Bridging History and Nature: UCLA's Partnership with the Gabrielino Tongva Tribe


Norine Holguin

6/20/20232 min read

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UCLA, a prestigious institution known for its academic excellence, has a rich history rooted in the land once belonging to the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe. Acknowledging this ancestral connection, the university has taken significant steps to collaborate with the descendants of the original inhabitants. Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), UCLA and the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation have joined forces to ensure the revitalization, preservation, and shared stewardship of culturally significant sites. This partnership not only fosters a deeper understanding of native history and the environment but also represents a milestone in recognizing and respecting Indigenous communities.

The Revitalization Efforts

At the forefront of the collaborative effort is the Kuruvungna Village Springs site, an area previously polluted with debris and invaded by non-native species. The Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation, under the leadership of President Bob Ramirez, took the initiative to restore this historic site. The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, an integral part of the campus, invited Ramirez to discuss the preservation of Kuruvungna Village Springs as part of their public lecture series, "Transplanted: Examining Contexts of Plants, People & Place."

The Role of the Botanical Garden

The botanical garden at UCLA serves as a green space not only for patients, students, and alumni but also for the local community. Collaborating with the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation broadens the public's understanding of the interconnectedness between the community and the land. Through this partnership, the botanical garden aims to deepen its relationship with the Tongva community, recognizing their historical occupancy of the land currently owned by UCLA.

Restoring the Kuruvungna Village Springs

With the support of various community groups, including the Boy Scouts and the UC Irvine sailing team, the Kuruvungna Village Springs site underwent significant cleanup and restoration. Moreover, the collaboration with the Theodore Payne Foundation facilitated the donation of thousands of dollars' worth of native California plants, which played a vital role in restoring the site to its original beauty.

The Tongva Garden Project

Inspired by the successful restoration efforts at Kuruvungna Village Springs, the botanical garden is developing a Tongva garden dedicated to Southern California plants traditionally used by the Gabrielino-Tongva people. Tongva community members have actively participated in selecting, planting, and will later harvest the plants, accompanied by traditional ceremonies. This project represents a significant step in acknowledging and respecting the Tongva community's presence on campus.

The Memorandum of Understanding

The MOU between UCLA and the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe goes beyond symbolic recognition. It outlines guidelines for access to ancestral lands, allowing ceremonial events, workshops, and community educational opportunities. This landmark agreement signifies a commitment to mutual engagement, reciprocity, and a shared space where the community can gather and preserve its cultural heritage.


UCLA's partnership with the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe is a powerful testament to the university's dedication to respecting and supporting Indigenous communities. The restoration efforts at the Kuruvungna Village Springs site and the development of the Tongva garden demonstrate a sincere commitment to recognizing the significance of the Tongva people's history and culture. By bridging history and nature, UCLA sets an example for other institutions to collaborate with Indigenous communities and deepen their understanding of the land's original caretakers. The partnership enriches the community and fosters a sense of wholeness, spirituality, and respect for the land that sustains us all.


Basha, Nathalie. “UCLA Makes Agreement with Gabrielino Tongva for Land Use.” Spectrumnews1.Com, 5 Jan. 2023,

Lin, Michelle. “UCLA Botanical Garden Invites Speaker to Discuss Land History, Native Plants.” Daily Bruin, 14 Apr. 2022,

Wolf, Jessica. “UCLA Signs Agreement with Local Tribal Community for Use of Land.” UCLA Newsroom, 11 Jan. 2023,

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