Construction on a 405 overpass in Orange County has been paused due to the discovery of a Native American burial site on September 25.
The 405 overpass renovation unearthed human bones, which the coroner determined to be Native American. Historically, the land where the site has been found was once shared by the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleino-Tongva. Native American remains are protected under federal and state laws and in an effort to preserve the bones.
“Any time you start disturbing dirt in California, you’re likely to find artifacts,” Alther said. “It’s the price of doing business,” Attorney Dorothy Alther, executive director of the California Indian Legal Services, told The Orange County Register.
The Native American Heritage Commission guidelines for finding remains call for the immediate halting of projects and calling the coroner. If the remains are declared Native American the coroner turns the site over to the Native American Heritage Commission.
The Native American Heritage Commission is identifying the descendent of the remains, per their protocols. The descendent then has 48 hours to inspect the site and make recommendations for the treatment of the remains. No continuance of the renovation may occur until the remains are removed or buried to satisfaction per the descendent.
“Otherwise, it would be like going into a cemetery and digging up someone’s grave site,” Walter Ahhaitty, operations director for the Fountain Valley-based Southern California Indian Center, said. “It should not be taken lightly. We might not know today where our indigenous people are interred, but they knew and they cared.”
According to the Professional Guide for the Preservation and Protection of Native American Human Remains and Associated Grave Goods, put out by the Native American Heritage Commission, in the event that a descendent cannot be contacted or the mediation for the burial of the remains are rejected by the landowner ” the landowner or his or her authorized representative shall reinter the human remains and items associated with Native American burials with appropriate dignity on the property in a location not subject to further subsurface disturbance.”
While the discovery may delay progress on the renovation, two months or more according to Newsweek, the OCTA built a contingency plan to redirect construction to another overpass until the remains have been removed.
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