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DWP halts work at dry lake cultural site

February 17, 2014

Residents survey a section of the Owens Lake where a dust mitigation project threatens to destroy thousands of artifacts uncovered at an 1863 massacre site. With tensions rising between white settlers and local natives, U.S. Calvary chased dozens of Indians suspected of stealing settlers’ cattle into the lake, where fierce winds prevented them from swimming to safety and the calvary shot at anyone trying to return to shore. Photo by Sage Romero

Efforts to preserve a culturally sensitive site on Owens Lake have resulted in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power agreeing to halt work on the site for the next week.
Between now and Feb. 24, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District and the LADWP will work to determine if the site should be considered culturally sensitive and reviewed by a cultural resources task force that was created by an agreement between the two agencies last year.
Lone Pine Tribal Preservation Officer Kathy Bancroft said this is the first step toward saving what she called an important historic site – the location of a massacre of 35 native people in 1863 by U.S. Calvary that now contains thousands of artifacts – as LADWP contractors move forward with court-ordered dust mitigation projects on the lake.
To evaluate and properly handle areas on the lake containing Native American artifacts, the LADWP and Great Basin developed an MOU last year. Under that MOU, any site with cultural artifacts must be evaluated by two archeologists, who must find that the site is significant. If both archeologists agree that the site is culturally significant, the site will be removed from Phase 7a of the dust mitigation project (the phase currently under construction) and placed into Phase 7b. All sites included in Phase 7b will be evaluated by a cultural resources task force, which will decide how dust mitigation can proceed with minimal impacts.
As of Monday, Bancroft said that two archeologists have made the determination that the ancient site in question is significant. She added that Great Basin Air Pollution Control District has those recommendations and will be the agency to decide if the site is moved into Phase 7b.
Bancroft said credit for this victory belongs to the nearly 60 residents who attended a demonstration on Owens Lake last Wednesday, as LADWP contractors prepared to begin dust mitigation work on the massacre site.  
Bancroft said she realized earlier this month that work was ready to begin on the site and filed a letter with the LADWP asking that the site be included in Phase 7b.
The LADWP agreed to halt work on the site until last Thursday so that Great Basin could review the reports filed by the archeologists who evaluated the site. But, without word from Great Basin, work was scheduled to resume.
In response, Bancroft asked residents concerned about cultural sites to join her in a peaceful demonstration at Owens Lake last Wednesday.
“I was trying to get help wherever I could, and we did a rally in support of the cultural sites,” Bancroft said Monday. “It was really neat to see the support, we had well over 60 people. All the tribes from Mono Lake to Death Valley, and even some who came over from Kernville, were represented. There was a lot of non-Indian support. It was a real cross-section of the community. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in this and so far, with the rally and newspaper exposure, we’ve drawn attention to it and there’s some public pressure to do something.”
Bancroft said she hopes to hear later this week Great Basin’s recommendation on how work should proceed on the cultural site.
“I really want to say thanks for the support,” Bancroft said. “I’ve received tons of letters and emails offering help and it has been appreciated.”

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