|Civil Rights & Environmental Justice
Bob's Speech for the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
Tom Perez, the United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and Monica Ramirez, Counsel to the
Attorney General, were here in Los Angeles on February 25, 2010.
Thank you Tom Perez and Monica Ramirez for your time.
I am Robert Bracamontes. I am a Juaneno from the Acjachemen Nation.
It is seemingly impossible for me to express the spirit of all of my ancestors before me, since they go back in time
over 10,000 years, but for them I must be diligent.
The importance of preserving ancestral land which is sacred to us is paramount to the preservation of our culture and
way of life. The encroachment by those that wish to control this land must be stopped if the history of my people is to
continue for the ages. Protection of Sacred sites is an environmental justice issue.
It has been human nature to move from place to place - settle for a time and move on. And more important is the fact
that we end up with like-minded, culturally similar faces around us. So today many of us in this room share being
raised in the barrios of urban society. We move from one barrio to the next seeing the tacos, hearing the music, and
marrying in the churches that are the same as those left behind. So too the Native Civilizations - we have moved from
village to village which is part of our past, present and future. We have not all died and disappeared.
Our sacred village Panhe is all those things that make us. The plants are used for medicines and sage for ceremony.
My cousin Ronnie Bracamontes was the last one buried there about 15 years ago.
Sacred sites may not be that easy to find, unlike our popular barrios many of us have come from, the most famous
East Los Angeles. But Panhe has no Whittier Blvd or King Taco. There are no distinguishable signs that tell people it is
there. So to the naked eye it is easy to assume nobody lives there, but to us, the Juanenos from the Acjachemen
Nation, it is a sacred place.
Our sacred sites have been a constant source of concern as far as preservation for the future generations of
Juanenos. These Sacred burial and village sites are seen as just a patch of land to the dominant culture and their
government. Businesses see these areas as easy pickings. I can't think of any equivalent agency whose sole purpose
was or should be to protect Native American Land, especially in the more urban areas where people are also totally
ignorant about that fact we are not all dead. I am thinking the formation of the EPANL Environment Protection Agency
for Native American Land would be a good start. The seven sites we visit on our annual Ancestral Walk are great
examples of this struggle.
The village of Panhe is of super importance. It is a village, burial site, and a cultural center where we meet and pray.
Many traditions take place, the Ghost dance, etc and plants used for ceremony are found here that carry special
meanings. Cal State Long Beach is on one of our sacred sites, Puvungna, where once a year the Bear dance is held
and carries a great feeling of unity and healing for the tribe.
SO it is paramount that Natives be included whenever there is land encroachment. We were able to fend off a planned
toll road by forming the United Coalition to Protect Panhe and coalitioned with other groups, including City Project and
Robert Garcia. But more avenues to protect sites are needed.
I remember an experience I had with my dad. His name is Joseph. He roamed the countryside hunting for rabbits to
eat. He was bare foot until the age of 14, his hair in a braid to his waist. He hated school and would rather go hunting.
When I got older he took me out to teach me how to hunt for food. We stood there, he whispered, "there is the rabbit." I
looked and looked and could not see it. He pointed at it. I could not see it. We stood there for what seemed like a long
time, finally the rabbit moved. I saw it. I asked him why I could not see the rabbit. He told me my eyes were ruined by
the city. I wasn't able to see what was so obvious because I wasn't taught or trained or maybe my eyes were unwilling.
The federal government must not let the city lights ruin their vision of where Sacred Native sites exist. Our lands can
no longer be the food for development. We must all learn to train our eyes to see what is right in front of us. Natives
require the respect and protection given to all historical sites. We should do our best to see the Rabbit.
Robert (Bob) Bracamontes