Claremont City Council Renames Cahuilla Park to Honor Gabrielino-Tongva Heritage

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Norine Holguin

10/30/20232 min read

In a landmark decision, the Claremont City Council voted unanimously to rename Cahuilla Park to "Joāt Park," the Gabrielino-Tongva word for Mount San Antonio, also known as Mt. Baldy. The decision, made on Tuesday evening, corrected a misunderstanding that some Native Americans have sought to resolve for over a decade.

The story of Joāt Park's new name began in 2012 when it became clear that Cahuilla Park's name did not accurately reflect the indigenous history of Claremont. The park, named in 1963, was originally believed to honor the Cahuilla Indians, but further research showed that the Cahuilla tribe lived further east, closer to Palm Springs. The real inhabitants of the Claremont area were the Gabrielino-Tongva people, sparking a movement to rename the park to better represent its original occupants.

In 2012, the push to rename the park began in earnest to correct this error and better represent the area's true historical roots. However, it wasn't until a pivotal council meeting in August 2020, prompted by the global reflections on social justice during the COVID-19 pandemic, that momentum for change gained traction.

The Process of Renaming

To ensure the new name would be both culturally meaningful and pronounceable for the local community, the city council sought guidance from experts and tribal representatives. UC Riverside professor Wallace Cleaves, a member of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe, and Kimberly Morales Johnson, tribal secretary of the Gabrielino-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, were instrumental in providing historical context and linguistic expertise.

An ad hoc committee was formed to explore suitable Tongva names, ultimately narrowing the choices down to three: “Kasili” (white sage), “Joāt” (Mt. Baldy), and “Hu’ utok Joat” (Baldy view). After careful consideration and community input, "Joāt" was selected for its direct connection to the prominent and sacred geographic feature of Mt. Baldy.

Public Response and Council Decision

The decision to rename the park resonated strongly with the community and the Tongva people. During the council meeting, every speaker, including Johnson, Cleaves, and community advocate Al Villanueva, supported the name "Joāt Park." Their endorsements highlighted the importance of reclaiming indigenous place names as a way to honor historical truths and foster reconciliation.

“There is not a standard phonetic rendering of the word but ‘ywaat’ was produced by the noted ethnologist [John P.] Harrington, and seems to be the most likely to produce a correct approximation of how the word should be pronounced,” explained Cleaves. He also provided a SoundCloud recording by UCLA professor Pam Munro to aid in pronunciation, ensuring the community could accurately refer to the park in the Tongva language.

Looking Forward

With the council's unanimous vote, the name change represents a pivotal shift towards acknowledging and correcting historical oversights regarding the indigenous heritage of Claremont. The city is preparing to update park signage and plans to install a historical plaque detailing the significance of the new name. The total cost is expected to be around $3,500, with a celebration ceremony to officially unveil the new park name scheduled for the near future.

This renaming initiative is part of a broader movement across the United States to honor Native American heritage by restoring indigenous place names to public spaces and landmarks. For Claremont, renaming Cahuilla Park to Joāt Park is a profound act of recognition and respect for the Gabrielino-Tongva people and their enduring legacy in the region.

Citation:

Weinberger, Peter. “Council Uses Tongva Word for ‘snowy Mountain’ to Rename Cahuilla Park.” Claremont COURIER, 26 Oct. 2023, claremont-courier.com/latest-news/cahuilla-park-gets-a-name-change-75602/

Cannon-Tran, Mercedes. “Claremont Renames Cahuilla Park to Honor Correct Indigenous People.” Daily Bulletin, 1 Nov. 2023, www.dailybulletin.com/2023/11/01/claremont-renames-cahuilla-park-to-honor-correct-indigenous-people/

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