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Future Development And Native American Past

Native American history buried on hillsides and valleys all over San Diego County has developers facing a challenge: to reconcile honoring the past while meeting the needs of the future.

There’s a place where Highway 76 intersects with Interstate 15 that could become a fast growing suburb of San Diego.

It’s a beautiful place, where the San Luis Rey River flows through the mountains, and where hundreds of homes are planned for a future development. It’s also the site of a prehistoric Native American village.

Mel Vernon, Captain of the San Luis Rey Band, says many of their prehistoric cultural sites are being impacted by development these days.

“The people that are connected to those village sites are still here,” he said. “We are connected through our ancestors and our legacy of being in this land for tens of thousands of years. It’s a shame when people don’t acknowledge the significance of the sites - it becomes just another project with some obstacles in the way.”

The project in question here is a development called Meadowood, where Pardee hopes to build more than 800 homes. The company is already building an access road. The problem is that, in January, someone uprooting a fruit tree in the path of the road discovered what turned out to be Native American bone fragments.

James Trujilla was one of the speakers from several tribes who opposed the road at a recent county planning meeting.

“The resolution of this issue is very simple,” Trujilla said. “Don’t build over our ancestors.”

Pardee’s representative Jimmy Ayala lamented the last minute wave of opposition.

“The thing that is so confusing to me,” he said, “is, if it were so important, why not tell us sooner?”

Ayala said there have been years of preparation and consultation, and there was even a plan of what to do with bones if they were found.

“To reinter them with as much respect as we know how to do,” he said, “and in following state law, that’s what we will do. They will be reinterred in a place where there won’t be any disturbance by our development or any other development.”

Ayala said the developer has designated open space with marked trails and kiosks to educate the public about the rich Native American culture on the site.

But that didn’t sit well with Merri Lopez Keifer of the San Luis Rey Band.

“What he doesn’t understand,” Lopez Keifer said, “is that these stories and these songs of the Luiseno people are not meant to be shared with everyone. That’s why you can’t pick up a book and learn about them. It’s an oral history and it’s shared though each band on their own. So San Luis Rey do not want a kiosk sharing our information.”

Richard Carrico teaches Native American studies at SDSU. He said tribal opposition to development is becoming louder and more sophisticated, partly because of growing casino wealth, but also because of growing self-awareness.

“When I’m out talking to Indian people in their 30s and 40s, they know a great deal more about their culture than their father might have known, because this knowledge and wisdom went underground. It now is back out and it can’t go back in the can - the box has been opened.”

The California Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento estimates there are more than 10,000 documented Native American sites in San Diego County.

Lavonne Peck of the La Jolla band said the region’s future transportation plan - a blueprint for growth that is about to be approved - could encounter conflicts.

“There are sacred sites throughout the plan,“ she said, “and we as tribal leaders need to stand up and start to deal with it now, because it’s not going to go away. “

Peck said she is not against development. But planners and developers will have to deal with growing Native American sensitivity about their heritage, in a region with pressure to develop in the future.

The County Planning Commission has passed the Meadowood project on to the County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

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