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Tongva woman.jpg
Mrs. James Rosemyre (née Narcisa Higuera), photographed here in 1905, was one of the last fluent Tongva speakers. An informant for the ethnographer C. Hart Merriam, she was the source of the widely used endonym Tongva.[1]
Total population
Approximately 1,700
Regions with significant populations
United States United States (California California)
English, Spanish, formerly Tongva
Traditional tribal religion, Christianity

The Tongva (/ˈtɒŋvə/ TONG-və) or Kizh (pronounced Keech)[2][3][4] are a Native American people of Southern California. They historically inhabited the Los Angeles Basin and the Southern Channel Islands, an area covering approximately 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2), where they lived in as many as one hundred villages.[1][5] They primarily identified by their village name, rather than by a larger pan-tribal name.[2][6] During colonization, they were referred to as the Gabrieleño and Fernandeño people,[a] names derived from the Spanish missions built on their territory: Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and Mission San Fernando Rey de España.[b] Along with the neighboring Chumash, the Tongva were the most powerful indigenous people to inhabit Southern California. At the time of the European arrival, they may have numbered 5,000 to 15,000.[1][5]

Many lines of evidence suggest that the Tongva/Kizh are descended from Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples who originated in what is now Nevada, and moved southwest into coastal Southern California 3,500 years ago. According to a model proposed by archaeologist Don Laylander, these migrants either absorbed or pushed out the earlier Hokan-speaking inhabitants.[7][8] By 500 AD, the Tongva had come to occupy all the lands now associated with them.[7] A hunter-gatherer society, the Tongva traded widely with neighboring peoples. Over time, scattered communities came to speak distinct dialects of the Tongva language, part of the Takic subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan language family. There may have been five or more such languages (three on the southernmost Channel Islands and at least two on the mainland).[1] The Tongva language became extinct in the twentieth century, but a reconstructed form continues to be spoken today.

Initial Spanish exploration of the Los Angeles area occurred in 1542, but sustained contact with the Tongva came only after Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was constructed in 1771. This marked the beginning of an era of forced relocation and exposure to Old World diseases, leading to the rapid collapse of the Tongva population because of high mortality from the diseases.[9] At times the Tongva violently resisted Spanish rule, such as the 1785 rebellion led by the female chief Toypurina.[1] In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and the government sold mission lands to ranchers, forcing the Tongva to culturally assimilate. Three decades later, California was ceded to the United States following its success in the Mexican–American War. Although a California Senate Bill of 2008 asserts that the US government signed treaties with the Tongva, promising 8.5 million acres (3,400,000 ha) of land for reservations, and that these treaties were never ratified,[10] a paper published in 1972 by Robert Heizer of the University of California at Berkeley, shows that the eighteen treaties made between April 29, 1851, and August 22, 1852 were negotiated with persons who were not representing any actual "tribes", and that none of these persons had authority to cede lands that belonged to the Indians.[11] By the turn of the 20th century, the Island Tongva had disappeared and the mainland communities were also nearing extinction.[12]

Since 2006, four organizations have claimed to represent the Tongva Nation: the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, known as the "hyphen" group from the hyphen in their name;[13] the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe, known as the "slash" group;[14] the Kizh Nation (Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians);[15] and the Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council.[16] Two of the groups are the result of a hostile split over the question of building an Indian casino.[17] In 1994, the state of California recognized the Gabrielino "as the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin."[18] No organized group representing the Tongva has attained recognition as a tribe by the federal government.[10] In 2008, more than 1,700 people identified as Tongva or claimed partial ancestry.[10]


Photograph of Gabrieleño huts near Mission San Gabriel, California (1877–1880)
Photograph of Gabrieleño huts near Mission San Gabriel, California (1877–1880)


The word Tongva was recorded by C. Hart Merriam in October, 1903 from a single informant, a Gabrieleño woman named Mrs. James Rosemyre (née Narcisa Higuera), who lived around Fort Tejon, near Bakersfield.[19][1] Merriam could not pronounce the village name Toviscangna. He abbreviated or spelled it Tong-vā; by his orthography, it would be pronounced /ˈtɒŋv/, TONG-vay.[20] Since tribal members referred to themselves primarily by their village name rather than a "national" or "pan-tribal" name, similar to identifying with Greek city-states like Athens (Athenians) or Sparta (Spartans), Rosemyre was referring to her village name, not a overarching tribal name. Tongva was falsely promoted in the 1980s and 1990s until the point that it reached favorability.[2][3]

E. Gary Stickel, an expert in cultural resources,[21] observes that ethnologist John Peabody Harrington, who conducted extensive ethnographic work among the Southern California tribes, wrote in his notes (presently housed at the Smithsonian Institution archives) that the word tongva refers to where the Gabrieleño people ground their seeds on rocks, and that the noun must be accompanied by a positional prefix. Stickel writes that the term tongva has been used mistakenly to refer to the tribe "when, according to Harrington, it refers to what archaeologists call a 'bedrock mortar', which is a rock outcrop with depressions in it created by Indians pounding pestles into them to process acorns and other plant products."[22] Either "Gabrieleño" or "Gabrielino" is part of every official tribal name.[23][24][25][26]


The name Kizh (pronounced Keech), sometimes spelled Kij, comes from the first construction of Mission San Gabriel in 1771. The people of the surrounding villages who were used as slave laborers to construct the mission referred to themselves as "Kizh" and the Spanish hispanicized the term as "Kicherenos," as noted by ethnographer J.P. Harrington's consultant Raimundo Yorba. The word Kizh referred to the houses they lived in, "most of which were dome-shaped and made with a framework of willow branches and roofed over with thatching."[2][3] Following the destruction of the original mission, the Spanish relocated the mission five miles north and began to refer to the Kizh as "Gabrieleño."[2]

In 1846, scholar Horatio Hale used the term Kizh in a United States government report on “Ethnography and Philology.” Lieutenant A.W. Whipple used the term when publishing a “Report upon the Indian Tribes” in 1855 for the U.S. War Department. German scholar Johann Buschmann used the term in a study on the group's language in 1856 published in the German Royal Academy of Science. Noted scholars who used the term throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries include Robert Gordon Latham, Lewis H. Morgan, and Hermann E. Ludewig.[2] Kizh was widely used by scholars in the 19th and early 20th centuries but was eventually replaced by Gabrieleno.[2][3]

In 1875, H. C. Yarrow stated that the name Kizh was unknown at Mission San Gabriel. He reported that the natives called themselves Tobikhar, and spoke the Spanish language more than their own.[27] In 1885, Hoffman also referred to the natives as Tobikhar.[28] In 1900, David Prescott Barrows used the term Kizh and stated that use of the term Tobikhar was incorrect: "Mr. Gatschet is in error when he speaks of the Serrano and San Gabriel Indians calling themselves Takhtam and Tobikhar, respectively. The words are unknown as tribal designations among these Indians themselves, and precisely this point constitutes the objections to them.”[2]


Before the mission period

Photograph of a Mission Indian (Gabrieleño) woman filling a granary with acorns, ca.1898
Photograph of a Mission Indian (Gabrieleño) woman filling a granary with acorns, ca.1898

Prior to Russian and Spanish colonization in what is now referred to California, the Tongva/Kizh primarily identified by their associated villages (Topanga, Cahuenga, Tujunga, Cucamonga, etc.), similar to how "Greeks" identified by city-states such as Athens or Sparta (rather than as "Greeks") prior to the rise of Alexander the Great.[2] For example, an individual from Yaanga was called a Yabit. These terms were found in mission records.[6] The Tongva/Kizh lived in as many as one hundred villages.[5] One or two clans would usually constitute a village, which was the center of Tongva/Kizh life.[6]

The Tongva/Kizh spoke a language of the Uto-Aztecan family (the remote ancestors of the Tongva/Kizh probably coalesced as a people in the Sonoran Desert, between perhaps 3,000 and 5,000 years ago). The diversity within the Takic group is "moderately deep"; rough estimates by comparative linguists place the breakup of common Takic into the Luiseño-Juaneño on one hand, and the Tongva-Serrano on the other, at about 2,000 years ago. (This is comparable to the differentiation of the Romance languages of Europe).[29] The division of the Tongva-Serrano group into the separate Tongva and Serrano peoples is more recent, and may have been influenced by Spanish missionary activity.

The majority of Tongva/Kizh territory was located in what has been referred to as the Sonoran life zone, with rich ecological resources of acorn, pine nut, small game, and deer. On the coast, shellfish, sea mammals, and fish were available. Prior to Christianization, the prevailing Tongva/Kizh worldview was that that humans were not the apex of creation, but were rather one strand in the web of life. Humans, along with plants, animals, and the land were in a reciprocal relationship of mutual respect and care, which is evident in their creation stories.[30] The Tongva/Kizh understand time as nonlinear and there is constant communication with ancestors.[31]

On October 7, 1542, an exploratory expedition led by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo reached Santa Catalina in the Channel Islands, where his ships were greeted by Kizh in a canoe. The following day, Cabrillo and his men, the first Europeans known to have interacted with the Gabrieleño people, entered a large bay on the mainland, which they named "Baya de los Fumos" ("Bay of Smokes") on account of the many smoke fires they saw there. This is commonly believed to be San Pedro Bay, near present-day San Pedro.[32]

Colonization and the mission period (1771-1834)

Painting of Mission San Gabriel by Ferdinand Deppe (1832) showing a Gabrieleño kiiy thatched with tule.
Painting of Mission San Gabriel by Ferdinand Deppe (1832) showing a Gabrieleño kiiy thatched with tule.

Spanish Franciscan priests founded two missions in what is now Los Angeles County; the Gabrieleños lived in the area around Mission San Gabriel, founded in 1771, and the Fernandeños lived near Mission San Fernando, founded in 1797. Both groups have been designated as Gabrieleño. Although their language idioms were distinguishable, they did not diverge greatly, and it is possible there were as many as half a dozen dialects rather than the two which the existence of the missions has lent the appearance of being standard.[33] The demarcation of the Fernandeño and the Gabrieleño territories is mostly conjectural, and there is no known point in which the two groups differed markedly in customs. The wider Gabrieleño group occupied what is now Los Angeles County south of the Sierra Madre and half of Orange County, as well as the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente.[33]

The Spanish built Mission San Gabriel because, as quoted by Tribal Archaeologist E. Gary Stickel, "it was well-watered by the San Gabriel River and especially because it also had a good number of prominent populous villages (e.g. Shevaanga [Sibangna or Siba], Isantcangna, Houtngna, Ouitchingna, etc.)."[2] The Spanish colonizers used slave labor from these villages to construct the Mission. The people there referred to themselves as "Kizh" and the Spanish hispanicized the term to "Kicherenos," as noted by ethnographer J.P. Harrington's consultant Raimundo Yorba. The word Kizh referred to the houses they lived in. Following the destruction of the original mission, the Spanish relocated the mission five miles north and began referring to the Kizh as "Gabrieleno."[2] At the Gabrieleño settlement of Yangna (Yaangna) along the Los Angeles River, missionaries and Indian neophytes, or baptized converts, built the first town of Los Angeles in 1781. It was called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula (The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of Porziuncola). In 1784, a sister mission, the Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles Asistencia, was founded at Yaanga as well.[34]

Entire villages were baptized and indoctrinated into the mission system.[6] For example, from 1788 to 1815, natives of the village of Guaspet were baptized at San Gabriel. Proximity to the missions created mass tension for Native Californians, which initiated "forced transformations in all aspects of daily life, including manners of speaking, eating, working, and connecting with the supernatural."[6] As stated by scholars John Dietler, Heather Gibson, and Benjamin Vargas, "Catholic enterprises of proselytization, acceptance into a mission as a convert, in theory, required abandoning most, if not all, traditional lifeways." Various strategies of control were implemented to retain control, such as use of violence, segregation by age and gender, and using new converts as instruments of control over others.[6] For example, Mission San Gabriel's Father Zalvidea punished suspected shamans "with frequent flogging and by chaining traditional religious practitioners together in pairs and sentencing them to hard labor in the sawmill."[6] Carey McWilliams characterized the manner in which Franciscan padres treated California Natives as follows: "With the best theological intentions in the world, the Franciscan padres eliminated Indians with the effectiveness of Nazis operating concentration camps...."[35]

There is much evidence of Tongva/Kizh resistance to the mission system.[6][36] Many individuals returned to their village at time of death. Many converts retained their traditional practices in both domestic and spiritual contexts, despite the attempts by the padres and missionaries to control them. Traditional foods were incorporated into the mission diet and lithic and shell bead production and use persisted. More overt strategies of resistance such as refusal to enter the system, work slowdowns, abortion and infanticide of children resulting from rape, and fugitivism were also prevalent. Five major uprisings were recorded at Mission San Gabriel alone.[6] Two late-eighteenth century rebellions against the mission system were led by Nicolás José, who was an early convert that had two social identities: "publicly participating in Catholic sacraments at the mission but privately committed to traditional dances, celebrations, and rituals."[6] He participated in a failed attempt to kill the mission's priests in 1779 and organized eight foothill villages in a revolt in October 1785 with Toypurina, who further organized the villages,[37] which "demonstrated a previously undocumented level of regional political unification both within and well beyond the mission."[6] However, divided loyalties among the natives contributed to the failure of the 1785 attempt as well as mission soldiers being alerted of the attempt by converts or neophytes.[6]

Toypurina, José and two other leaders of the rebellion, Chief Tomasajaquichi of Juvit village and a man named Alijivit, from nearby village of Jajamovit, were put on trial for the 1785 rebellion.[38] At his trial, José stated that he participated because the ban at the mission on dances and ceremony instituted by the missionaries, and enforced by the governor of California in 1782, was intolerable as they prevented their mourning ceremonies.[6] When questioned about the attack, Toypurina is famously quoted in as saying that she participated in the instigation because “[she hated] the padres and all of you, for living here on my native soil, for trespassing upon the land of my forefathers and despoiling our tribal domains. . . . I came [to the mission] to inspire the dirty cowards to fight, and not to quail at the sight of Spanish sticks that spit fire and death, nor [to] retch at the evil smell of gunsmoke—and be done with you white invaders!’[38] This quote, from Thomas Workman Temple II's article “Toypurina the Witch and the Indian Uprising at San Gabriel” is arguably a mistranslation and embellishment of her actual testimony. According to the soldier who recorded her words, she stated simply that she ‘‘was angry with the Padres and the others of the Mission, because they had come to live and establish themselves in her land.’’[38] In June 1788, nearly three years later, their sentences arrived from Mexico City: Nicolás José was banned from San Gabriel and sentenced to six years of hard labour in irons at the most distant penitentiary in the region.[39] Toypurina was banished from Mission San Gabriel and sent to the most distant Spanish mission.

Resistance to Spanish rule demonstrated how the Spanish Crown's claims to California were both insecure and contested.[36] By the 1800s, San Gabriel was the richest in the entire colonial mission system, supplying cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, horses, mules, and other supplies for settlers and settlements throughout Alta California. The mission functioned as a plantation. In 1810, the "Gabrieleño" labor population at the mission was recorded at 1,201. It had jumped to 1,636 in 1820 and then declined to 1,320 in 1830. Nearly 6,000 Kizh lie buried in the grounds of the San Gabriel Mission.[40] In 1828, a German immigrant purchased the land on which the village of Yang-Na stood and evicted the entire community with the help of Mexican officials.[41]

Secularization under Mexican occupation (1834-1848)

Two Tongva/Kizh women pictured in 1830, during the Mexican period of rule and shortly before secularization of the mission system.
Two Tongva/Kizh women pictured in 1830, during the Mexican period of rule and shortly before secularization of the mission system.

The mission period ended in 1834 with secularization under Mexican rule.[6] Some "Gabrieleño" absorbed into Mexican society as a result of secularization, which emancipated the neophytes.[40] Kizh and other California Natives largely became workers while former Spanish elites were granted huge land grants.[40] Land was systemically denied to California Natives by Californio land owning men. In the Los Angeles basin area, only 20 former neophytes from San Gabriel Mission received any land from secularization. What they received were relatively small plots of land. A "Gabrieleño" by the name of Prospero Elias Dominguez was granted a 22-acre plot near the mission while Mexican authorities granted the remainder of the mission land, approximately 1.5 million acres, to a few colonist families. In 1846, it was noted by researcher Kelly Lytle Hernández that 140 Gabrielenos signed a petition demanding access to mission lands and that Californio authorities rejected their petition.[36]

Emancipated from enslavement in the missions yet barred from their own land, most Tongva/Kizh became landless refugees during this period. Entire villages fled inland to escape the invaders and continued devastation. Others moved to Los Angeles, a city which saw an increase in the Native population from 200 in 1820 to 553 in 1836 (out of a total population of 1,088).[36] As stated by scholar Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, "while they should have been owners, the Tongva/Kizh became workers, performing strenuous, back-breaking labor just as they had done ever since settler colonialism emerged in Southern California."[35] Some became vaqueros on the ranches, highly skilled horsemen or cowboys, herding and caring for the cattle. There was little land available to the Tongva/Kizh to use for food outside of the ranches. Some crops such as corn and beans were planted on ranchos to sustain the workers.[42]

The Native village of Yaanga also diversified and increased in size, with peoples of various Native backgrounds coming to live together shortly following secularization.[36] However, the government had instituted a system dependent on Native labor and servitude and increasingly eliminated any alternatives within the Los Angeles area. As explained by Kelly Lytle Hernández, "there was no place for Natives living but not working in Mexican Los Angeles. In turn, the ayuntamiunto (city council) passed new laws to compel Natives to work or be arrested."[36] In January 1836, the council directed Californios to sweep across Los Angeles to arrest "all drunken Indians."[36] As recorded by Hernández, "Tongva men and women, along with an increasingly diverse set of their Native neighbors, filled the jail and convict labor crews in Mexican Los Angeles."[36] By 1844, most Natives in Los Angeles worked as servants in a perpetual system of servitude, tending to the land and serving settlers, invaders, and colonizers.[36]

The ayuntamiunto forced the Native settlement of Yaangavit to move farther and father away from town. By the mid-1840s, the settlement was forcibly moved eastward across the Los Angeles River, placing a divide between Mexican Los Angeles and the nearest Native community. However, "Native men, women, and children continued to live (not just work) in the city. On Saturday Nights, they even held parties, danced, and gambled at the removed Yaanga village and also at the plaza at the center of town." In response, the Californios continued to attempt to control Native lives, issuing Alta California governor Pio Pico a petition in 1846 stating: "We ask that the Indians be placed under strict police surveillance or the persons for whom the Indians work give [the Indians] quarter at the employer's rancho."[36] In 1847, a law was passed that prohibited Gabrielenos from entering the city without proof of employment.[41] Shortly after, in 1848, Los Angeles formally became a town of the United States following the Mexican-American War.[36]

American occupation and continued subjugation (1848-)

Native peoples in Los Angeles faced continued violence, subjugation, and enslavement (through convict labor) under American occupation. Imprisonment of Natives was used in Los Angeles as a symbol of establishing the new "rule of law." The city's vigilante community would routinely "invade" the jail and hang the accused in the streets. Once congress granted statehood to California in 1850, many of the first laws passed targeted Natives for arrest, imprisonment, and convict labor. For example, the 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians "targeted Native peoples for easy arrest by stipulating that they could be arrested on vagrancy charges based 'on the complaint of any reasonable citizen.'" Native men were disproportionately targeted by criminalization. As was recorded by Anglo-American settlers, "'White men, whom the Marshal is too discreet to arrest' ... spilled out of the town's many saloons, streets, and brothels, but the aggressive and targeted enforcement of state and local vagrancy and drunk codes filled the Los Angeles County Jail with Natives, most of whom were men." Most spent their days working on the county chain gang, which was largely involved with keeping the city streets clean in the 1850s and 1860s but increasingly included road construction projects as well.[36]

In 1873, chain gangs were ordered by the city of Los Angeles to expand Fort Street (Broadway) in order to allow for Anglo-American Los Angeles to expand. While in 1848, Los Angeles had been a small town of Mexicans and Natives, by 1880 it was now home to an Anglo-American majority. As noted by historian Kelly Lytle Hernández, "Natives on the chain gang almost certainly worked the cut, making it possible for Anglo-American settlement to expand far beyond the city's historic core. Laws in the 1850s and 1860s now allowed for Natives to be auctioned "to the highest-bidding white employer." Auctions were held every Monday morning at the Los Angeles County Jail, which became a public spectacle for the city: "In the morning, the jailer tied the incarcerated Natives to a wood beam in front of the jail, allowing white employers to inspect and bid on them as convict laborers." Native labor was used to fuel the city's agricultural economy and build wealth for white employers. Natives were "payed" in aguardiente (liquor), which "kept the city's carceral wheel greased and spinning."[36]

Extinction myth (1900-)

By the early twentieth century, "Gabrieleño" identity had suffered greatly under American occupation as Natives were forced into the Anglo-American carceral system. Most began to publicly identify as Mexican, learned Spanish, and adopted Catholicism as a result while keeping their identity a secret.[41] It began to be perpetuated in the local press that the Tongva/Kizh/Gabrieleño people were extinct in the early 20th century. In February 1921, the Los Angeles Times declared that the death of Jose de los Santos Juncos, an Indigenous man who lived at Mission San Gabriel and was 106 years old at his time of passing, "marked the passing of a vanished race."[43] Scholars have noted that this extinction myth has proven to be "remarkably resilient."[43]

The continued denigration and denial of Tongva/Kizh/Gabrieleño identity perpetuated by educational institutions such as schools and museums has presented numerous obstacles for their descendants in the 20th and 21st centuries. Contemporary members have cited being denied the legitimacy of their identity. Tribal identity is also heavily hindered by a lack of federal recognition and having no land base.[43]


The Gabrieleño occupied the main part of the most fertile lowland of southern California, including a stretch of sheltered coast with a pleasant climate and abundant food resources,[44] and the most habitable of the Santa Barbara Islands. They were perhaps the most culturally advanced group south of the Tehachapi, and the wealthiest of the Uto-Aztecan speakers in California, dominating other native groups culturally wherever contacts occurred. Many of the cultural developments of the surrounding southern peoples had their origin with the Gabrieleño.[45]

Cultural resources

The Gabrieleño people had a concentrated population along the coast. They fished and hunted in the estuary of the Los Angeles River, and like the Chumash, their neighbors to the north and west along the Pacific coast, the Gabrieleño built seaworthy plank canoes, called te'aat, from driftwood. To build them, they used planks of driftwood pine that were sewn together with vegetable fiber cord, edge to edge, and then glued with the tar that was available either from the La Brea Tar Pits, or as asphalt that had washed up on shore from offshore oil seeps. The finished vessel was caulked with plant fibers and tar, stained with red ochre, and sealed with pine pitch. The te'aat, as noted by the Sebastián Vizcaíno expedition, could hold up to 20 people[46] as well as their gear and trade goods. These canoes allowed the development of trade between the mainland villages and the offshore islands, and were important to the region's economy and social organization,[47][48] with trade in food and manufactured goods being carried on between the people on the mainland coast and people in the interior as well. The Gabrieleño regularly paddled their canoes to Catalina Island, where they gathered abalone,[49] which they pried off the rocks with implements made of fragments of whale ribs or other strong bones.[50]

The Gabrieleño proper called themselves kumi.vit.[51] Their villages were located in places with accessible drinking water, protection from the elements, and productive areas where different ecological niches on the land intersected. Situating their villages at these resource islands enabled the Gabrieleño to gather the plant products of two or more zones in close proximity.[52]

The Gabrieleño did not practice horticulture or agriculture, as their well-developed hunter-gatherer and trade economy provided adequate food resources.[53][54][55] Living in the mild climate of southern California, the men and children usually went nude, and women wore only a two-piece skirt, the back part being made from the flexible inner bark of cottonwood or willow, or occasionally deerskin. The front apron was made of cords of twisted dog bane or milkweed. People went barefoot except in rough areas where they wore crude sandals made of yucca fiber.[56] In cold weather, they wore robes or capes made from twisted strips of rabbit fur, deer skins, or bird skins with the feathers still attached. Also used as blankets at night, these were made of sea otter skins along the coast and on the islands.[57]

Households consisted of a main house (kiiy) and temporary camp shelters used during food gathering excursions. In the summer, families who lived near grasslands collected roots, seeds, flowers, fruit, and leafy greens, and in the winter families who lived near chaparral shrubland collected nuts and acorns, yucca, and hunted deer. Some prairie communities moved to the coast in the winter to fish, hunt whales and elephant seals, and harvest shellfish. Those villages located on the coast during the summer went on food collecting trips inland during the winter rainy season to gather roots, tubers, corms, and bulbs of plants including cattails, lilies, and wild onions.[58][59]

Men performed most of the heavy, short-duration labor; they hunted, fished, helped with some food-gathering, and carried on trade with other cultural groups. Large game animals were hunted with bow and arrows, and small game was taken with deadfall traps, snares, and bows made of buckeye wood.[60] John P. Harrington recorded that the Gabrieleño used rattlesnake venom as an arrow poison.[61] Burrowing animals were driven from their burrows with smoke and clubbed; communal rabbit drives were made during the seasonal controlled burning of chaparral on the prairie,[52] the rabbits being killed with nets, bow and arrows, and throwing sticks.[62]

The Gabrieleño used harpoons, spear-throwers, and clubs to hunt marine mammals. Fishing was done from shorelines or along rivers, streams, and creeks with hook and line, nets, basketry traps, spears, bow and arrows, and poisons made from plants. The women collected and prepared plant and some animal food resources and made baskets, pots, and clothing. In their old age, they and the old men cared for the young and taught them Gabrieleño lifeways.[62]

Gabrieleño material culture and technology reflected a sophisticated knowledge of the working properties of natural materials and a highly developed artisanship, shown in many articles of everyday utility decorated with shell inlay, carving, and painting.[63] Most of these items, including baskets, shell tools, and wooden weapons, were extremely perishable. Soapstone from quarries on Catalina Island was used to make cooking implements, animal carvings, pipes, ritual objects, and ornaments.[64]

Using the stems of rushes (Juncus sp .), grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), and squawbush (Rhus trilobata), women fabricated coiled and twined basketry in a three-color pattern for household use, seed collecting, and ceremonial containers to hold grave offerings.[64] They sealed some baskets, such as water bottles, with asphalt to make watertight containers for holding liquids.[65]

The Gabrieleño used the leaves of tule reeds as well as those of cattails to weave mats and thatch their shelters.[59] Bread was made from the yellow pollen of cattail heads, and the underground rhizomes were dried and ground into a starchy meal.[58][59] The young shoots were eaten raw.[66]

The seeds of chia, a herbaceous plant of the sage family, were gathered in large quantities when they were ripe. The flower heads were beaten with a paddle over a tightly woven basket to collect the seeds. These were dried or roasted and ground into a flour called "pinole," which was often mixed with the flour of other ground seeds or grains. Water was added to make a cooling drink; mixing with less water yielded a kind of porridge that could be baked into cakes.[67][68]

Acorn mush was a staple food of the Gabrieleños, as it was of all the Mission Indians. Acorns were gathered in October; this was a communal effort with the men climbing the trees and shaking them while the women and children collected the nuts.[68] The acorns were stored in large wicker granaries supported by wooden stakes well above the ground. Preparing them for food took about a week. Acorns were placed, one at a time, on end in the slight hollow of a rock and their shells broken by a light blow from a small hammerstone; then the membrane, or skin, covering the acorn meat was removed. Following this process the acorn meats were dried for days,[69] after which the kernels were pounded into meal with a pestle. This was done in a stone mortar or in a mortar hole in a boulder. Large bedrock outcroppings near oak stands often display evidence of the community mills where the women labored.[50][68]

The pounded acorn meal was put into baskets and the bitter tannic acid it contained was leached out to make the meal more palatable and digestible.[68] The prepared meal was cooked by boiling in water in a watertight grass-woven basket or in a soapstone bowl into which heated stones were dropped. Soapstone casseroles were used directly over the fire. Various foods of meat, seeds, or roots were cooked by the same method.[50] The mush thus prepared was eaten cold or nearly so, as was all their food. Another favored Gabrieleño food was the seed kernel of a species of plum (prunus ilicifolia) they called islay, which was ground into meal and made into gruel.[67][70]

Reciprocity and sharing of resources were important values in Gabrieleño culture. Hugo Reid reported that the hoarding of food supplies was so stigmatized by the Gabrieleño moral code that hunters would give away large portions of coveted foods such as fresh meat, and that under some circumstances, hunters were prohibited from eating their own kill or fishermen from eating their own catch.[71][59]

In the Gabrieleño economic system, food resources were managed by the village chief, who was given a portion of the yield of each day's hunting, fishing, or gathering to add to the communal food reserves. Individual families stored some food to be used in times of scarcity. The Gabrieleño territory was the center of a flourishing trade network that extended from the Channel Islands as far east as the Colorado River, allowing the Gabrieleño to maintain trade relations with the Cahuilla, Serrano, Luisenio, Chumash, and Mojave cultural groups.[52][72]

Contemporary tribe

The earliest ethnological surveys of the Christianized population of the San Gabriel area, who were then known by the Spanish as Gabrielino, were conducted in the mid-19th century. By this time, their pre-Christian religious beliefs and mythology were already fading. The Gabrieleño language was on the brink of extinction by 1900, so only fragmentary records of the indigenous language and culture of the Gabrieleño have been preserved. Gabrieleño was one of the Cupan languages in the Takic language group, which is part of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages. It may be considered a dialect with Fernandeño, but it has not been a language of everyday conversation since the 1940s. The Gabrieleño people now speak English but a few are attempting to revive their language by using it in everyday conversation and ceremonial contexts. Presently, Gabrieleño is also being used in language revitalization classes and in some public discussion regarding religious and environmental issues.[34]

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.

In the 21st century, an estimated 1,700 people self-identify as members of the Tongva or Gabrieleño tribe.[10] In 1994, the state of California recognized the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (Spanish: Tribu de Gabrieleño-Tongva)[73] and the Fernandino-Tongva Tribe (Spanish: Tribu de Fernandeño-Tongva),[74] but neither has gained federal recognition.

The Gabrieleño/Tongva people do not accept one organization or government as representing them. They have had strong internal disagreements about governance and their future, largely related to plans supported by some members to open a gaming casino on land that would be considered part of the Gabrieleño/Tongva's homeland. Gaming casinos have generated great revenues for many Native American tribes, but not all Tongva people believe the benefits outweigh negative aspects. 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, with sharing of revenues by all the people. The Gabrielino/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel is the primary faction that does not support gaming. None of these organizations is recognized as a tribe by the federal government.

History of organizations and casino dispute

In 1990, the Gabrielino/Tongva of San Gabriel filed for federal recognition. Other Gabrieleño groups have done the same. The Gabrielino/Tongva of California Tribal Council and the Coastal Gabrielino-Diegueno Band of Mission Indians filed federal petitions in 1997. These applications for federal recognition remain pending.

The San Gabriel group gained acknowledgement of its nonprofit status by the state of California in 1994. In 2001, the San Gabriel council divided over concessions given to the developers of Playa Vista and a proposal to build an Indian casino in Compton, California. A Santa Monica faction formed that advocated gaming for the tribe, which the San Gabriel faction opposed.

The San Gabriel council and Santa Monica faction sued each other over allegations that the San Gabriel faction expelled some members in order to increase gaming shares for other members. There were allegations that the Santa Monica faction stole tribal records in order to support its case for federal recognition.[75]

In September 2006, the Santa Monica faction divided into the "slash" and "hyphen" groups: the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe and Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe.[76] Tribal secretary Sam Dunlap and tribal attorney Jonathan Stein confronted each other over various alleged fiscal improprieties and derogatory comments made to each other.[77][78] Since that time, the slash group has hired former state senator Richard Polanco as its chief executive officer. The hyphen group has allied with Stein and issued warrants for the arrest of Polanco and members of the slash group.[79]

Stein's group (hyphen), the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, is based in Santa Monica. It has proposed a casino to be built in Garden Grove, California, approximately two miles south of Disneyland.[80] In September 2007, the city council of Garden Grove unanimously rejected the casino proposal, instead choosing to build a water park on the land.[81]

Land use issues

Controversies have arisen in contemporary California related to land-use issues and Native American rights, including those of the Tongva. Since the late twentieth century, both the state and the United States governments have improved respect of indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty. The Tongva have challenged local development plans in the courts in order to protect and preserve some of their sacred grounds. Given the long indigenous history in the area, not all archeological sites have been identified.

Sometimes land developers have inadvertently disturbed Tongva burial grounds.[82] The tribe denounced archeologists breaking bones of ancestral remains found during an excavation of a site at Playa Vista.[83] 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.[citation needed]

In the 1990s, the Gabrielino/Tongva Springs Foundation revived use of the Kuruvungna Springs for sacred ceremonies. The natural springs are located on the site of a former Tongva village, now developed as the campus of University High School in West Los Angeles. The Tongva consider the springs, which flow at 22,000 gallons per day, to be one of their last remaining sacred sites and they regularly make them the centerpiece of ceremonial events.[citation needed]

The Tongva have another sacred area known as Puvungna. They have believed it is the birthplace of the Tongva prophet Chingishnish, and many believe it to be the place of creation. The site contains an active spring and the area was formerly inhabited by a Tongva village. It has been developed as part of the grounds of California State University, Long Beach. A portion of Puvungna, a Tongva burial ground on the western edge of the campus, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1992, developers have repeatedly tried to build a strip mall in the area. The Tongva petitioned the courts for relief, which blocked the development.[citation needed]

Traditional narratives

Tongva/Gabrieleño/Fernandeño oral literature is relatively little known, due to their early Christianization in the 1770s by Spanish missions in California. The available evidence suggests strong cultural links with the group's linguistic kin and neighbors to the south and east, the Luiseño and the Cahuilla.[84]

According to Kroeber (1925), the pre-Christian Tongva had a "mythic-ritual-social six-god pantheon". The principal deity was Chinigchinix, also known as Quaoar. Another important figure is Weywot, the god of the sky, who was created by Quaoar.[85] Weywot ruled over the Tongva, but he was very cruel, and he was finally killed by his own sons. When the Tongva assembled to decide what to do next, they had a vision of a ghostly being who called himself Quaoar, who said he had come to restore order and to give laws to the people. After he had given instructions as to which groups would have political and spiritual leadership, he began to dance and slowly ascended into heaven.[86]

Astronomers have used the name of Quaoar to name a large object in the Kuiper belt, 50000 Quaoar (2002), and named its satellite as Weywot (2009).[85]


From the Spanish colonial period, Tongva place names have been absorbed into general use in Southern California. Examples include: Pacoima, Tujunga, Topanga, Rancho Cucamonga, Azusa, and Cahuenga Pass.

In other cases, toponyms or places have been recently named to honor the indigenous peoples. The Gabrielino Trail is a 28-mile path through the Angeles National Forest, created and named in 1970.[87]

A 2,656-foot summit in the Verdugo Mountains, in Glendale, was named Tongva Peak in 2002, following a proposal by Richard Toyon.[88][89][90]

Tongva Park[91] is a 6.2-acre park in Santa Monica, California. The park is located just south of Colorado Avenue, between Ocean Avenue and Main Street. The park includes an amphitheater, playground, garden, fountains, picnic areas, and restrooms. The park was dedicated on October 13, 2013.

Notable Tongva

  • Chief Red Blood Anthony Morales, chairman and tribal leader of the Gabrieleño/Tongva of the San Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians. In 2008, he received the "Heritage Award" from the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.
  • L. Frank, artist, author, indigenous language activist
  • Adele Perez Dominguez, (b. 1917), is one of the last full-blooded Gabrieleño-Tongva tribal elders; she is the great-granddaughter of the lineal chief Captain Romero and great-aunt of chief Red Blood Anthony Morales.[citation needed]
  • Jimi Castillo, Gabrielino/Tongva Elder, Pipe Carrier, and member of the State-Wide Bear Clan. In 2016, Jimi received the Heritage Award from the Aquarium of the Pacific, and the Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award from the Obama White House for his work in the Native Community.
  • Reginald "Reggie" Rodriguez, (b. 15 October 1948–d. 17 February 1969) a Vietnam War hero.[92] Reggie Rodriguez Park in Montebello, California is named in his honor[93] and is an 11-acre (4.5 ha) area on which the Reggie Rodriguez Community Center is located, noted for its unique architecture and providing a central location for activities for the at-risk youth population in the city. Reginald was a direct descendant of the San Gabriel Mission Indians (Tongva) with family buried on mission grounds.
  • Nicolás José, led two late-eighteenth century revolts against the Spanish colonizers in 1779 and 1785 in collaboration with Toypurina.[6]
  • Toypurina (1760–1799) was a Tongva-Gabrieliño Native American medicine woman who opposed the rule of colonization by Spanish missionaries in California, and led an unsuccessful rebellion against them.

See also


  1. ^ Alternate spellings include Gabrielino and Fernardino.
  2. ^ The Spanish did not always differentiate between communities or ethnic groups. For example, the Spanish referred to both the Tongva in the San Fernando Valley and the nearby Tataviam people, who spoke a different language, as "Fernandeño," because they were covered by that mission.
  1. ^ a b c d e f Lepowsky, M. (2004). "Indian revolts and cargo cults: Ritual violence and revitalization in California and New Guinea". In Harkin, M. E. (ed.). Reassessing revitalization movements: Perspectives from North America and the Pacific Island. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. p. 51, note 1. ISBN 978-0-8032-2406-3. Archived from the original on November 3, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stickel, E. Gary (September 27, 2017). "Why the Original Indian Tribe of the Greater Los Angeles Area is Called Kizh not Tongva" (PDF). Kizh Tribal Press: 1–5.
  3. ^ a b c d Scalf, Darlene (June 14, 2018). "Native American Kizh tribe called this area home". Fontana Herald News.
  4. ^ "KIZH NATION (Pronounced Keech), Gabrieleño Band Of Mission Indians". KIZH Nation. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Strawther, Larry (2014). "The Basics". Seal Beach: A Brief History. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781625850355.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dietler, John; Gibson, Heather; Vargas, Benjamin (2018). ""A Mourning Dirge Was Sung": Community and Remembrance at Mission San Gabriel". Forging Communities in Colonial Alta California. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 9780816538928.
  7. ^ a b Sutton, M. Q. (2009). "People and language: Defining the Takic expansion into southern California" (PDF). Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly. 41 (1–2): 34. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 3, 2013. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  8. ^ Kerr, S. L.; Georganna, M. H. (2002). "Population replacement on the Southern Channel Islands: New evidence from San Nicolas Island" (PDF). Proceedings of the Fifth California Islands Symposium. Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: 546–554. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 4, 2015. Retrieved August 18, 2013.
  9. ^ Castillo, E. D. (1994). "Gender status decline, resistance, and accommodation among female neophytes in the missions of California: A San Gabriel case study". American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 18 (1): 67–93. doi:10.17953/aicr.18.1.u861u35618852412. Archived from the original on August 20, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2013.
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Works cited
Further reading
  • 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.
  • Johnson, J. R. Ethnohistory of West S.F. Valley, CA State Parks, 2006
  • Johnston, Bernice Eastman. 1962. California's Gabrielino Indians. Southwest Museum, Los Angeles.
  • Kroeber, A. L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin. Washington : G.P.O. Retrieved September 16, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  • McCawley, William. 1996. The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles. Malki Museum Press, Banning, California. ISBN 0-9651016-1-4
  • Williams, Jack S., The Tongva of California, Library of Native Americans of California, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 978-0-8239-6429-1.

External links

Tribal council websites
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