A Grave Situation at Pointe

No one bothers Socorro Bernasconi anymore as she stands with her protest sign near the Pointe at South Mountain.

On most afternoons, the long-time Guadalupe activist and mother of eight stands near Pointe entrances holding a hand-painted sign that says, "Dead Spirits in Live Bodies Build the Pointergeist. A Development Over Dead Bodies, But Live Spirits."

Her one-woman crusade revolves around a former burial ground for Yaqui Indians of the Protestant faith at the site of the controversial golf course built by developer Bob Gosnell.

"They just ignore me anymore," Bernasconi says. "It's not like it used to be, when they did everything they could to make it tough on me."

In March 1988, Phoenix police cited Bernasconi for trespassing and other misdemeanor charges as she protested the construction of the Pointe's eighteen-hole golf course. She says the charges against her were dropped this April, shortly before her scheduled trial in Phoenix City Court.

Last year, Gosnell Builders disinterred the remains of thirteen Yaquis buried at the site in the 1930s and 1940s. At the firm's expense, the remains were reburied at a Phoenix cemetery. But Bernasconi claims she knows the names of at least nine other Yaquis allegedly buried in the area of the golf course.

"For all we know, there were cemeteries spread all over that area that was donated for a burial site late last century by a Presbyterian missionary," she says. "It was a token gesture to move those bodies, to get us out of their hair."

Gosnell Builders public relations director Jennifer Whittle says the firm is well aware of Bernasconi and her sign.

"Yes, we know her," Whittle says. "She has the right to picket if she wants, and she can make up whatever signs she wants. She's a different type of person."

Whittle adds that Gosnell hired Tempe archaeologist Richard Effland to study the area and--contrary to Bernasconi's opinion--he found no indication of any other gravesites.

Bernasconi says she wants the Pointe to put up white crosses in selected areas around its property to indicate that Yaquis still may be buried there. But she's certainly not counting on that to happen.

"An official shrine on the golf course also would be appropriate, though I don't expect them to do anything," she says. "That whole idea--a religious shrine on a golf course--is so far removed from the majority culture, where money is the Almighty, that I don't expect much to happen."

"So she wants a shrine and white crosses on the golf course?" shrugs Gosnell's Jennifer Whittle. "Sure, she does."

Bernasconi has no plans to stick her protest sign in the closet and call it quits.

"Gosnell has a 35-year lease at that property," she says, "and I intend to protest for each one of those 35 years.