State Parks is weighing whether to renew a permit that allows Salinan Indians to climb to the top of Morro Rock to perform solstice ceremonies.
The practice of allowing Salinan elders access to the top of the Rock twice a year has pitted the Salinans against the other Native American tribe in San Luis Obispo County, the Northern Chumash.
State Parks received complaints from members of both tribes that the Salinans had buried human remains on the Rock, said Nick Franco, parks superintendent. Some of the complaints alleged repatriated Native American remains could have been buried at the site.
Chris Molina, spokesman for the Salinan Tribe of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, denied that any remains had been buried on the Rock.
On Monday, Franco, another park superintendent and a representative from the county Coroner’s Office climbed to the top of the Rock to see if they could find any evidence of burials.
“We looked in all the crevices and found no evidence of human remains,” Franco said.
But the issue of access to the top of the Rock remains unresolved. For the past six years, State Parks has had a memorandum of agreement that allows the tribes to scale the Rock on the shortest and longest days of the year for religious ceremonies, Franco said.
The Chumash have not climbed the Rock, but the Salinans have consistently done so twice a year, only missing one winter solstice ascent due to bad weather. They have also performed ceremonies at the base of the Rock.
The memorandum of agreement has expired and Franco asked both tribes to reapply. The Salinans have reapplied, saying they want to continue the tradition, Molina said. The Chumash have not applied and asked that no one be allowed to scale the Rock.
“It is and has always been our feeling that because the Rock is home to many species of wildlife and most of all the peregrine falcon, who is endangered, we should not climb the Morro Rock and chance disturbing any wildlife that is present,” said Chumash Chief Mark Vigil.
State Parks is in a delicate position because the rules regarding the Rock are conflicting, Franco said. One set of rules says it is a protected bird nesting site and an ecological reserve while another set of rules says the department is required to provide Native Americans access to sacred sites.
“One way or the other, one of those tribal groups is going to be unhappy,” Franco said.
The next solstice does not take place until December so Franco has some time to try to work out a solution agreeable to both tribes.
“Although,” he said, “I don’t know what that will be.”
Various factions within both tribes have different viewpoints on issues which further complicates the matter, Franco said. The Rock is in an area where the two tribes overlap.
The Salinan territory runs from northern San Luis Obispo County into Monterey County. The Chumash area extends from southern San Luis Obispo County to Southern California.