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Title: Gabrieleño  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Costa Mesa, California, Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Irvine, California, Turtle Rock, Irvine, California, Toybipet, California
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Total population
Approximately 1,700
Regions with significant populations
United States United States (California California)
Tongva, English, Spanish
Traditional tribal religion, Christianity

The Tongva (/ˈtɒŋvə/ ) are a Native American people 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 NicoleñoTemplate:Efn—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.Template:Efn 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 Shoshoni-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 AD 500 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 become 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 and the government signed treaties with the Tongva promising 8.5 million acres (34,000 km2) of land for reservations, but these treaties were never ratified.[5] By the turn of the century the Island Tongva had disappeared and the mainland communities were also nearing extinction.

The endonym Tongva was recorded by American ethnographer C. Hart Merriam in 1903 and has been widely adopted by scholars and descendants,[1] although some prefer the endonym Kizh.[6] Since 2006, there have been four organizations claiming to represent the Tongva Nation: the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, known as the "hyphen" group from the hyphen in their name;[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 called themselves Tongva or claimed partial ancestry.[5]


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, and 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 /ˈtɒŋv/, .[17]

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

The Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians have disavowed the name Tongva and accepted Kizh as the correct endonym, and have argued strongly against the use of "Tongva".[20]



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.[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 Heartside 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 originated in the Sonoran Desert, between perhaps 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.[23]

The diversity within the Takic group is "moderately deep", rough estimates by comparative linguists placing 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 diversity of the Romance languages of Europe).[24] The separation of the Tongva-Serrano group into a Tongva people separate from the Serrano people is more recent, and possibly a result of Spanish missionary activity.

Recorded history

Further information: Mission Indians and Serrano people

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 states that his ship was greeted by indigenous people in canoes.

The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was established 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, by then known as Gabrielino, were conducted in the mid-19th century. By this time, the pre-Christian religious beliefs and mythology were already fading, and the Tongva language was on the brink of extinction by 1900, so that 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

Currently there are an estimated 1,700 people self-identifying as members of the Tongva or Gabreilino 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.

There is no single representative organization accepted by the Gabrielino/Tongva Nation. This is largely because of a controversy regarding the opening of a casino on land that would be considered part of the Gabrielino/Tongva's homeland. 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 and sharing of revenues to all tribal members. The Gabrielino/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel is the primary faction that does not support gaming for its members. None of these organizations are recognized 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 in 1997. These applications for federal recognition remain pending. The San Gabriel group received nonprofit status with the state of California in 1994.

In 2001, the San Gabriel council broke apart over concessions given to the developers of Playa Vista and a proposal to build an Indian casino in Compton, California. A Santa Monica faction – from which later came the "slash" and "hyphen" groups – was formed which 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 removed members to increase shares for other members and that tribal records were stolen in order for the Santa Monica faction to gain federal recognition.[26]

In September 2006 the Santa Monica faction divided into the "slash" and "hyphen" groups, as 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 to be its chief executive officer, while the hyphen group has allied with Stein and issued warrants for the arrest of Polanco and members of the hyphen group.[28]

Stein's group (hyphen), which is based in Santa Monica, 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 have improved respect of indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty, but conflicts between the Tongva and the rapidly expanding population of Los Angeles have often required resolution in the courts. Sometimes 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.

Controversy had arisen over uses of the area the Tongva call 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 the grounds of California State University, Long Beach. A portion of Puvungna, a burial ground on the western edge of the campus, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1992, developers have repeatedly attempted to build a strip mall in the area. The Tongva petitioned the courts for relief, which blocked the development.

Traditional narratives

Tongva/Gabrieliño/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 the name of Weywot to name its satellite (2009).[34]


Tongva place names continue to be used in California. Examples include: Pacoima, Tujunga, Topanga, Rancho Cucamonga, Azusa, and Cahuenga.

The Gabrielino Trail is a 28-mile path through the Angeles National Forest, created in 1970.[36]

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

Notable Tongva people

  • Chief Red Blood Anthony Morales, Chairman & tribal leader of the Gabrieleño/Tongva of the San Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians, is honored for his continuous hard work and efforts to preserve Native American culture, sacred sites, and ensuring equal treatment for all Native Americans. 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
  • 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, is, at age 95, one the oldest living descendents of the San Gabriel band of mission Indians.

See also




  • 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.
    • by Hugo Reid (1852)
  • 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
  • Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe
  • Gabrieliño/Tongva Nation Tribal Council
  • Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel
  • archives at UCLA.
  • Antelope Valley Indian Museum; online collections database; use 'search' to see many Tongva artifacts.
  • Santa Fe Springs, California
  • Tongva Mission Indians (

Template:California topic

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