Sunday, December 16, 2012

San Gabriel River water museum threatens lands sacred to generations of Gabrieleno Indians

One of the great tragedies of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center water museum, planned for the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary, is that it risks so much for so little.
"Our families hold the proposed land sacred because it is where our own grandfathers and great grandfathers survived. Our existing families are determined to uphold, respect, and honor the remaining lands where their bones and relics lie to rest."     -- Andrew Salas Teutimez, Gabrieleno Mission Indians Chairman
Many will be familiar with the expected cost of the project to the taxpayer: $22 million to build and untold amounts to run and maintain. And familiar with the destruction of wildlife habitat -- including nearly 200 trees, many of which are decades old and heavily used by native birds. And, of course, the planned demolition of the much-loved Whittier Narrows Nature Center.

But a story that may be less familiar but must be told is the threat the project poses to lands held sacred by the original inhabitants of Southern California, the Gabrieleno Indians.

The Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians, also known as the Kizh, have long opposed construction of the museum in the wildlife sanctuary because it would be built on the site of a former Gabrieleno village and would likely disturb cultural artifacts and human remains.

As chairman of the Gabrielenos, Andy Salas Tautimez, wrote in a letter reiterating the group's concerns to Discovery Center project head Mark Stanley, the Gabrielenos "hold the proposed land sacred because it is where our own grandfathers and great grandfathers survived. Those relatives of the past experienced far worse circumstances than we do today, so our existing families are determined to uphold, respect, and honor the remaining lands where their bones and relics lie to rest."

Like the Friends, the Gabrielenos are not opposed to a San Gabriel River Discovery Center per se -- they are opposed to a museum that destroys the very values it's supposed to promote. As Andy continues in his letter, the Gabrielenos are opposed to the construction on the selected location but also "welcome any opportunity to share our culture with the public and a Discovery Center with a Gabrieleno Cultural Center attached would be an ideal contribution to the public."

Andy closes by recommending the Duck Farm as an alternative location. 

The Duck Farm project, only a stone's throw from the wildlife sanctuary, is another water education project and park being promoted by the same officials behind the Discovery Center. Really the only elements missing from the Duck Farm are the controversy, the destruction, and the disrespect for Native American heritage. 

We at the Friends hope officials come to their senses before they create another expensive outrage like the Plaza de Cultura y Artes -- with native remains desecrated and millions of dollars wasted

If officials insist on developing a San Gabriel River Discovery Center, the Duck Farm would be the perfect location.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Critics of $22M Discovery Center water museum now include members of parent agency board

It's late fall and change is in the air, including for everyone's least favorite water museum project.

You may be familiar with the way support for the $22 million San Gabriel River Discovery Center project, planned for the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary, has been crumbling in recent years.

For example, the state's rejection of the Discovery Center Authority's application for $7 million in bond money for nature education; the opposition of the Gabrieleno Indians, based on the location and the threat it poses to traditional native lands; and even the recent opposition to the project by a project board member.

Now, his voice has been joined by some on the board of the parent agency, the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

The RMC board met Nov. 23, and members Margaret Clarke, a Rosemead City Councilmember, and Dennis Bertone, a San Dimas City Councilmember, led the board's criticisms of the project.

Clarke said she'd never seen a project with so much opposition and was critical of the authority's approach to the matter, which she characterized as something like  "Ignore the public, build the project."

Bertone pointed out that the people closest to the project are objecting--and asked about the project's cost. Not the construction bill--the cost to run and maintain the facililty.

And that is a crucial question.

Along with opposition to the destruction of habitat and recreation land, and the cost to the public to build the project, the matters "How much will it cost to run?" and "Who will pay for it?" are big.

We should all learn from the experiences of Santa Barbara's troubled Watershed Resource Center, a similar but far smaller facility.

A nonprofit director close to the project said, "Everyone was excited to build it and there was a lot of enthusiasm at first," but the officials at the various agencies grew reluctant to devote the funds needed to keep it going.  (From the LA Weekly.)

Today, the WRC is open to the public one day a week for five hours.