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TONGVA LAND FOREVER :: The True First Citizens of Los Angeles

TONGVA LAND FOREVER :: The True First Citizens of Los Angeles

One of the major goals of our Obsidian Collective collaboration is to amplify the voices of Indigenous peoples in the hopes that their fight for freedom and sovereignty will find new audiences that empathize with the struggle they’ve faced for over 500 years and support their efforts to reclaim what they once had. Indigenous people lived peacefully on this beautiful, bountiful land for tens of thousands of years (or longer) before colonizers came and destroyed their way of life in search of more resources.

This very city we’re in is no different. Los Angeles wasn’t always Los Angeles. This was Tongva Land, and a combination of Spanish forces and European settlers in search of gold and new land forced them out. But they have survived. And they fight every day to protect their land and their legacy.

We spoke with three Native Tongva women to learn more about their people and this land before it was known as Los Angeles.

My name is Jessa Calderon. I represent the Tongva and Chumash nations of what is known as Southern California. I am an entertainer and songwriter mostly focused in hip-hop and R&B. I often use my platform to educate people who other wise would have no idea about us in our own homelands.

What are some of the major issues facing your community?
There was a point in time where America took over our lands. They signed a treaty with us, gave us a reservation, and forced us out of our area in the whole Los Angeles Basin. After that signed treaty, it disappears for about 50 years. We have no federal recognition with our government which means that we have no say in what happens with our ancestors’ remains and things of that nature. For us, one of the most important things is that we either get that federal recognition or that we have some kind of leeway where we have a say on our ancestors and our homelands. Right now, not only do we not have federal recognition but we are the most invisible people in our own homeland. A place that has the most Native American population in our homeland and WE are the invisible. That’s a big problem.

What can everyone else do to help amplify your voices and help support for the rest of the year, not just on Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
There are actually other Native People who are federally recognized Californians and they can speak for us by pulling us in when they find bones or when things need to be done. They can make sure they use their voice to amplify our voice. As far as any other Native American living in Los Angeles, I believe they have a responsibility to acknowledge us first. We’re not happy with people hosting ceremonies in our homelands and desecrating in our homelands, so putting us at the forefront is how they can help.

Follow Jessa on Twitter and Instagram

My name is Annie Mendoza and I am Tongva from the San Gabriel Valley

What are some of the major issues facing your community today?
The most pressing issue in this time of climate change is the restoration and revitalizing of our water, mainly the LA River. Billions of dollars are being spent to revitalize this river without a lot of Native input. If we really want to restore the water we have to go through Native channels and Indigenous understandings to do that. The erasure of Native American voices within Los Angeles history has been a perpetual social injustice that infringes upon sovereignty. The erasure of Native American voices within the Los Angeles history has been a perpetual social injustice that infringes upon sovereignty.

What’s the course of action in your point of view? How do we fix the issue?
Making sure that Tongva are at the decision-making table with the city government. Mayor Garcetti repeatedly has left us out of a lot of meetings. We need to have representation and to be at decision-making tables when it comes to revitalizing our homelands. We care about the land, we know the land in a different way than people that just come in and out. For our voice not to be implemented in the planning process of revitalization or sustainability, you’re doing the city a big injustice because Tongva people lived for thousands of years in this basin and they took really good care of the resources that are here. Check out the documentary being made about this very issue here.

My name is Kelly Cavallero. I am Tongva, from the village of Yaanga, currently residing in Pasbenga aka Santa Ana. Follow Kelly on Instagram to learn more.

What are some of the major issues facing your community today?
As far as Tongva people, we are still facing the desecration of sacred sites and our ancestors are still being dug up until this day, and we don’t have the ability to repatriate them. At Cal State University in Long Beach, they are dumping soil and planning to expand it into a parking lot. That is our creation site. That is where our people come from and this desecration is attempted genocide on our people that needs to be brought to light. People need to stand behind us and support us in saving our sacred sites. 

How can people support you?
Just knowing who the Tonvga are and coming out and supporting us when we have rallies. When we are in committee meetings, our voice needs to be heard. We need people to help raise our voice.

Why is it so important that we lift up and support Indigenous people all year, not just on Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day came and went but the Tonvga still live here and we are still facing oppressive entities such as big oil corporations and city developments that desecrate our land. Without that acknowledgment of our land, no one walks in honor, nobody walks in prayer, and people continue to extract and take and take from a community that still living and striving today.

We also spoke with Kelly’s friend, Michelle Castillo, who said:

I will never in my life understand how any person,organization or corporation can be so disrespectful to not only Puvungna but to any sacred site. Any man or woman with a soul will be able to walk on to the lands of Puvungna and feel her sacredness. The moment you walk on to the land you can feel it in your bones. To some of us it is the center of our being. The place we rest, mourn, remember and celebrate. A place where the sacred bears come to dance and heal. To Cal State University Long Beach, Puvungna is only an undeveloped vacant site, a million dollar money maker. What’s happening to our sacred sites, our waters and mountains is modern day genocide. Destroying our lands is the same as trying to destroy our spirits. What they don’t realize is that we will stand with the land to the very end. And when we need to rest we will allow each other to rest. One at a time. But we will never give up. Help support the efforts to save Puvungna.

Kelly recited a beatiful poem for us to pay tribute to Tongva Land and her Tongva ancestors:


They call us City Indians, Urban Indians
As if our identity is first tied to the concrete, rather than the bones of my ancestors who lie beneath it
Like we aren’t collecting bits of dust just to hold the earth in our hands once again
Trying to be heard above the screams of 4 million people
Only again to drowned out by the noise and hunger of a machine that knows no rest
Beneath the glamour and fiction, lies the sinister truth
Los Angeles, City of Angeles, is a city founded by murderers and thieves disguising themselves as such.

They call us City Indians, Urban Indians
As if we had a choice in the making of it all
Like they didn’t try ripping us from the root to prevent us from flourishing
Take Spanish last names, learn the Lord’s Prayer, hide within ourselves
Be the colonizer and the colonized
Like murder or assimilate wasn’t the only option.

So don’t call us City Indians or Urban Indians
We are Tongva
This is Tovangar
And Los Angeles, City of Angels, sits on stolen land.

-Kelly Caballero


The Hundreds X Obsidian Collection is still available while supplies last. All profits are donated to Tiny House Warriors and the Obsidian Collective.

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