Tongva people

The Tongva ( ), also referred to as the San Gabriel Band, are a Native American people who inhabited the area in Los Angeles County, California, before the arrival of Europeans. Tongva means "people of the earth" in the Tongva language, an Uto-Aztecan language. The Tongva are also sometimes referred to as the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (Spanish: Tribu de Gabrieleño-Tongva) and the Fernandino-Tongva Tribe (Spanish: Tribu de Fernandeño-Tongva). Following the Spanish custom of naming local Mission Indian tribes after nearby missions, they were called the Gabrieleño in reference to Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. Likewise, those in the San Fernando Valley and the nearby Tataviam people were known as Fernandeño after Mission San Fernando Rey de España.



Along with the Chumash, their neighbors to the north and west, the Tongva are among the few New World peoples who regularly navigated the ocean. They built seaworthy canoes, called ti'at, using planks that were sewn together, edge to edge, and then caulked and coated with either pine pitch, or, more commonly, the tar that was available either from the La Brea Tar Pits, or as asphaltum that had washed up on shore from offshore oil seeps. These titi'at could hold as many as 12 people, their gear and the trade goods they were carrying to trade with other people along the coast or on the Channel Islands. The Tongva canoed out to greet Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo when he arrived off the shores of San Pedro Bay, near present day San Pedro in 1542.

Living in such a high growth area, many controversies have naturally arisen around land use issues relating to the Tongva. Conflicts between the Tongva and the rapidly expanding population of Los Angeles have often required resolution in the courts. Burial grounds have been inadvertently disturbed by developers.[1] The tribe has complained about bones being broken by archeologists studying a site at Playa Vista.[2] An important resolution was finally honored at the Playa Vista project site against the 'Westchester Bluffs' near the Ballona Wetlands estuary and by the historic natural course of Ballona Creek.

Modern place-names with Tongva origins include: Pacoima, Tujunga, Topanga, Rancho Cucamonga, Azusa, and Cahuenga Pass.

The name of their creation deity, Quaoar, has been used to name a large object in the Kuiper belt, and their sky god, Weywot has been used for its satellite. A 2,656-foot summit in the Verdugo Mountains, in Glendale, has been named Tongva Peak. The Gabrielino Trail is a 28-mile path through the Angeles National Forest.

In the 1990s, Kuruvungna Springs, a natural spring located on the site of a former Tongva village on the campus of University High School in West Los Angeles, was revitalized by the Gabrielino/Tongva Springs Foundation. The spring, which flows at 22,000 gallons per day, is considered by the Tongva to be one of their last remaining sacred sites and is regularly used for ceremonial events.

Another widely known controversy was over an area called Puvungna, which is the birthplace of the Tongva prophet Chingishnish, and is believed by some Tongva to be the place of creation. The site, formerly home to a Tongva village and also containing an active spring, is located on the grounds of what is today California State University, Long Beach. While a portion of Puvungna (a burial ground on the western edge of the campus) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nevertheless developers have repeatedly attempted, beginning in 1992, to build a strip mall in the area. They were blocked by the courts after petition by the Tongva for relief.

The library of Loyola Marymount University, located in Los Angeles (Westchester), has an extensive collection of archival materials related to the Tongva and their history.

Tribal Councils

There is no single organization accepted by the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation. This is largely because of a controversy regarding the opening of a casino on land that would be considered part of the Gabrielino/Tongva's homeland. The Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe (sometimes called the "slash" group) and Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (sometimes called the "hyphen" group) are the two primary factions advocating a casino for the Tongva nation and sharing of revenues to all tribal members. The Gabrielino/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel is the primary faction that does not support gaming for its members. None of the organizations are recognized by the federal government.

The San Gabriel council broke apart over concessions given to the developers of Playa Vista and a proposal to build an Indian casino in Compton, California. A Santa Monica faction (parents of the "slash" and "hyphen" groups) was formed which advocated gaming for the tribe. Both the San Gabriel council and Santa Monica faction sued each other over allegations that the San Gabriel faction removed members to increase shares for other members and that tribal records were stolen in order for the Santa Monica faction to gain federal recognition.[3] The San Gabriel faction has never advocated gaming.[4]

The "slash" and "hyphen" groups broke apart in September 2006 when tribal secretary Sam Dunlap and tribal attorney Jonathan Stein confronted each other over various alleged fiscal improprieties and derogatory comments made to each other.[5] Since that point, the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe has hired former state senator Richard Polanco to be its chief executive officer. The Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe has allied with Stein and issued warrants for the arrest of Polanco and the members of the Gabrielino-Tongva's tribal council.[6]

Stein's group, which is based in Santa Monica, has proposed a casino to be built in Garden Grove, California, approximately two miles south of Disneyland.[7] In September 2007, the city council of Garden Grove unanimously rejected the casino proposal, instead choosing to build a water park on the land.[8]


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber suggested a 1770 population of the Gabrielino of 5,000,[9] and most subsequent scholars have accepted this estimate.

Currently there are 1,500 or more members in the Tongva tribe.[10] The Tongva are currently working towards re-establishing long-lost family ties[11].

Recent archaeological research

In February 2006, archaeologists uncovered a prehistoric milling area estimated to be 8,000 years old at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains near Azusa, California. The find included about 100 tools used by the Tongva tribe.[12][13]

In 2007 and early 2008, over 174 ancient American Indian remains were unearthed by archaeologists at a development site of Brightwater Hearthside Homes in the Bolsa Chica Mesa area in Orange County, California. This land was once shared by both the Tongva and Acjachemem. The site was in legal limbo for years before Heartside was given permission to start construction of over 300 homes. Both Tongva and Acjachemem Indians are in dispute of over the remains and how to handle them.[14]

See also



  • Bean, Lowell John and Charles R. Smith. 1978. "Gabrielino" in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California), pp. 538–549. William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-004578-9/0160045754.
  • Heizer, Robert F., ed. 1968. The Indians of Los Angeles County: Hugo Reid's Letters of 1852. Southwest Museum Papers Number 21. Highland Park, Los Angeles.
  • Johnston, Bernice Eastman. 1962. California's Gabrielino Indians. Southwest Museum, Los Angeles.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • McCawley, William. 1996. The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles. Malki Museum Press, Banning, California. ISBN 0-9651016-1-4