Honoring Ancestral Spirits: The Tongva Monument at Ballona Discovery Park


Norine Holguin

8/11/20233 min read

In the heart of Playa Vista, where modernity and history intersect, a sacred tribute to the past now stands as a symbol of remembrance and unity. In an intimate and deeply meaningful ceremony on July 16, 2021, members of the Gabrielino-Tongva Indian Tribe came together to dedicate a monument in Ballona Discovery Park, paying homage to their ancestors and the enduring spirit of the indigenous people.

A Monument Rooted in History

The story begins nearly a decade ago, when the remains of several hundred indigenous people were unearthed during the construction of the Playa Vista development. These findings were not just historical artifacts; they were a poignant testament to a people who had occupied the region surrounding the Ballona Wetlands for nearly 10,000 years.

The Tongva-Gabrielino people lived harmoniously with the land, subsisting on the abundant resources of the estuary, including plants, shellfish, fish, and small land animals. The Playa Vista village of Guashna, known as LAN-62 to archaeologists, bore witness to their presence from around 8,000 B.C. until 1600 A.D.

A Reverent Reburial

As the remains of these ancestors were uncovered, they were accompanied by offerings, personal possessions, and relics that shed light on their way of life. Among the discoveries were glass beads and china/porcelain pieces, evidence of trade, and contact with Spanish missionaries and Europeans in more recent times.

In a gesture of respect and reverence, archaeologists recorded and preserved these remains. About a decade ago, in a ceremony deeply rooted in tradition, these ancestors were reinterred with the blessings of the Gabrielino-Tongva members. The reburial site, surrounded by native scrub and cacti, was situated near their original resting place, ensuring a continuation of their connection to the land.

A Monument of Remembrance

The Gabrielino-Tongva Monument, standing tall in Ballona Discovery Park, represents the culmination of years of dedication and collaboration. Crafted by Robert Dorame, an artist and likely descendant of the Gabrielino-Tongva people, the monument consists of three stone-like objects, ranging in size from 4 to 7 feet tall, adorned with etchings and insets that tell the story of the Gabrielino-Tongva people.

This monument is more than just a piece of art; it's a legacy. It pays homage to the ancestral people who were laid to rest in Playa Vista, offering a profound connection between the past and present. It serves as a tribute not only to the Gabrielino-Tongva people but also as an invitation for future generations to reflect upon their existence and appreciate the rich heritage of this land.

A Meaningful Dedication Ceremony

The dedication ceremony, although intimate and informal, was steeped in ritual and significance. Those in attendance were invited to be saged before the ceremony, a symbolic cleansing. Members of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe gathered at the monument, blessing it with songs, ochre, and mugwort washing. Representatives from Playa Vista, Loyola Marymount University, and Friends of Ballona Wetlands symbolically placed items in the monument and the earth on the burial mound, forging a connection between the memorial and those interred there.

Marc Huffman, representing Playa Vista, expressed the profound experience of working alongside Robert Dorame to bring the memorial to fruition. Eric Strauss, representing Loyola Marymount University, highlighted the importance of the partnership and the role the sculpture plays in connecting present-day stewards with the past. Ruth Lansford, Founder of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, spoke of the honor of having this sacred monument at Discovery Park, preserving the eternal presence of the Gabrielino Tongva people among us.

A Treasure for All

Ballona Discovery Park, located on Bluff Creek Drive in Playa Vista, is a public educational park jointly owned and managed by Playa Vista, Loyola Marymount University, and Friends of Ballona Wetlands. It serves as a treasure trove of history and culture, inviting visitors from around the world to explore the rich tapestry of the Tongva-Gabrielino people and the Ballona region's story.

As Robert Dorame so eloquently put it, "This monument is for all people; it is dedicated to our ancestors and future human life on earth." It stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Tongva people, a bridge across time, and a reminder of the sacredness of the land, the waters, and all living beings that call it home.


“Tongva Memorial Installed in Ballona Discovery Park.” CURes Blog, 30 Nov. 2021, curesblog.lmu.edu/tongva-memorial-installed-in-ballona-discovery-park/.

Kay, David W. “Ballona Wetlands: Ceremony for Tongva-Gabrielino Ancestors.” Marina Del Rey, CA , Patch, 26 July 2021, patch.com/california/marinadelrey/ballona-wetlands-ceremony-tongva-gabrielino-ancestors.

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