the bedrock mortar (aka metate) that was removed from La Jolla — without the input of local tribal councils — wages on between the City of San Diego and local Native tribes, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) advisory group weighed in.

The board voted during its May 23 meeting to draft a letter to local tribes supporting whatever decision they make, but leaning toward returning the rock to its Cuvier Park resting place.

The bedrock mortar was located out in the open without any indicators to its significance in the park alongside Coast Boulevard, but was removed to accommodate a sidewalk expansion project in 2017.

The bedrock mortar had not been inventoried as a formal historic artifact, with significant ties to the site, prior to its removal. It is currently and “temporarily” being housed in a fenced and secured area of the City’s Rose Canyon operations yard.

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San Diego Historical Resources Board member Courtney Coyle — speaking as a citizen — spoke to the LJP&B board to update them on the situation and where the City, and the board, can go from here.

“I was first shown the bedrock mortar 25 years ago, when I first started working with the Native community here, and they were very proud of it, that it was very accessible and simple,” she said.

“They showed me where it was, and it was always a touchstone for them knowing there was a place they could bring their youth and others to, and have it be easy to visit. They didn’t do any ceremony or plaque there, but that was how they wanted it.”

However, when it was moved to accommodate the sidewalk project, the tribes were not consulted. Nor were they consulted when it came to its storage. After several meetings, in February 2019, the City issued a letter to tribes that some say fell short of an apology.

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It simply stated “there should have been more oversight” but doesn’t say what that changes would be made; and that there “wasn’t a clear line of communication” but doesn’t say between whom.

As such, the tribes are unsure how to best proceed.

“There is no ceremony for this type of situation, so there is a lot to consider,” Coyle said. “The tribes are frustrated in that they feel insulted and un-welcomed on the coast.”

One idea is to repatriate it to the tribal reservations, given the less-than-respectful care it received under the City of San Diego.

Another alternative, one the board ultimately supported, was to re-place the stone back in Cuvier Park, with an informational plaque to note its significance.

LJP&B trustee Melinda Merryweather said she was “floored” by the situation and how the stone was removed.

“I grew up in an area where there were a lot of Natives and I am a believer that we are sitting on their land,” she said. “We owe them so much respect. I was horrified when it was taken. If they would be so gracious as to let us put it back there, I would like to see it back there.”

Trustee John Shannon added: “It seems so much stems from ignorance ... people don’t know their own history of the area and these items. I know I would like to know more,” and that he supported a plaque with some information.

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A motion to draft a letter to tribal councils to open up the dialogue between the board and the tribes involved passed unanimously.

While willing to assist in the letter, Coyle suggested the board offer an apology “even though you didn’t do anything” just to “acknowledge that things were not done and that’s not how we want things done in La Jolla” and offer support for whatever tribal solution might come up, regardless of what it is.


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