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Intersections: Descendants of the Tongva look to their past

October 15, 2012


Long before Los Angeles made its name as the entertainment capital of the world and became known for traffic, diversity, great weather and coveted In-N-Out burgers, it was home to an indigenous peoples known as the Tongva, who lived and thrived in the region, including Glendale, for thousands of years.

Given the push to turn this month's Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day in an effort to celebrate often forgotten Native American culture and contributions, here's a look into the people who helped shaped the area we now call home.

The Tongva, also called the “Gabrielinos” by early settlers who — according to the Glendale Historical Society website — would name native tribes after the nearest Mission, were skilled in fishing and made medicinal use of local plants. They had complex social and political systems and the Glendale hillsides where they lived haven't changed much today.

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The names of nearby towns and cities, such as Tujunga, Azusa and Pacoima, come from the Tongva language, and the Gabrielino Trail, which runs through the Angeles National Forest, is named after them. More recently in 2002, thanks to the efforts of local resident and prominent Tongva Tribe member Richard Toyon, a summit in the Verdugo Mountains was named Tongva Peak.

When settlers descended on the area, the tribes succumbed to religious conversions, genocide and disease. What traces of the Tongva were left soon disintegrated into the ether of L.A. history.

Newspaper archives reveal a bleak situation for the Tongvas, whose interaction with settlers were explored in a 1967 Los Angeles Times article, entitled “Ancient Indians in L.A. Had Tragic Lives.”

The article, written by George Getze, a Times science writer, covers the research of UCLA professors into the fact that the Tongva inhabited a larger area of Southern California than once originally assumed, as well as the treatment they suffered at the hands of settlers and missionaries.

According to Forbes, Spanish records are full of rapes and assaults committed by soldiers against the Tongvas as they passed through San Diego and Monterey.

The article mentions a chilling quote by a Franciscan missionary: “No Indian woman was safe when the Spanish were in the neighborhood.”

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