The Lost Tongva Tribe of Los Angeles

My daughter is doing a report on a piece of California history.  She became obsessed with a Tongva shaman who led an attack on the San Gabriel Mission, Toypurina.  So we decided to do her project on Toypurina’s tribe.  What is amazing to me is that even though I grew up in L.A. and as much as I love L.A. history, I had never heard of this Tribe.  Yet the Tongva Tribe lived in what is now, most of L.A and Orange County as well as the Channel Islands.

Like most Native American tribes, the Tongva (pronounced Tong-vay), have a sad history.  They were once extremely prosperous.  The arrival of the Spaniards brought disease and destruction to their land.  In the area near the San Gabriel Mission they were named the Gabrielinos and once the San Fernando Mission was built, they were namedthe Fernandenos in that local.  I won’t go into the details here.  This article is not about the sad history but about how the Tongva Tribe is all over L.A., if you open your eyes!

First up, Tongva Park in Santa Monica.  Now first of all, parking here sucks.  The closest lot was $25!  So plan a day hike or something.  But, they do have really cool tribal-inspired tee-pees here.


The park is just up the street from the Santa Monica Pier.  The ferris wheel is just out of this picture on the left side.

The Tongva had rounded tee-pees much like these structures, as you will see below.


There is a plaque at Tongva Peak.  This is on a hiking trail that takes you over the hill between La Tuna Canyon in Sunland to Glendale/Burbank Hills/Brand Park area.  It’s a great hike, takes maybe a few hours and has great views.  I highly recommend it.  There are some side trails for the more adventurous or the fire roads for those who don’t want to encounter too much wildlife or want to bike ride.  I found a really cool horny toad when I took my trail-less-traveled to the top.

So we visited both the San Fernando Mission and the San Gabriel Mission.  Below are a few pictures from the San Gabriel Mission.  As you can see, their tee-pees were more rounded.

I swear my daughter loved the Mission, she just did NOT want to be in this picture!


Here are the names of a few villages.  I can recognize Cucamonga, as we spell it today.  Can you find any other current city names in the ones below?

The Tongva language had many dialects and is considered a dead language (from what I understand).  However, we still see their influence all over L.A. with names such as Cahuenga, Pacoima, and Cucamonga stemming from the Tongva language.  Below is a translation of Spanish to Tongva.  It’s next to impossible to read, unfortunately.  But on the Spanish side(far left column), the more I look at it, the more words I can make out.  Such as tree, sugar, sun and eye.  If you can decipher the Tongva words (the second column on the left), let me know!  I’m curious but really, at this point, I can only guess what this person’s writing says.

The famous book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, is based on a Tongva woman who was left behind on one of the Channel Islands during an evacuation.  I have been looking for more Tongva influences and historical sites.  If you know of any, please let me know!  Some tribes are known throughout the U.S.  I feel like such a large and prosperous tribe should be better known, especially among Angelenos.  It appears many of the efforts from which I am now benefitting are recent efforts.  So there may be many sites that simply have not been properly labeled or designated yet.  I’m looking forward to checking back in a few years to see if this Tribe’s recognition has expanded.


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