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Protecting the past: Monitors sought for projects

With each new project built around San Diego, more artifacts and remains of Native Americans will be uncovered, necessitating the services of archaeological “monitors” such as Carmen Lucas and Clint Linton.

A Kwaaymii Indian, Lucas has worked closely with the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee (KCRC) for the past decade overseeing development projects. It’s her job to ensure any physical or cultural remains discovered are treated properly, expeditiously and reverentially.

A Lucas protege, Clint Linton of the Santa Ysabel tribe, is a qualified archaeologist and UC Riverside grad.

“I speak the language of archaeology,” he said. “Having grown up on the reservation, I’ve seen a lot of artifacts.”

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To become a monitor, he explained, “You need the recognition and endorsement of the tribe whose district you’re in. I’m a Kumeyaay, so I monitor in Kumeyaay territory.”

Over the years, La Jolla has turned out to be a real hotbed of Native American prehistoric finds, with artifacts and human remains turning up all over La Jolla.

Sometimes the finds result in desecration of a tribal burial site, such as occurred a couple of years ago on Roseland Drive in La Jolla Shores. Indian remains dating back 10,000 year- Indian remains were disturbed because there were no Native American monitors and soil hadn’t been properly tested during excavation of a backyard swimming pool, tribal spokesman said.

Because of that and similar incidents, monitoring has been both an elevating--and frustrating--experience for Lucas. She cited another example in the Jewel: human remains unexpectedly discovered recently in a previously vacant lot where a condo now sits across from The Bishop’s School.

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“During earthmoving they had found arm and leg bones, even a full skull, from both a man and woman that had been there in excess of 5,000 years,” she said. “It had been mixed in with fill dirt that had been brought in.”

Taking right steps

When that happens “the project is stopped and you call the coroner,” said Larry Myers, executive secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento. “The coroner then makes the determination whether the remains are Native American and outside the (local) jurisdiction.”

In 1990, repatriation of Native American remains became law with passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which safeguards Indian gravesites from disruption and provides for identification and return of exhumations to tribes.

Once discovered remains are determined to be Native American, the next step is to have them “repatriated,” said Myers. “By law, we are required to identify a most likely descendant,” he said.

He explained that local tribal organizations, such as the KCRC in San Diego County, are called in. After naming a most likely descendant, that person then recommends to the affected property owner how the remains should be handled - either transferred elsewhere for reburial or buried in an undisturbed portion of the development site.

‘Providing assistance’

During that process, added Myers, the role of the Native American archaeological monitor is crucial.

“They’re there to assist the developers and landowners with mitigating the impact of the cultural or anthropological resources, as liaison between them and the Indian community,” he said.

Describing the role monitors play, Linton said, “We police the archaeology, watch what they do, try to work hand-in-hand with them.”

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Native American finds often turn up in the most unlikely of places, such as under La Jolla’s historic Wisteria Cottage, now owned by La Jolla Historical Society.

Wisteria’s find

Society director John Bolthouse said they were exploring putting the group’s collections in the cottage’s basement a couple of years ago.

“Anytime you’re doing significant excavation along the Southern California coastline that automatically triggers an archaeological review,” he said. “What the (monitors) found were some rocks that had been broken apart that looked like tools that Native Americans had used thousands of years ago.”

When it was determined properly dealing with those artifacts could lead to long delays and huge costs, Bolthouse said, “We sealed it off and found another option.”

Sometimes, a Native American archaeological find sparks a high-profile controversy, as with UCSD’s Chancellor’s house.

Controversial burial ground

The university had proposed razing the aging La Jolla Farms residence because it no longer meets earthquake and other modern building standards, and rebuilding on the site. But complications surrounding a Native American burial ground onsite played a role in UCSD’s abandoning the project.

And there are other instances, even historical tales, of previous Native American habitation of La Jolla sites, like the former Bird Rock Bar & Grill at 5717 La Jolla Blvd.

Urban lore abounds

Urban lore has it that site is an ancient Indian burial ground - Which may or may not account for historically poor performance of businesses there.
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“Thirteen restaurants have been on that site since the early ‘80s,” noted Rod Coon, a caterer for The French Gourmet who was one of them.

Native American monitor Lucas feels she has the right to insist the final resting place of her ancestors not be disrupted.

“It’s disgraceful when landowners have been advised beforehand and Indian remains are disturbed and are not inhumed (buried) and work is not stopped,” she said.

“I’ve known of remains that were mixed in with fill dirt and reused on private property. That is a spiritual violation of the highest degree. Development marches on, but we as Indians have an obligation to our ancestors to participate in the process. I can go to my grave and look my ancestors in the face and say, ‘I’ve done the best I can to honor you.’”