Tribes Question Which Will Rebury Ancestors’ Bones

Times Staff Writer

Who lived in the “Lost Village of Encino?”

That question is at the center of a controversy involving three Indian tribes, several archeologists, the builders of a $38.6-million office building, the state Native American Heritage Commission and the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

At issue is which tribe or tribes should protect and rebury the bones of long-dead Indians found buried on the site of the “Lost Village,” which was unearthed last summer by builders on the southeast corner of Ventura and Balboa boulevards.

Believed 3,000 Years Old

Archeologists believe the buried bodies and beads, arrowheads and other artifacts found there are from an Indian village described by the first Spanish explorers to enter the San Fernando Valley, in 1769. The village, which archeologists believe dates back 3,000 years, was the object of unsuccessful hunts by researchers until diggers came upon it unexpectedly last year.


About 25 members of the Chumash and Fernandino tribes turned out Thursday morning for a meeting at Los Encinos State Historical Park, across the street from the construction site, to discuss the reburial of the human bones found by archeologists. They talked for two hours in private, and participants later said only that they had agreed to meet again.

Representatives of a third tribe, the Gabrielenos, also were invited but did not attend, according to Charlie Cooke of Thousand Oaks, hereditary chief of the southern Chumash. Cooke had called for the meeting, complaining that ancestors of his tribe had lived in the village but that the tribe was shut out of plans to rebury the remains.

The Gabrielenos earlier were appointed by the state Native American Heritage Commission to oversee Indian interests at the archeological excavation.

Michael Barthelemy, an attorney for the Gabrielenos who is a nephew of tribal chief Art Morales, said the Gabrielenos were not properly invited to the meeting.

Gabrielenos “all feel offended” by what they regard as the questioning of their stewardship of the site by the other tribes, Barthelemy said. His uncle, Fred (Sparky) Morales, was the on-site Indian representative during the months of excavation.

“It doesn’t show a high regard for our ability to handle the situation,” Barthelemy said.


Robbins Calls for Museum

In a related development, state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) introduced a bill in Sacramento Wednesday to build a San Fernando Valley Indian Museum in or near the park to house the artifacts from the “Lost Village.”

Barthelemy said the Gabrielenos believe the ancient settlement “was a Gabrieleno-Fernandino village.” The remains discovered are those of their ancestors, and perhaps of some Fernandinos, but not of the Chumash, whose territory was west and south of the Santa Monica Mountains, he said.

Barthelemy said that was why the state Native American Heritage Commission appointed the Gabrielenos, under the terms of a state law providing for custody of rediscovered Indian burials by the tribe “it regards as being the most likely descendants” of the dead.

Nancy A. Whitney-Desautels, who headed the archeological team on the site, and the team’s ethnologist, Paige Talley, said the evidence uncovered indicated the village was Gabrieleno, not Chumash.

Cooke, however, said the village was inhabited by members of all three tribes. He cited reports by two consulting archeologists that evidence of Chumash burials had been found there.

No Conflict Seen

Barthelemy said that despite the dispute, “there is no conflict between the Gabrielenos and the Chumash and Fernandinos. We are willing to meet with their acknowledged leaders when the proper protocol is followed and there is an opportunity to meet under the right circumstances.”

In the meantime, he said, work will proceed on a tentative agreement with the state to rebury the bones in Los Encinos State Historical Park. Barthelemy said the park is close enough to where the bodies were found that his tribe regards it as part of the ancient village, which minimizes the dislocation that would disturb the spirits of the dead Indians.

The excavation of the village was conducted on behalf of the First Financial Group Inc., which has begun construction of a six-story office building on the site.

Archeologists who conducted the dig for the company said they could not disclose how many Indian burials had been found, at the request of the Gabrieleno tribe, which regards publication of such details as an intrusion on its privacy.

10 Skeletons Reported

Two archeologists who visited the site, but did not work for First Financial, said at least 10 skeletons had been found, in addition to the charred bones of an unknown number of cremated bodies.

Loretta Allen, executive director of the state Native American Heritage Commission, met with the Chumash and Fernandino representatives. She refused to respond to questions, but a news release from her office said that “representatives from applicable tribes toured the site and found archeological procedures conducted as they requested.”

Joel Shine, vice president of First Financial, said it had been agreed since excavation began that Indian bones found there probably would be reburied by the Gabrielenos in Los Encinos State Historical Park.

Bud Getty, district superintendent for the Parks and Recreation Department, said the department agreed “conceptually” to allow the reburial in the park, “but we need to work on the logistics of it.”

It may be necessary, to preserve the Indians’ sense of privacy, not to mark the graves where the bodies are placed, he said. “But our records will have to show where they are, to make sure they don’t get placed in an easement for a water main or something, so we can make sure they are never disturbed in the future.”