|Los Angeles, seen from air, has grown to population of 4,031,001 (laist.com, May 2, 2016).|
|Tongva tribe's last survivor, Juana Maria (W)|
That includes those who are native to Southern California and indigenous peoples from across the country who have relocated here.
“As a teenager I got really frustrated when people would ask me, ‘Where are you from? What’s your heritage?’ and I would tell them. And they would know nothing about the indigenous people of this area. A lot of our own people didn’t even know.”
|L.A., now in drought, is not a desert but a semi-arid region.|
His ancestors, called "Gabrieleño" (people of the San Gabriel mountain range, which are the mountains above Los Angeles along the Gabrielino Trail) by the invading Spanish, were native to the L.A. basin before European settlers arrived.
Tongva: Natives of LA
|California islands of Chumash and Tongva|
That lack of access to accurate information about L.A.’s Native American communities sparked an idea with a group of researchers at UCLA.
“Really what we wanted to do is create kind of a virtual world where people would have access to the different-layered indigenous L.A.,” said Mishuana Goeman, a member of the Tonawanda band of Seneca Indians, and a professor at UCLA.
|Tongva sandpainting, Vajrayana Buddhist "sand mandala" style, Los Angeles (arcgis.com).|
Goeman and other faculty and student researchers are developing a new educational website called Mapping Indigenous LA.
|Mapping Indigenous LA|
“When we’re looking at everything around us in L.A., everything is fenced off, has boundaries, people own this, people own that,” said Desiree Martinez, a Tongva community member and an archaeologist.
“But for native communities, when we look at the land, it’s all connected. So we’re trying to document the way native people look at the land.”
The site points out some L.A. places that indigenous people see differently, like the area of downtown L.A. where indigenous slaves were once traded, or Kuruvunga Springs [at Uni High] near UCLA, which was once the center of a thriving Tongva village.
“Those places have been excavated archeologically, but you have to know where to find that information,” said Wendy Teeter, curator of archaeology for UCLA’s Fowler Museum and another researcher for the Mapping Indigenous L.A. project.
The site launched in October and is still in development, but the project goes beyond just information about the Tongva, Chumash, and other Southern California indigenous communities.
Los Angeles has become home to American Indians from across the country, as well as indigenous peoples from Latin America and Pacific Island nations, who relocated here voluntarily or through displacement over many generations. Goeman said each of those communities has its own history within L.A.
“That’s something we wanted to get at: how do you begin to make a place? It’s not like when you get here you forget all your old world.”
Goeman said the researchers are happy to provide the platform and hope community members will come forward to tell their own stories.
Goeman and her team said most of this information was publicly available before, but it has never been conveniently compiled in one place. The team hopes the Website will become a trustworthy resource for information that has been vetted by the communities represented.
|Launching a Dream: Reviving Tongva Maritime Traditions For the first time in more than 200 years, the Tongva community launched a Southern Californian Indian sewn plank-canoe (ti'at, Chumash tomol) into the channel waters off Catalina Island.|
In fact, census data shows the state has the highest number of residents with American Indian or Alaska Native heritage in the country -- over 700,000.
“If you’re there being presented with a live, living person, it really gets past that stereotype that Indian people are dead or still dying,” Goeman said.
“What people don’t realize is we’ve actually increased in numbers, and we’ve increased in knowledge and we’ve increased in the recovery of our languages through revitalization, and that’s kind of what we want to show, that vibrancy.” More + AUDIO
- SLIDESHOW: Saving Native American languages at Cal State U
- Mapping Indigenous LA project (Source: mila.ss.ucla.edu)
- Puvu Lecture Series: Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB), American Indian Studies (cla.csulb.edu)
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