The construction of a Mexican cultural center in Los Angeles has uncovered a 200-year-old Catholic cemetery mistakenly thought to have been moved. The development has caused concern among Native Americans and others who believe their relatives are among the buried.
La Plaza de Cultura y Artes is a project of Los Angeles County and a Smithsonian affiliate. Its construction work is taking place near Our Lady of the Angels Catholic church, the city’s oldest parish also known as La Placita.
Historical records indicate that anywhere from 100 to 300 American Indians are likely to be buried at the center’s site, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports.
The construction on the center halted as soon as the cemetery was discovered, though it is still scheduled to open soon.
Archdiocesan officials said their records erroneously showed the cemetery was closed in 1844 and the graves were relocated.
Officials also said the builders should have notified them that full grave sites were found. They reported that their initial impression was that only a few bone fragments had been uncovered.
CNA contacted the archdiocese for further comment but officials were unable to respond to inquiries.
The cemetery was the final resting place of early residents of Los Angeles, who include Native Americans and Spanish, Mexican and European colonists, along with their intermarried children, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Some archaeologists say they have found records concerning who was buried in the original cemetery. Residents who claim ancestors in the first cemetery have gathered at the site on occasion to pay respect to the dead.
“We want the Native American history to be told also, besides just the Mexican American,” Tim Poyorena-Miguel, archivist for the Montebello Historical Society and a Gabrielino Indian, told the Tribune. "The Native Americans were there first and they're digging up their bones."
He said Gabrielinos have asked La Plaza officials to return the bones to the site and be reburied.
"We're just trying to understand all the interested parties' concerns and that will help figure into how we use the land moving forward," La Plaza spokeswoman Katie Dunham said. "We gave them a chance to air their concerns. We left it as an open forum for them to say what they think."
Construction of the cultural center is currently on hold, following the discovery.