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Tongva people

Mrs. James Rosemeyre (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 ( California)
Tongva, English, Spanish
Traditional tribal religion, Christianity

The Tongva ( ) are Native Americans who inhabited the Los Angeles Basin and the Southern Channel Islands, an area covering approximately 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2).[1] The Tongva are also known as the Gabrieleño, Fernandeño, and Nicoleño[1]—Europeanized names that were assigned to the Tongva after Spanish colonization. Gabrieleño and Fernandeño are derived from the names of Spanish missions built on or near the tribes' territory—Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and Mission San Fernando Rey de España, respectively—while Nicoleño is derived from San Nicolas Island.[2] Along with the neighboring Chumash, the Tongva were the most powerful indigenous people to inhabit Southern California. At the time of European contact, they may have numbered 5,000 to 10,000.[1]

Many lines of evidence suggest that the Tongva are descended of Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples from Nevada who moved southwest into coastal Southern California 3,500 years ago. These migrants either absorbed or pushed out the Hokan-speaking peoples in the region.[2][3] By 500 AD the Tongva had come to occupy all the lands now associated with them.[2] 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 dialects (three on the 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.[4] 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 the Mexican–American War. The US government signed treaties with the Tongva promising 8.5 million acres (3,400,000 ha) of land for reservations, but these treaties were never ratified.[5] By the turn of the 20th century, the Island Tongva had disappeared and the mainland communities were also nearing extinction.

The [7] the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe, known as the "slash" group;[8] the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians;[9] and the Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council.[10] Two of the groups are the result of a hostile split over the question of building an Indian casino.[11] In 1994, the state of California recognized the Tongva "as the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin," but no group representing the Tongva has attained recognition by the federal government.[5] In 2008, more than 1,700 people identified as Tongva or claimed partial ancestry.[5]


  • Name 1
  • History 2
    • Pre-history 2.1
    • Recorded history 2.2
  • Contemporary tribe 3
    • History of organizations and casino dispute 3.1
    • Land use issues 3.2
  • Traditional narratives 4
  • Toponymy 5
  • Notable Tongva 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


A portrait of a Tongva woman, possibly Juana Maria, the last survivor of her tribe and the last known speaker of Nicoleño.

The first record of an endonym for the Tongva people was Kizh (also spelled Kij), from 1846.[12] Although subsequent authors[13] equated this with the word for "house" (also often spelled kizh), Hale gives the word for house as kītç in a list where the language was called "Kīj", suggesting that the words were distinct.[14] The term Kizh was generally used at that time to designate the language, and the first comprehensive publication on the language used it.[15]

In 1875, Yarrow indicated that the name Kizh was unknown at Mission San Gabriel. He reported that the natives called themselves Tobikhar, meaning "settlers", and spoke almost exclusively Spanish.[13] In 1885, Hoffman also referred to the natives as Tobikhar.[16]

The word Tongva was recorded by Merriam in 1903 from a single informant. He spelled it Tong-vā; by his orthography, it would be pronounced , .[17]

The name Tongva has become increasingly preferred as a self-designation since the 1990s, although either "Gabrieleño" or "Gabrielino" is part of every official name.[18] The Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel on their website say that Tongva means "people of the earth."[19] There is no independent evidence for this.



The territory which in historical times was occupied by the Tongva had been inhabited since at least 8,000 years ago. A prehistoric milling area estimated to be 8,000 years old was discovered in 2006 at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains near Azusa, California. The find yielded arrowheads, hearths and stone slabs used to grind seeds as well as tools and implements, but no human or animal bones.[20] The Chowigna site in Palos Verdes, California, excavated in the 1930s, dates back 7,100 years or more.[21]

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 the Tongva and Acjachemem tribes. The site was in legal limbo for years before Hearthside was given permission to start construction of over 300 homes. The Tongva and Acjachemem Indians are in dispute over the remains and how to handle them.[22]

As speakers of a language of the Uto-Aztecan family, the remote ancestors of the Tongva probably coalesced as a people in the Sonoran Desert, between perhaps 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.[23] This was a center of that language family.

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 (comparable to the proliferation of the Romance languages of Europe).[24] 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.

Recorded history

Territory historically inhabited by the Tongva relative to those of the other Takic-speaking groups

The first Europeans arrived in the Los Angeles area in 1542, when Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo reached San Pedro Bay, near present-day San Pedro. Cabrillo stated that his ship was greeted by indigenous people in canoes.

The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was established by Spanish Franciscan missionaries in 1771. The Tongva/Gabrielino population numbered about 5,000 at this time.[25] Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834.

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, the pre-Christian religious beliefs and mythology were already fading. The Tongva language was on the brink of extinction by 1900, so only fragmentary records of the indigenous language and culture of the Tongva have been preserved.

Along with the Chumash – their neighbors to the north and west – and other tribes along the Pacific coast, the Tongva built seaworthy canoes which they called ti'at. To build them, they used 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. The titi'at could hold as many as 12 people, their gear and the trade goods which they carried to trade with other people along the coast or on the Channel Islands.

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.

Contemporary tribe

In the 21st century, an estimated 1,700 people self-identify as members of the Tongva or Gabrielino tribe.[5] In 1994, the state of California recognized the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (Spanish: Tribu de Gabrieleño-Tongva) and the Fernandino-Tongva Tribe (Spanish: Tribu de Fernandeño-Tongva), but neither has gained federal recognition.

The Gabrielino/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 Gabrielino/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 1994, the Gabrielino/Tongva of San Gabriel filed for federal recognition. Other Gabrielino 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.[26]

In September 2006 the Santa Monica faction divided into the "slash" and "hyphen" groups: the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe and Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe. Tribal secretary Sam Dunlap and tribal attorney Jonathan Stein confronted each other over various alleged fiscal improprieties and derogatory comments made to each other.[27] 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.[28]

Stein's group (hyphen), the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribem is based in Santa Monica. It has proposed a casino to be built in Garden Grove, California, approximately two miles south of Disneyland.[29] In September 2007, the city council of Garden Grove unanimously rejected the casino proposal, instead choosing to build a water park on the land.[30]

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 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.[31] The tribe denounced archeologists breaking bones of ancestral remains found during an excavation of a site at Playa Vista.[32] 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.

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.

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.

Replica of a Tongva ki

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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

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).[34]


From the Spanish colonial period, Tongva place names have been absorbed into general use in 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.[36]

A 2,656-foot summit in the Verdugo Mountains, in Glendale, was named Tongva Peak in 2002, following a proposal by one Richard Toyon.[37]

Tongva Park[38] 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 prestigious “Heritage Award” from the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.
  • L. Frank, artist, author, indigenous language activist
  • Juana Maria, the last known speaker of Nicoleño and the last surviving member of her tribe
  • Adele Perez Dominguez, (b.1917), at age 97 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.
  • Julia Louise Bogany, a Gabrieleño/Tongva Elder, and a member of the San Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians in the San Gabriel Valley.
  • Irene Verdugo, also known as Irene Valenzuela (b.1919), one of the oldest living descendants of the San Gabriel band of Mission Indians.
  • Reginald "Reggie" Rodriguez, (b. 15 October 1948–d. 17 February 1969) a Vietnam War hero.[39] Reggie Rodriguez Park in Montebello, CA is named in his honor[40] and is a 11 acres (4.5 ha) area on which is located the Reggie Rodriguez Community Center, noted for its unique architecture and providing a central location for activities for the at-risk youth population in the city.[41]Reginald was a direct descendant of the San Gabriel Mission Indians (Tongva) with family buried on mission grounds.

See also


  1. ^ Alternate spellings include Gabrielino and Fernardino.
  2. ^ Spanish names 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."


  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  
  2. ^ 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): 31–93. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  3. ^ 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. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b c d  
  6. ^ "Not Tongva". Kizh Nation. Gabrieliño Tribal Council, San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians. Retrieved 19 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe
  8. ^ Gabrieliño/Tongva Nation Tribal Council
  9. ^
  10. ^ Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel
  11. ^ "Battle over a casino plan divides Gabrielino Indians" Los Angeles Times (November 26, 2006)
  12. ^ Hale, Horatio. 1846, Ethnology and Philology. United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 under the command of Charles Wilkes, USN. Open Library
  13. ^ a b Yarrow, H.C. 1875. "Report on the operations of a special party for making ethnological researches in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, Cal., with an historical account of the region explored." Appendix H 13. p. 556 in Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War for the Year 1876. Google Books
  14. ^ p. 556
  15. ^ Buschmann, Johann Karl Eduard. 1855. Die Sprachen Kizh und Netela von Neu-Californien. Berlin: Kŏnigliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, Abhandlungen: 501-531.
  16. ^ Hoffman, W.J. 1885. "Notes on Hugo Ried's Account of the Indians of Los Angeles, California," in Bulletin of the Essex Institute. Vol 17, p 26.
  17. ^ McCawley, William. 1996. The First Angelinos. Malki Museum Press.
  18. ^ Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians, Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel, Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe of the Los Angeles Basin
  19. ^ "'Tongva' means people of the earth, in our language." website of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel (, September 2001.
  20. ^ "Prehistoric mill", USA Today, 3 March 2006; [4]Mercury News
  21. ^ Frazier, Sara. "Protohistoric burial practices of the Gabrieleno as evidenced by the comparison of funerary objects from three Southern California sites" (PDF). Solstice Archaeological Consulting: 169–176. Retrieved 2014-03-15. 
  22. ^ "Will Huntington Beach homes sit on ancient burial ground?", Orange County Register
  23. ^ Jane H. Hill, "Proto-Uto-Aztecan", American Anthropologist, 2001.
  24. ^ Victor Golla, California Indian Languages, University of California Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-520-26667-4, p. 178f.
  25. ^ estimate by Kroeber (1925), p.883
  26. ^ Christine Pelisek, "Casino Nation - Indians and tribal war over a club in Compton", LA Weekly, 8 April 2004.
  27. ^ Capitol Weekly
  28. ^ Capitol Weekly
  29. ^ News: "Lawyer drives casino plan", Orange County Register
  30. ^ News: "Garden Grove City Council votes down casino proposal", Orange County Register
  31. ^ Schwarzberg, Robert; "Displacement of the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians"
  32. ^ Williams, Jennifer L., "Grave Disturbances: Been Digging Lately"
  33. ^ Kroeber (1925) pp. 623-626 has fragments of myths, with comparisons. McCawley (1996) includes previously unpublished narratives collected in 1914-1933 by John Peabody Harrington, pp. 174-178. Heizer (1968) notes that Hugo Reid's letter of 1852 contains what he describes as a kind of Orpheus legend.
  34. ^ a b Lakdawalla, Emily. "Two new names in the solar system: Herse and Weywot", The Planetary Society. 12 Nov 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  35. ^ Williams (2003), pp. 30-33.
  36. ^ "several existing trails were renamed to make a 'new' 28.5 mile trail in 1970" (
  37. ^ Carol Chambers, "One Man's Crusade to Take a Peak Into History", Los Angeles Times, 13 August 2001.
    In September of 2002, Mr. Toyon was successful in lobbying congress in Washington, D.C. and in Sacramento, to persuade the U.S. Geological Survey to officially name a prominent peak in the Verdugo Mountains, Tongva Peak, in honor of the first people of the Los Angeles basin. Later that year, the peak was dedicated and the plaque that names the mountain sits imbedded in a boulder on the summit of Tongva Peak in perpetuity. TERA (The Eagle Rock Association)[5], January 2006
  38. ^ [6]
  39. ^
  40. ^ Montebello, California#cite note-42
  41. ^
  • 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.
    • The Indians of Los Angeles CountyReid, Hugo. (1852), , full text available online at Library of Congress
  • 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. 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
  • 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
  • Gabrieliño/Tongva Nation Tribal Council
  • Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel
  • archives(Gabrieliños)Tongva at UCLA.
  • Antelope Valley Indian Museum; online collections database; use 'search' to see many Tongva artifacts.
  • Tongva Exhibit, Heritage Park, Santa Fe Springs, California
  • Gabrieleño-Tongva Mission Indians, KCET
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