Yaangna Park: A Tribute to the Ancestral Village and a Step Toward Visibility

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Norine Holguin

11/28/20233 min read

On November 28, 2023, in a profound act of historical rectification and cultural acknowledgment, Los Angeles embraced a pivotal moment in its vast and complex history with the renaming of Los Angeles Plaza Park to Yaangna Park. This gesture, deeply rooted in the desire to honor the indigenous peoples of the region, specifically the Gabrieleno Tongva, marks a significant step towards reconciling with the past and celebrating the original stewards of the land. This renaming ceremony is a testament to preserving and celebrating the rich heritage of the Indigenous peoples who called this land home long before the city of Los Angeles was established.

History of Yaangna

The Gabrieleño, who later became known as the Gabrieleño Tongva, were the inhabitants of Yaangna, a settlement believed to have been the largest of their villages. Dr. Harry Kelsey, a curator of history at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, reveals that Spanish Governor Felipe de Neve had sought to foster a relationship with the local native people six months before the establishment of the Los Angeles pueblo in 1781. His efforts to integrate Yaangna residents into the forthcoming Spanish society included baptisms and the establishment of a Christian Indian community centered around a nucleus family he sponsored, who were baptized and remarried under the Catholic faith, adopting the names Felipe and Felipa de Neve. Yaangna believed to be the largest Gabrieleño village, was a bustling center of trade and social gathering, home to as many as 200 residents.

Despite Neve's initial intentions, the destiny of Yaangna and its people took a different turn with the arrival of Governor Pedro de Fages, who preferred the subjugation of Native peoples at the missions, leading to the displacement of the Yaangna community. The Gabrieleño were either forced or chose to relocate, many to the Mission San Gabriel, transforming Yaangna into a refuge for those fleeing Spanish aggression, only to serve later as a labor source for the burgeoning pueblo of Los Angeles. The last remnants of the Yaangna community faced eviction with the sale of their land to French immigrant Jean-Louis Vignes in 1828, marking a sorrowful conclusion to their enduring presence in what would become the heart of modern Los Angeles.

The physical marker of Yaangna's existence, a grand sycamore tree known as El Aliso, stood long after the village itself had disappeared, only to be felled by industrial development in the late 19th century. This landmark, had it survived, would have served as a living connection to the ancestral village, located in what is now the Los Angeles Civic Center area.

Recognizing the True Founders

The renaming of Yaangna Park, ceremonially acknowledged by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass alongside Native American leaders, symbolizes more than a mere change of signage. This act, signifies a recognition of the city's foundational indigenous history, countering a national trend of denying and ignoring such narratives. It embodies a collective acknowledgment of the city's foundational roots and a step towards healing historical wounds. Mayor Bass, in her address, highlighted the importance of recognizing all facets of history, especially those that have been marginalized or obscured, as essential to the strength and resilience of the community. The ceremony, marking the conclusion of Native American Heritage Month, represents a collective acknowledgment of the endurance and contributions of Native American communities, particularly the Gabrieleño Tongva, to the fabric of Los Angeles.

The selection of the park's new name was a collaborative effort led by local tribes and the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission (LANAIC), emphasizing the importance of indigenous voices in the ongoing dialogue about history, memory, and identity. Mayor Bass's participation in LANAIC meetings and her commitment to collaborative leadership underscore a progressive approach to governing, one that respects and integrates the perspectives of all community members, especially those whose histories are deeply intertwined with the land.

A Symbol of Visibility and Representation

As Los Angeles stands today, a vibrant mosaic of cultures and histories, the renaming of Yaangna Park serves as a reminder of the city's indigenous heritage. It is a declaration that Los Angeles is committed to celebrating its diverse past, acknowledging the contributions and sacrifices of the Native American communities that shaped the region long before it became a global metropolis. This act of recognition and commemoration is a testament to Los Angeles' resilience and its capacity for growth and inclusivity, honoring the true founders of the city and ensuring that their legacy is preserved for future generations.

Citation:

LA This Week. (2024, January 29). Mural unveiling in North Hollywood. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp1273TGzKc

“Mayor Bass Commemorates the Renaming of Yaanga Park to Honor the Original Tongva/Gabrielino Settlement.” Mayor LA City, 28 Nov. 2023, mayor.lacity.gov/news/mayor-bass-commemorates-renaming-yaanga-park-honor-original-tongvagabrielino-settlement

“Yaangna - Early Los Angeles Community.” Los Angeles Almanac , www.laalmanac.com/history/hi03ae.php

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