March 11, 2006 — Amid an intermittent snowfall, members of the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians (SFBMI) — which represents descendants of the Tataviam, Vanyume and Fernandeño tribes in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and Victor valleys — reburied six of their Vanyume ancestors in Palmdale on Saturday, March 11, 2006.
The Vanyume populated the western Mojave Desert from Palmdale to Victorville. The remains, which date from 800 to 1,000 years ago, were discovered in 2004 on a low plateau next to a streambed in the Anaverde project, adjacent to the Ritter Ranch development. SFBMI and the merchant builder, Empire Homes, worked together to preserve the remains, which were scientifically studied at the behest of SFBMI prior to reburial.
Studies conducted by Dr. John Johnson, curator of anthropology for the Santa Barbara Musuem of Natural History, who is conducting research that may help SFBMI achieve federal recognition as an Indian nation, determined that the decedents at the Anaverde site are direct ancestors of many SFBMI members. Mitochondrial DNA — which is passed down maternally — was collected from the remains (teeth) as well as from Castaic-born Lydia (aka Lyda) Victoria Cooke Manriquez of Newhall prior to her death in 2003 at age 97, and more recently from Donna Smith Yocum, SFBMI's vice chairwoman (hair follicle). Five important DNA "markers" showed a perfect match — the strongest connection between human archaeological remains and a living person, anywhere in the world. "It's a very unique thing, actually," Johnson said. (Click here for more information.)
The separate graves of the six skeletons were concentrated in an area somewhat smaller than a football field. One skeleton is believed to be that of a shaman or other important tribal leader since, unlike the others, he was buried with approximately 1,500 shell beads.
A road is planned to run through a section of the plateau where the original graves were found. As a result, five of the skeletons (and various object that had been buried with them) were reburied Saturday in a single grave, six feet deep; the shaman was buried separately, about a dozen yards away. SFBMI members prayed over the graves and added tobacco, sage, knives and other offerings for the occupants' use and enjoyment in the afterlife.
SFBMI Chairman John Valenzuela intoned:
Creator God, thank you for allowing us all to be here today. You know the importance and role of each person here today and how each has been
involved in bringing these ancestors back to us. Creator, we know that you had revealed your plan to these special ancestors. They knew of their
disturbed rest. They were waiting to meet us, their grandchildren, and to prove to the world the importance of our lineage.
They knew this reconnection would be validated for all to know. Ancestors, we apologize for this disturbance, yet with our deepest love we thank you for
this sacrifice. Please accept these humble offerings from your children, and may you now truly rest in peace.
Creator, please bestow your many blessings on all of us gathered here today and continue to watch over us,
your children, on this special road you have put before us. Amen. Aho to all my relations.
SFBMI members shoveled dirt onto the remains and used a backhoe to fill in the new graves. Empire Land deeded the parcel with the active graves to SFBMI.
"There is a practical connection between native Americans and the land," said Rob Wood, an environmental specialist with the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento, who attended the ceremony. "We view land as a commodity, but for them, everything comes from the land. Ö These cultures are still here and evolving. They haven't gone away."
(Although they were visible during the ceremony, photographing the remains would have shown disrespect. They are amply recorded in scientific studies.)
LW031106: Photos by Leon Worden | Download original images here