Unveiling the Tongva Tribe Monument: Honoring the Peninsula's First Inhabitants

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Norine Holguin

9/10/20234 min read

In the picturesque setting of Abalone Cove Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, a significant event is on the horizon. On Saturday, October 16, a monument will be unveiled to honor the Tongva Tribe, the indigenous people who once thrived throughout the Los Angeles basin, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the South Bay region. The location of this monument is particularly poignant, as it stands on the very spot where the Tongva Tribe once fished, reconnecting with their ancient traditions.

The Tongva Tribe: Keepers of Ancient Wisdom

The Tongva Tribe, often known as the Gabrieleno Tongva, holds the distinction of being the first inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin, dating back centuries before European settlers arrived on these shores. Their vibrant culture centered around their connection to the abundant marine life, notably their skillful abalone fishing in the rich waters off the coast.

The efforts to honor and recognize this ancient tribe have been in the making for approximately six years. The goal was to correct the absence of iconography and acknowledgment of the Tongva people in the local area. It involved consultation with the Gabrieleño/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and finally secured approval from the RPV City Council in March 2020, just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Monument to Remember and Celebrate

The monument itself, though already standing, has been concealed under a vinyl covering, awaiting the day when it will be officially unveiled. Its existence represents a significant step towards recognizing and preserving the Tongva legacy, which has often been overshadowed by the state's mission history.

The unveiling ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 16, 2021, at Abalone Cove Park, a fitting location nestled near the coast and less than a week after Indigenous Peoples' Day. The monument, strategically placed just south of the parking lot, will serve as a lasting testament to the enduring spirit of the Tongva people.

A Community Effort and Convergence of Visions

The drive to bring this monument to fruition was spearheaded by Rancho Palos Verdes resident Tom Steers approximately six years ago. Living in proximity to Terranea Resort, Steers often enjoyed walks along the nearby cliffs, which led him to notice various informational plaques and sculptures celebrating various aspects of local history. However, there was a conspicuous absence of any acknowledgment of the Peninsula's first inhabitants, the Tongva Tribe.

Recognizing this gap in historical representation, Steers embarked on a mission to honor the Tongva community. He reached out to the Long Family Foundation, which had previously supported local public art projects, including sculptures and plaques. To Steers' delight, the Foundation shared his enthusiasm and committed to funding approximately half of the monument's creation and construction costs.

However, the path to realizing this vision involved more than just financial support. It necessitated close collaboration with the Tongva community, as well as key community organizations and Rancho Palos Verdes city agencies. Steers' contacts within the Tongva community, including the late Julia Bogany, Elder of the Gabrieleno Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, played a crucial role in guiding the project. Julia's cousin, renowned artist and sculptor Geri Jimenez-Gould, was chosen to bring the monument's vision to life.

A Monument That Tells a Story

The monument itself is a testament to the vibrant life of a Tongva village along the Abalone Cove coastline. It features Tongva homes constructed from bent willow branches (kies), a plank canoe (tiat), and villagers engaging in their daily activities. With its interpretive plaques and detailed scenes, the monument not only commemorates the Tongva Tribe but also serves as an educational tool, allowing visitors to glimpse into the rich history and culture of the Tongva people.

A Legacy Preserved

The history of the Tongva Tribe predates the Spanish colonization of the region by hundreds of years. Their territory encompassed vast stretches, from Orange County to the Los Angeles basin, including the Channel Islands. They were expert mariners, using plank canoes to travel between the mainland and the islands.

However, the arrival of Spanish explorers and the subsequent colonization brought hardship and adversity to the Tongva people. The missions and rancheros exploited their labor, and European diseases took a severe toll on the population. Despite these challenges, the Tongva people endured, maintaining their cultural identity.

In 1994, the Gabrieleno Tongva Band of Mission Indians received recognition from the State of California, affirming their status as the indigenous people of the Los Angeles Basin. Yet, the federal government has not extended official recognition, meaning the Tongva do not have a reservation.

The unveiling of this monument stands as a testament to the resilience and enduring presence of the Tongva Tribe in the face of historical injustices and challenges. It serves as a lasting reminder of their contributions to the region's heritage and culture.

A Convergence of Visions Realized

The ceremony on October 16th will bring together individuals and organizations that have been instrumental in bringing this vision to life. Alongside Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, and RPV Mayor Eric Alegria, community members and representatives from the Tongva Tribe will be present to celebrate this momentous occasion.

In conclusion, the Tongva Tribe monument at Abalone Cove Park is more than just a physical structure; it represents a convergence of visions, a testament to resilience, and a commitment to preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Tongva people. As it is unveiled, it invites us all to reflect on the deep history of this land "before the White man came" and to honor those to whom recognition was long overdue.

Citation:

Hixon, Michael. “Rancho Palos Verdes Erects Monument Honoring Tongva People.” Daily Breeze, 15 Oct. 2021, www.dailybreeze.com/2021/10/14/rancho-palos-verdes-erects-monument-honoring-tongva-people/.

Tabor, Steve. “Give Honor to Whom Honor Is Due, Tongva Monument Unveiled at Abalone Cove Park.” Palos Verdes Pulse, 28 Oct. 2021, www.palosverdespulse.com/blog/2021/10/26/give-honor-to-whom-honor-is-due-tongva-monument-unveiled-at-abalone-cove-park-by-steve-tabor.

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