Honoring the Tongva People: A Resolution to Rename Janss Steps to Tongva Steps

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Norine Holguin

5/23/20232 min read

a group of people walking down a flight of stairs
a group of people walking down a flight of stairs

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the historical injustices faced by Indigenous communities, including the Gabrielino-Tongva people, who have been the original caretakers of the Los Angeles Basin for over 7,000 years. In response to this, UCLA's Undergraduate Students Association introduced Council Resolution No. 2020/2021-014, calling for the renaming of the iconic Janss Steps on the campus to "Tongva Steps." This resolution seeks to acknowledge the tribe's historical significance and raise awareness of the challenges faced by Indigenous communities throughout history.

The Historical Context

The United States, including the city of Los Angeles and the University of California system, was built on land stolen from Indigenous people. The Gabrielino-Tongva people, whose cultural heritage and systems predate the United States and its educational institutions, have traditionally identified as the original people and caretakers of the land. Despite their historical significance, Native American history and their connection to their homelands have been largely miseducated, leading to Indigenous erasure.

The Call for Recognition

UCLA, as a land grant institution committed to promoting inclusivity and understanding among diverse communities, acknowledges its dependence on Indigenous contributions and excellence. However, the university has lacked formal commemoration of the Gabrielino-Tongva people as the original caretakers of the land. Instead, the Janss Steps, a prominent feature on the campus, bear the name of previous landowners who enforced racial covenants to exclude people of color from owning property in the area.

The Path to Change

To rectify this historical oversight and promote awareness of Indigenous issues, UCLA's Undergraduate Students Association proposed the renaming of the Janss Steps to "Tongva Steps." The steps, once named after Harold Janss and Edwin Janss Sr., who facilitated racial covenants in Westwood, would now be dedicated to honoring the Tongva Peoples and their ancestral homelands. The North Westwood Neighborhood Council and over 2,000 students, faculty, and community members have rallied behind this initiative.

A Step Towards Inclusivity

Renaming the Janss Steps to Tongva Steps is more than a symbolic gesture; it represents a concrete step towards acknowledging the suppressed history of Indigenous communities. It is an opportunity for the UCLA community to recognize its presence on land belonging to the Gabrielino-Tongva people and to show respect for their ancestral homelands.

The Journey Continues

While this resolution is a significant milestone, it is just the beginning of a more extensive process. The UCLA community must continue to promote institutional recognition of the original peoples of the land and strive to create inclusive spaces for Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and community members. By raising awareness and expressing gratitude for the contributions of the Gabrielino-Tongva people, UCLA can play an essential role in addressing historical injustices and fostering a more inclusive and respectful campus environment.

Conclusion

The Council Resolution No. 2020/2021-014 is a crucial step towards recognizing the Gabrielino-Tongva people's historical significance and honoring their ancestral homelands. By renaming the Janss Steps to Tongva Steps, UCLA's Undergraduate Students Association sends a powerful message of inclusivity and respect for Indigenous communities. The journey towards addressing historical injustices and promoting awareness of Indigenous issues has just begun, and the UCLA community stands poised to embrace this important transformation.

Citation:

Rausa, Maddie. “USAC Unanimously Passes Resolution in Support of Renaming Janss Steps to Tongva Steps.” Daily Bruin, 7 Aug. 2020, dailybruin.com/2020/08/07/usac-unanimously-passes-resolution-in-support-of-renaming-janss-steps-to-tongva-steps.

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