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City asked to protect Native American remains

City asked to protect Native American remains

Resolution of dispute between tribe, Hanford property owner sought

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Indian burial grounds found in Hanford

A mound marks the spot of a Native American burial site on Grangeville Boulevard near 12th Avenue where a farmer was preparing to plant trees. (Gary Feinstein/The Sentinel)

HANFORD — A state agency is asking the city to step in to protect Native American burial grounds uncovered near Grangeville Boulevard.

The request was made by Dave Singleton, program analyst with the California Native American Heritage Commission, in a letter dated Monday addressed to Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle.

“Of urgent concern ... is the apparent failure of the landowner and his construction crew to halt the project, due to the discovery of the [human] remains, in compliance with California Health and Safety Code 7050.5, which requires that no further excavation or disturbance take place at the site,” Singleton wrote. “We urge the city to enforce this law and to cooperate with the parties in reaching a resolution of the issues in this case.”

Bone fragments that the Tachi-Yokut tribe says were part of a burial mound were dug up on Nov. 29 as workers leveled dirt for future pistachio and almond trees south of Grangeville Boulevard between 12th Avenue and Centennial Drive.

The city has already met its responsibility by notifying the coroner and the police to ensure that the bones weren’t evidence of a crime scene, Pyle said.

“There’s not a lot more that the city has in the mix,” he said.

Mario Zamora, an attorney for the city, said the city doesn’t have the authority to tell the property owner or the Tachi-Yokut tribe what to do, because the mound is located on private property.

“Obviously, the burial site is unique, and it’s a sensitive issue, but really the city is a third party,” Zamora said. He said the city would have more direct responsibility if the remains were on public land.

However, the city might be willing to act as a mediator between the tribe and Donald Souza, the landowner of the site, Zamora added.

Souza, who lives in Southern California, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, in the same letter to Pyle, the tribe alleged that when cultural specialist Lalo Franco visited the site on Nov. 30 and asked workers to stop grading and leveling after remains were discovered, one of the workers told Franco that “all of the Indians should have been shot a long time ago.”

“We’re going to bring it to [Souza’s] attention,” Franco said, adding that he wants an apology.

Joe Camara, a spokesman for Souza, said he wasn’t aware of any worker insulting Franco. Camara said he’s ready and willing to work out an agreement, but has not been able to establish contact with tribal members.

The tribe is seeking written confirmation from Souza that Camara is his spokesman, Franco said.

“We want to cooperate,” Camara said. “We’ve been cooperating. I don’t know what’s going on as far as what their plan is [or] how we can get this resolved.”

The burial mound site, a smaller area within a larger 75-acre field, is being left alone until further notice, Camara said.

The tribe wants the burial mound fenced off and preserved, Franco said. Dug-up remains already collected could be reburied there.

But Souza has the legal authority to reject the tribe’s recommendation and come up with his own idea, such as burying the remains somewhere else on the property, Singleton said.

“For the most part, landowners go along [with the tribe’s recommendations], as long as [they’re] reasonable,” he said. “If I were the landowner, to protect myself and the company I represent, I would get a professional opinion and recommendation about how we should proceed.”

“They really have done a lot of damage to this particular [burial] mound,” Franco said. “We don’t want any further disturbance.”

“It’s a crime to deliberately destroy burial grounds,” Singleton said. “What plan does the property owner have? They need to have a plan.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.

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