A monument to the Tongwa Tribe, an indigenous people who had villages throughout the Los Angeles Basin hundreds of years ago, will be unveiled at Palos Verdes Ranch during a Saturday ceremony, October 16, at Abalone Cove Park – where the tribe used to be. was fishing.
The Tongwa were the first people to live in the basin, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the South Bay, thriving from abalone fishing in abundance.
Efforts to respect the tribe began about six years later as a way to remedy the lack of Tongwa iconography in the area. It included contributions from the Gabrieleno / Tongwa San Gabriel Indian Missionary Group and finally received RPA City Council approval in March 2020, right before the coronavirus pandemic. The monument, already erected but hidden under vinyl, also continues a decades-long effort to recognize and protect Tongwa’s heritage.
“I think that our presence there next week will sort of complete our horizons. It is an honor and a celebration, ”said the head of Gabrielenho / Tongwa Anthony Morales, also known as Red Blood, about the monument. “We feel that the city has done due diligence and recognized our tribe, and that we are not extinct. We’re still here. “
The opening ceremony will take place at 10am on Saturday at Abalone Cove Park, 5970 Palos Verdes Drive South, less than a week after Indigenous People’s Day. The monument stands south of the parking lot.
Rancho Palos Verdes resident Tom Steers took over the lead about six years ago. He lives near the Terranea resort, behind the Presbyterian Church of St. Peter by the sea, so he can walk to the nearby cliffs. Around 2015, he noticed various information signs there – for example, about Catalina Island and the Portuguese Bend, but nothing about the local heritage of indigenous peoples.
“Given all the evil things that have happened to them throughout history,” Steers said, “it’s amazing that we can honor these people.”
The Gabrieleno / Tongwa San Gabriel Indian Missionary Group, Los Serenos de Point Vicente and the Rancho de los Palos Verdes Historical Society have supported and contributed to the creation of the monument.
Steers said the contributions of tribal leaders and elders, including Morales, Jesus Gutierrez and Julia Brogeni, who died in March and have covered Tongwa culture for decades, are critical.
Tongwa elder and New Mexico artist Jeri Jimenez Gould, in fact, helped create the vision for the monument. The $ 47,000 monument is a concrete block with explanatory plaques and a scene depicting the vibrant village of Tongwa against the backdrop of Catalina Island, which is also home to Tongwa.
“I wanted to portray a piece of country life,” Gould said, “and what it would be like.”
Tongwa has a history spanning hundreds of years, before the arrival of the Spanish in the late 1700s.
Christian missionary Junipero Serra founded the San Gabriel Mission 250 years ago, in earnest starting the Spanish colonial era, which for the Tongwa people meant the enslavement, resettlement and spread of European diseases from which the indigenous peoples were not immune.
The Spanish forced Tongwa to help build their missions and named them Gabrieleno, a reference to the San Gabriel Archangel Mission and the angel Abraham, from whom the mission got its name.
The Gabrieleno Tongwa Indian Missionary Orchestra, which is run by a five-member tribal council, was recognized by the State of California in 1994, according to the tribe’s website.
But the federal government has yet to recognize the tribe, which is headquartered near the San Gabriel Mission, so Tongwa has no reservation, Morales said.
“That’s the irony,” Morales said. “As long as we’ve been here for hundreds of years, the United States government just didn’t bother to give us this recognition, federal recognition, to give us any land.”
Many Tongwa, Morales said, are centered around the Los Angeles Basin because it is their ancestral home, but they also live in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
“I always knew through my relatives, through my great uncles, aunts, grandparents, that we were Gabrieleno,” Morales said. “We have lived in and around this area our entire lives, and they have their own little plots of land to farm them, and there has always been a connection or mission affiliation.”
However, Tongwa’s legacy has long been overshadowed by the history of the state’s mission – a traditional division for generations of students in California – although this has begun to change.
For example, several Serra statues were demolished throughout the state last year. Serra’s statues fell amid nationwide protests against systemic racism, which also removed statues of slave owners in the South. Serra was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church five years ago.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica has Tongwa Park. And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said this week that Father Serra’s park in the city center will be renamed in the future.
In addition, there are problems associated with Cal State Long Beach.
The 22-acre undeveloped site housed a village known as Puvungna, which is considered a historical and sacred site for the Tongwa and other local tribes, Morales said.
Reports of a landfill and debris from the nearby CSULB development project at the Puwungna site led to litigation in October 2019.
“We said it was sacred, so leave it alone,” Morales said.
CSULB and local tribes reached an agreement last month that will permanently protect 22 acres of land, banning any development. CSULB must also create a conservation easement for the Puvungna site, which will include an independent manager to maintain the property for two years.
And now, about 20 miles away, there will be a monument on the peninsula to honor and preserve the heritage of Tongwa.
Gould, for her part, said she hoped the monument would teach young people about what was in Southern California – “before,” she said, “the White Man came.”