Protests are promised if authorities do not change their plans for the proposed Navy SEAL training center in Imperial Beach.
At issue is the preservation of ancient Native American burial grounds at the site, said Cynthia Parada of La Posta Band of Mission Indians after meeting with military authorities on Friday, September 2nd.
"Without a doubt, if the Navy intends to continue work there, many more protests will follow," said Parada, adding that the demonstrations could become part of the national protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline that took place this week in North Dakota and Iowa.
About 100 people protested at the Imperial Beach site on Wednesday (August 31st), followed by a meeting with naval authorities on Friday. The demonstrators carried signs that read “Kumeyaay Cemetery, No Bulldozer Welcome” and a large banner that read “Respect Our Ancestors” along Highway 75 on the edge of the naval area that once housed the highly visible Wullenweber antenna array.
Now the Kumeyaay Nation and supporting Native Nations are waiting for an answer from the Navy, Parada said. "The Navy listened to what we had to say and agreed to discuss it in-house and get back to us with an answer to our requests ASAP," Parada said. "Both the progress of the meeting and our satisfaction with it will depend completely on the response they return with."
"It basically boils down to the fact that the Navy disturbed the western portion of a large site back in the 1940s," Parada said via email, and now the Navy is "using the fact that it is disturbed to justify destroying the site and building on top of it. Excavations on the intact portions of the site have revealed ancient human remains dating back to 7,000+ years ago."
Their request is not extreme, Parada said.
"The Kumeyaay are not asking to have the base project scrapped or even delayed. They are just asking to have the far eastern boundaries of the base moved approximately 4% westward to avoid the areas with ancient human remains."
There was some disagreement about how to define the area to be preserved, Parada said.
"Basically, the Navy is evaluating the site based on archaeological concepts of intact site definitions, and the natives are evaluating it based on the presence of ancient human remains."
Previous to the Friday meeting, the Navy issued a statement that said the Native American nations are not cooperating.
"Following nine months of extensive leadership meetings, subject matter expert information exchange and on-site visits with technical experts designed to enhance the Kumeyaay's confidence in the Navy's environmental planning for the Coastal Campus, the Navy finds itself in the unfortunate position where the Tribes will not accept the technical analysis, regulatory compliance posture or the offer to work in cooperation using their own identified Native American Monitors," the Navy said in its press release.
Parada acknowledged that the Navy had approached the Viejas Band of Native Americans, who declined to participate.
"The Navy offered to have the Viejas Band come monitor the project, which they initially agreed to because they did not realize ancient native remains were present on site and would be destroyed," Parada said. "Once Viejas was made aware of that fact, they were forced to recall monitors as it is a spiritual violation to dig up those remains and therefore no Tribal Monitor could be a part of that process."
The Native American groups are not against the Navy's construction in general, she said.
"We want the Navy here. We want the SEALs here. We are proud of the U.S. military and have the Kumeyaay veterans to prove it," Parada said. "We just want them to move this base a tiny amount to avoid destroying 7,000 years of history and sacred native remains."
Though the Navy announced that they have planned a "100 foot buffer zone" around the burial grounds, Parada said the military is not being entirely forthright.
"They have simply redefined where the site is to be able to say that. Before the disturbance to the western edge of the site in the 1940s, the area that was disturbed was a continuous part of the large site with human remains present," Parada said. "Post-hoc site boundaries were drawn later to divide the undisturbed western portions of the site, the disturbed western portions, and the intact eastern portions.
Parada said the Navy acknowledges that the eastern part of the base contains burial grounds and that the various “sites” were in fact all “a single large site” but still insists that it can build on the western part of the site, which has "both disturbed and undisturbed portions."
Parada added that limited excavation was done in 2002 that discovered ancient human remains, and "that entire site has human remains throughout it, as is testified to by the fact that less than 1/100th of 1% of the site was excavated and remains were found....
"We have received support and encouragement from Native Nations around the country and some inquiries from protesters at Standing Rock [Sioux Tribe] about turning their issue [the Dakota Access Pipeline] and our issue into a national protest movement," she said. They have been "flooded with calls and emails from tribes asking to come to the next protest and offering legal and financial support to the cause."