Friday, March 6, 2020

Who were the native people of Los Angeles?

Kizh Nation Tribal Archeologist Dr. Gary Stickel, Ph.D. (UCLA),, The Pasadena Star-News, 9/11/17; Dhr. Seven, Xochitl, Ashley Wells (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Chief Ernest Salas Teutimes with modern day Kizh descendants, Los Angeles (

The original Native American or American Indian tribe of the greater Los Angeles basin and Orange County area has been referred to variously as the Tongva, Gabrielinos, and so on — which has lead to much confusion.

Let us clarify what they were called and what some prefer to be called today: Kizh. They do not want to be called Tongva -- and certainly not the Spanish colonial Catholic name "Gabrielinos" -- which for some reason caught on in the media and academia.

Prior to California's invasion by foreign nations by both the Spanish and Russian empires in the 1700s, California tribes had no pan-tribal names for themselves such as the ones North Americans are used to, such as the Cherokee or Navajo.

The local Kizh people identified themselves with their associated resident village, such as Topanga, Cahuenga, Tujunga, Pasadenga, or Cucamonga. This is how it was in ancient Greece; prior to Alexander the Great, the people there did not consider themselves "Greeks" but instead identified themselves with their city states, such as Athens or Sparta.

Getting the history right.
A problem in the nomenclature of the people came in the 20th century. Anthropologists, most notably the renowned Prof. A.L. Kroeber from the University of California at Berkeley, inappropriately referred to the Southern California tribe as "the Gabrielinos."

He was the first to deeply research and publish the history of California natives based on their subjugation by Catholic priests at the San Gabriel Mission. Their culture was thousands of years old, possibly more than 10,000 years old, before Spain brought Roman Catholicism.

Toypurina (Ernest Salas Teutimes)
The Joan of Arc of California was the unsung heroine Toypurina, who was the only female to lead an uprising against an invading foreign power. It was ultimately unsuccessful because the plot was discovered by soldiers, and she was arrested, sent away from her family and children, and forced to marry a white man.

The Kizh
Is "Kizh" any improvement? The origin of the name is the type of homes they built, which were neither teepees nor wigwams nor long houses. When the imperial Spanish soldiers and priests invaded the local territory in 1771, they set up headquarters at Whittier Narrows, 15 miles east of today’s downtown Los Angeles.

The occupying Spanish used the people from those villages as slave labor to build the first concentration camp called the "San Gabriel Mission" as part of the conquest, ethnic cleansing, and slow genocide.

Because the native people of Whittier Narrows collectively called themselves Kizh (pronounced keech), the Spanish referred to them as Kicherenos, a Hispanic term for the Kizh people. The word kizh refers to the houses they lived in, most of which were dome-shaped and made of a thatched framework of willow branches.

After a few years the first mission compound was washed away by floods, possibly an El Nino condition. So the Spanish decided to move their outpost five miles north. Again using slave labor they built a new San Gabriel Mission in the modern-day City of San Gabriel in 1774.

Once the mission was relocated, the Spanish eventually dropped the term Kichereno and replaced it with Gabrieleno, when referring to the natives near the foothills they called the San Gabriel mountains.

Scholars continued to use Kizh, using various spellings. In 1871 the noted scholar Lewis H. Morgan published his “System of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” through the Smithsonian Institution’s “Contributions to Knowledge.” In it he mentions various tribes, including the “Mission Indians, namely, the Kizhes of San Gabriel.”
Father Sugranes verified that the name Kizh was initially recognized by Catholic clergy at the San Gabriel Mission, even though they went on to rename them Gabrielenos, as part of the further degradation of the culture.

But when the renowned Prof. Kroeber published his major work on California tribes, dropping the use of Kizh and replacing it with "Gabrielino," he influenced subsequent scholars, who also disregarded the original term. The appellation Gabrielino unfortunately became a standard term for the tribe among academics and the public.

Today the tribe, known to the government as the "Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians," prefers to call itself by a name that originated in their own language, one that is the closest thing to a pan-tribal name used by their ancestors at Whittier Narrows.

If Kizh is the preferred tribal name today, why has "Tongva" been so widely used? It turns out that in the middle of the last century, ethnographer C. Hart Merriam was studying the tribe’s culture. As he interviewed Rosemyre, one of the tribe’s female members at Fort Tejon, Merriam asked her the name of her tribe. He misunderstood when she could not accurately answer his question, as her people did not have such a concept.

The current chairman or chief of one band of the tribe today, Andrew Salas, thinks Rosemyre responded not with a tribal name per se but with her village name — in the customary manner of her people. She used the word “Toviscangna,” which was the name of her home village near the San Gabriel Mission. It is believed that Merriam's muddled understanding of her response became “Tongva” as if it were the name of the tribe.
  • Others say that the word Tongva means "world," as in this part of the world or the world in its entirety, a name suggested to Gabrielinos by a graduate student at UCLA doing research as an improvement on the colonial Spanish term. Tongva could mean "people of the land."
Because the perpetrators have been so successful in promoting the mistaken concept, it will take a great deal of effort to correct the mistaken notion and replace it with the better option, Kizh. More
  • AUTHOR: Dr. Gary Stickel, whose doctorate is from UCLA, is the tribal archeologist of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians or Kizh Nation

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