LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- It has been over a year since dirt and debris from a construction site were dumped on a 22-acre plot of land, known to several Native American tribes in Southern California as Puvungna.
"The university needs to understand that we're not going to go away," said Cultural Resource Director of Acjachemen Nation Joyce Stanfield-Perry. "We're going to protect the site to the day we can't any longer."
In 1974, Puvungna was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. It's considered to be sacred to local tribes, including Acjachemen Nation and Gabrieleno Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians.
"If you were a Christian, you would probably equate it with the birthplace of Jesus Christ," said Gabrieleno-Tongva tribal secretary Kimberly Morales Johnson. "That's what this is: the birthplace for us."
In the fall of 2019, the sacred site that is commonly used for ceremonies and gatherings became a dumping ground. Cal State Long Beach used Puvungna to rid of dirt, trash and debris from a nearby construction site on campus.
"It's so sad to see everything decimated in front of my eyes and there is very little I can do to stop it," Johnson said.
Acjachemen Nation-Belardes filed a lawsuit against the California State University system in October 2019 that stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but eventually reached a standstill.
"Our settlement agreement that they've declined to agree to was to remove all the soil and the plastic, to create a memorandum of understanding with our tribe, and to clean up their mess," said Stanfield-Perry. "Currently, we're moving forward with our lawsuit."
A "Protect Puvugnna" GoFundMe has raised over $23,000 to assist with legal fees.
Cal State Long Beach spokesperson Jeff Cook said that the university cannot comment on an active litigation. In an email, Cook told ABC7 that Puvungna "will be included in a broader, inclusive campus planning effort in the future."
He added that there are no construction plans, for a parking lot or any other project, in place at Puvungna for the future.
"A little piece of our history is gone every day, but if I can be a voice for my ancestors to let them rest in peace here, then I'm going to do that," Johnson said.