Embracing Diversity: The Gabrielino Tongva and Their Quest for Inclusivity


Norine Holguin

8/5/20232 min read

two women talking while looking at laptop computer
two women talking while looking at laptop computer

Alice Mirlesse takes us on a journey in her senior thesis at Claremont College published in 2013. She shows the identity struggles of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe and their relentless pursuit of federal recognition. As we delve into the depths of their history, culture, and the challenges they face, we gain a profound understanding of the significance of federal recognition for indigenous communities.

The Significance of Federal Recognition

Have you ever heard of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe from the Los Angeles Basin? Imagine living in a place for generations, only to find yourself seeking validation and recognition from the very land you call home. Federal recognition is extremely important for the Gabrielino Tongva Indians. Their legal status acknowledgment as a sovereign nation by the United States government means everything. This official recognition opens doors to increased access to resources, funding, and services, empowering the tribe to govern their own affairs and safeguard their cultural heritage.

An In-Depth Exploration

For tribes like the Gabrielino Tongva, getting federal recognition isn't just about a title. It's about their narrative, their culture and heritage being preserved, and reclaiming their rightful place in history. It's about accessing resources and opportunities to nurture their community and keep their traditions alive. Alice Mirlesse's thesis is divided into four insightful parts that provide a comprehensive analysis of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe's quest for recognition.

Part 1: Introduction

Alice Mirlesse begins by introducing the research question, "What is the impact of the federal recognition policy on the Native American identity of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe of the Los Angeles Basin?" Through a personal account, the author expresses their connection to the topic, setting the tone for a deeply personal and meaningful exploration. Mirlesse provides a detailed historical overview of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe, tracing their roots from pre-colonial times, through Spanish colonization, and into the modern era. The tribe's rich cultural heritage and historical interactions with colonizers set the stage for their contemporary quest for recognition.

Part 2: Significance of the Research Topic

Understanding the significance of the research topic and its intended audience, the author aims to communicate the information in an accessible manner. The goal is to bridge the knowledge gap by minimizing technical jargon, defining concepts, and offering a common ground to comprehend legal texts and policies. By enriching the body of literature on the Tongva people, the author hopes to raise awareness of their culture and politics, fostering recognition and appreciation, even beyond official federal acknowledgment.

Part 3: Context of the Research Question

To comprehend the current state of affairs, the author provides a comprehensive historical overview of the United States' relationships with Native Americans. Key policies and the formation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs are explored, shedding light on the complex context in which the Gabrielino Tongva tribe seeks recognition.

Part 4: Findings and Discussion

This final part is the heart of the thesis, where the author presents their research findings and explores the impact of federal recognition on the Gabrielino Tongva tribe's identity. The recognition's significance is emphasized, yet the process has brought division within the tribe. The challenges they face include the lack of documentation, political opposition, and limited resources.

Supporting the Tongva Community

To support the Gabrielino Tongva community's efforts, various steps are being taken, including using key-informant interviews, participant observation, and official documents and personal files as data sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of their history and struggles.

Moving Forward

The Gabrielino Tongva tribe's quest for federal recognition is a complex and challenging journey, but their determination to preserve their culture and heritage shines brightly. As we delve into the depths of their identity struggles and efforts for recognition, we are reminded of the importance of understanding and supporting indigenous communities' rights and aspirations.


Alice Mirlesse's thesis sheds light on the resilience and struggles of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe, and the significance of federal recognition for indigenous communities. By providing a comprehensive analysis and exploration of the challenges they face, this research becomes a vital reference for policymakers and administrators seeking to contribute positively to the future of Native American tribes in the United States. Let us honor the Gabrielino Tongva people's legacy and join hands in their quest for federal recognition and cultural preservation.


Mirlesse, Alice. “Identity on Trial: The Gabrielino Tongva Quest for Federal Recognition.” Scholarship Claremont, Https://Scholarship.Claremont.Edu/Cgi/Viewcontent.Cgi?Referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1090&context=pomona_theses, 2013, scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?httpsredir=1&article=1501&context=cmc_theses.

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