Tribe losing permission to climb Morro Rock after news of reburials of unidentified remains

June 26, 2012

Solstice ceremony at Morro Rock


Two sets of human remains, thought to be Native American, have been buried atop Morro Rock by a Salinian Tribal Council member, Salinian tribal members say.

Amid news of the reburials of the unidentified bones, discovered near Cambria and Cayucos, the Native American Heritage Commission plans to repeal an agreement that allows members of the Salinian tribe to climb Morro Rock, a spot sacred to the Salinian and Chumash tribes.

Northern Chumash Tribal Council spokesman Fred Collins said he is appalled by what occurred at Morro Rock.

“Burying remains up there is against all the public resource laws,” Collins said. “We are hoping they are never allowed to climb the rock again so these things do not happen.”

The reburials took place over a five year period and were carried out by John Burch, a Salinian Tribal Council leader, tribal members said. The first set of remains was allegedly found in a cave in Arroyo Seco, north of Cambria. The second set was found near Toro Creek in Cayucos. Both locations are sites where Native Americans lived. But no one has determined that the remains were of Native Americans.

Burch denied, in an interview with CalCoastNews, that he placed the remains on Morro Rock.

“There are no remains up there. Your information is wrong,” Burch said.

But tribal members, a Catholic priest and emails from the state of California say otherwise.

Father Larry Gosselin, with Mission San Miguel, said he blessed the remains after Burch asked him to do so. Some members of the Salinan and Chumash tribes do not see Catholicism as being a Native American religion.

Burch climbed Morro Rock carrying the human remains in a backpack, Salinian tribal members said. He placed the bones in two spots, cracks in Morro Rock and placed stones over them, tribal members said.

Burch told tribal members that he had permission from State Parks and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s department to repatriate the remains, they said. However, State Parks Superintendent Brooke Gutierrez said that her agency did not give Burch permission to repatriate remains on the rock.

“We will be working with the sheriff’s department on this issue,” Gutierrez said. “Our job is to protect and preserve the Rock.”

California law requires that county coroners inspect remains and the California Native American Heritage Commission be notified before reburial. That was not done and it is not clear whether the remains are Salinian, Chumash, or even Native American at all.

State law makes it a felony to dig up or posses Native American remains without following required procedures.

Six years ago, members of the Salinan Nation first received permission to climb Morro Rock through a memorandum of agreement between the tribe, state parks, and the Native American Heritage Commission. At the time, the Chumash argued that the site was sacred and solstice ceremonies should, instead, be held at the base of the rock.

Collins said reburials are supposed to be private ceremonies, not the public events they have become with Burch inviting the media.

“It has created a lot of conflict in our community,”Collins said. “We look at John Burch as a splinter group of Salinans. Burch doesn’t respect Chumash territory.”

Several members of the Salinan Nation, who asked to remain unnamed to avoid difficulties with tribal members, are also concerned with the failure to follow tradition at last week’s solstice ceremony where Aztec dancers performed for almost 200 nonnative attendees.

In light of the recent solstice ceremony and allegations of unapproved reburials, Native American Heritage Commission Director Dave Singleton said his agency plans to revoke the agreement which allows tribal members to climb Morro Rock.


This is my last comment, being taken over by anger is not a good thing.

What I want to get across is this:

We need stronger laws, to be defined by all interested parties.

The Salinan and Northern Chumash that were so plainly disregarded need to be apologized to by the offenders.

Public declaration that John Burch IS NOT the appointed spokesperson for all Salinan, and CERTAINLY “NOT” our spiritual advisor, I will let his behavior speak for itself.

It is time for the People to agree to disagree and form a confederacy to accomplish long term goals TOGETHER, so that we also might stop those who disgrace us and our way of life.

To those I offended, I apologize.



My offer stands.


Thank you, Penny and Dream Keeper for speaking the truth.


Having lived here 55 years, you never heard that Morro Rock was “sacred” to any Indian tribe until it was deemed so 6 years ago. Where were these tribes when the Army Corps of Engineers took a large part of the rock to make and reconstruct the breakwater? Never heard anything then. It’s my understanding that Morro Rock is off limits because it is a Perigrine Falcon refuge and nesting site, yet they get permission to climb it for ceremonies? Why? If the nesting site is a good enough reason to keep the public off the rock, then it should be a good enough reason for EVERYONE. Where were the tribes when the Army used the top of the rock as a submarine lookout during WWII? When I used to climb the rock there was one safe passage on the south side to the top and back; part of the trail actually had pipe handrails. Those who fell off the rock obviously didn’t follow the yellow brick road. I think the message should be, “you abuse, you lose”.


The site has always been a Sacred site, and is recorded as such with the scholars that wrote about the Tribes living in the area. These details certainly existed for “thousands” of years. However, and most sad, because of the lack of laws protecting Native People from those who misrepresent themselves, the John Burch’s of the world abuse and misuse such sites. Let us also remember that until the late 1970’s it was AGAINST the laws of the United States of America for Native People to practice their religions. Until the 1930’s you could kill Natives and not be in any trouble. Natives, true Natives respect these Birds for Sacred reasons, they respect all life. I don’t want to argue and upset you, believe what you will, but please remember that the lawsbof this country give each if us the right to worship as we wish. Some of your comments reference instances well before we had the right to Worahip as we choose and also speak our own language to do so since until the late 1070’s was also against the law. There must be a way for all People including the Falcons to be respected.


“Where were these Tribes when….”?

They were here being ignored by all those you mentioned. I can understand mounting the Rock looking for an enemy trying to kill us off (the japanese). It was a life or death situation.

You asked.


My family lived at the village at Toro Creek until the 1930s, please open your hearts and minds to the fact that people misrepresent themselves in Indian country because there are not strong enough laws to protect the true People’s positions and history. Each time someone like John Burch is allowed to run a muck more and more of true tradition and history are jeopardized. It should matter to all of us that respect is not being shown to the correct families of the Salinan and also it is appalling that the Northern Chumash have been disrespected. The first thing should have been contacting their Tribal Council. We are all people, please respect our culture and traditions. Penny Pierce Hurt-for my entire family


People get hurt and killed on the rock….it gets vandalized and now we’ve got bones stuffed in the cracks. Why don’t we all just stay off Morro Rock?


BaylonEncinales, Answer this please, what does this guy gain by gathering bones up from two different locations then packing them up there risking his life?

One more question, please if you will.

So your people actually lived in an original Salinan villiage as late as the ’30’s, Did they sell eventually? Did they just leave gradually? Run out by the Whites? Were they friendly with the Chumash?

Sorry, I’m facinated by the original folks that were here.

10,000 yrs of habitation and they left it as they found it. 200 yrs for us and…..look around.


John Burch is a showman, he claims to be a “spiritual leader” when in reality he is not. What he gains is ego, he gets to play with ceremony that he makes up. I have known him since he thought he was Olone, he didn’t evev know where he came from let alone legitiment traditional ways.

As for my family, there is a lot written about about why they left. There was a huge battle with the Maray Land and Cattle company, after they were treated horrendously the town of Moro Bay said that my family could live there until all in the village died, no more People from the tribe were allowed to come. So, when all passed away, that was that. My Grandmother Clara Encinales was head woman of the village. The area is a boundary area, several Tribes came into the area to trade and share time together. There was conflict from time to time for many reasons but there were times of peace and sharing,intermarriage and ceremony. Hope that helps!


Thank you, Wow.

I would like to interview you and get some of your rememberances out to everyone in our area in the form of an article or two. Don’t you think it would be a good oppurtunity to restore some honor to the original people and inform the others? Not knowing your age I wonder if you’re holding the last of some of the true history of this area and your people.

Not to pressure you but it’s looking like something that should be done by you and possibly no one else unless you know of others. I’ve spoken to Fred Collins in the past. He seems very active protecting Chumash rights and history. He is promoting techniques for vegetable growing in tight residential areas among other things.

Are you a friend of Fred’s?

As a white guy I have come to the conclusion that we suppressed you and your culture to erase guilty feelings of dishonor, it’s just simple psychology actually. I know it remains a burden to most and increasingly so as we discover our culture is at a dead end as it is today and your’s is proven not to be.

It would be wise to exclude non-native names from the past who contributed to native abuse for the sake of their decendants here today.

You can respond here if you would.

Big oppurntunity here.


justme: now you’re all of a sudden sensitive to the native community? down below you make some very disparaging remarks before you knew better and assuming what our portrayal was of non-natives. what is your angle?


Agreed, but I thought Burch was for real and to be defended. Penny sounds like the one that’s for real to me now. I apologize. It first looked like an authentic native was being denied his original access to a sacred spot by some non-native agency.

My angle is to perhaps have your people help orient non-natives to the realities of life. We are lost. And hopefully to the benefit of both someday. Unless God himself or herself shows up in person and pretty quick I don’t see anyone with credentials enough to be listened to except those with an amazingly successful continuous documented, proven culture. That would be your’s. Let’s all do some healing. I’m tired of the blindness cursing humanity.


Thank you for your honest reply. It’s appreciated any time someone has an open mind and wants to support.


“…Aztec dancers performed for almost 200 nonnative attendees…”

At least the Aztecs didn’t sacrifice any of the “nonnative attendees.” That’s a step in the right direction.


Is this the same tribe that was in cahoots with Kelly Gearheart? The one that wanted to build a casino right next to Old Mission San Miguel? Their plan was so bad that a Old Mission benefactor had to buy the land to keep it out of their greedy hands. Maybe they really should be banned from climbing Morro Rock…


Everyone should be banned from climbing that rock, the peregrine have it to themselves.


“Morro Bay: a bird sanctuary”: Definitely my favorite sign. Why then do we allow fireworks and hunting in the area? I doubt birds of any type appreciate the noise and shock waves.


You are correct about this association. This group is not in it for the right reasons, they just want money. They allow John Burch to do whatever he wants culturally because they don’t care about “the Indian way” of doing things. State and local governments should have strict rules about who represents groups interests. Morro Bay is a grey area where both Chumash and Salinan lived therefore they should always contact both tribal groups. Thank you for your spot on comment about this group!


Appreciate your comments as they are the truth. However, please note that not all tribal members think that way or wants the same things. Most tribal members are not even aware of this until recently. Please do not lump everyone in this group together with those that are not walking the red road.


I went to a presentation by some members of the Salinan Tribe many years ago. They were very upset at how long it takes to work through all the red tape in Washington DC with regard to creating a reservation that is recognized by the federal government. I remember at the time I thought “what’s the matter with you people? Go and collectively buy a piece of land (much of the land they hold sacred is not particularly expensive) and go practice your ancient rituals in peace. One day the feds will likely recognize you and all will be well.” In retrospect it appears that they were not after sacred land in which to practice their sacred rituals but land in which to build a casino. When they started maneuvering to buy the land right next to Old Mission San Miguel their abhorrent greed became apparent to all.


Who really cares???


Is that your perspective, perspective?


Just a perspective on cynicism and selfishness. As if we need another one of those!


Maybe she’s headed for a vanishing point.


Isn’t Chris Molina the P.R. guy for the tribal council? If so, he was the ringmaster for the circus at Morro Rock and also the reburial circus at Camp Roberts, as he would be in charge of inviting the news cameras and the general public. And these guys think this is going to help them get federal recognition so they can get a casino?!?

Spirit Filled

Let the Indians decide. That’s one of the reasons they have leadership.


in some cases, that is the problem.


Stay cool, Fred. Work it out with the Salinians.. It’s a miniscule transgression compared to what the “White devils” did to the southeast portion of the rock.


“White Devils” is a term Indians coined centuries ago and I was speaking to Fred Collins, an Indian. The rock was blasted to build gettys down south. The insanity was stopped soon after, thankfully. So relax and accept it, I have.


apparently it’s not miniscule if the person that has put the remains there should know better than to do that otherwise it wouldnt be a concern.


What’s a local Indian supposed to “know” better? That Whitey doesn’t want him on his ancient lands??

Or are you of the generally accepted belief that we stole it fair and square?


Its actually a formal process and intelligent system that those that handle repatriation are supposed to know and follow. More intelligent than your unintelligent remarks.


Really? Aren’t we known for mishandling Indian “repatriation”?


“White Devils” — doesn’t that mean people without souls? Got that right!


I remember “red devils” candy. I don’t believe the name was predicated on American Indians though.