By Claire Del Prete
To commemorate Native American Heritage Month, the JCI team honors the original and remaining inhabitants of the land our office resides upon––the Gabrieleño, or Tongva. Their people have known this land for thousands of years, and their expansive territory spreads through the San Gabriel Mountains, to the Santa Ana River, and across the entire Los Angeles Basin.
Land acknowledgements are more than just a statement––they are a call-to-action, a method of dismantling the erasure of Indigenous people. Those speaking, writing, listening, or hearing a land acknowledgement are forced to confront their own existence on Indigenous land. "By stating our name, by talking about us, by making 'Gabrieleño Tongva' a word that people know, it makes them consciously think about the land that they’re occupying and standing on, and that they’re guests of this land,” stated Kimberly Morales Johnson, who is the tribal secretary for the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians/Gabrielino Tongva and a member of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission.
Led by Gaspar de Portola, the Spaniards sought fertile land for their crops and came across the San Gabriel Valley, which was already inhabited by numerous native communities. Once the Spanish colonizers began establishing missions––including the Gabrieleño’s Spanish-given namesake, the Mission San Gabriel––the Native population suffered catastrophic blows to their population through widespread foreign disease and abusive forced servitude. During this time, the Gabrieleño Tongva were also forced to abandon their native livelihoods––their cultures, religions, and language. The years to follow saw revolts, widespread smallpox epidemics, and the scattering of the Gabrieleño Tongva as the Mission era came to an end.
Following the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, in which many Native men fought alongside their oppressors, the Treaty of Guadalupe obligated the United States to protect the Native communities and their liberty, property, and religion in California. Eighteen treaties were drawn up to grant Native groups (some entire tribes and some smaller villages) reservation lands that were not claimed by white settlers. However, these treaties were never ratified. Numerous attempts were made, but with the land unresolved, the Gabrieleño Tongvas, like many other Indigenous tribes, were subjected to living in small, scattered reservations across Southern California.
The Gabrieleño Tongva people were formally recognized in the State of California in 1994 in the Assembly Joint Resolution 96, which states that California “recognizes the Gabrieleño Tongva Nation as the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin and takes great pride in recognizing the Indian inhabitance of the Los Angeles Basin and the continued existence of the Indian community”. Despite this achievement, they still have not been granted federal land rights for the land that was stolen from them. Since 1994, the Gabrieleño Tongva have upheld their rich culture and taken back many of their landmarks and sacred sites.
Please join JCI in acknowledging and disrupting colonial structures by accessing the provided Gabrieleño Tongva resources, and please consider donating to one of the Native-led organizations below.