After nearly 200 years, the Tongva community has land in Los Angeles County and is a valued cultural treasure. But for many of the Tongva, a group of tribes in the state of California, their culture is under threat from modern day encroachment.
They make up one of the most under-recognized tribes of the American population. With the exception of a few organizations that exist solely to protect the tribe, the Tongva’s land is not protected in any way. Their lands are owned by the City of Long Beach and the County of Los Angeles.
“A lot of their people don’t have access to their land anymore and a lot of them have abandoned their homes,” says John Hovland, who leads the Tongva Cultural Preservation Council. “And also, that’s something that makes them vulnerable and makes it difficult to protect them.”
The Tongva’s traditional lands cover roughly 1,700 square miles of northern California, including the San Jacinto Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the Santa Monica Mountains.
“We have been here for thousands of years,” Hovland says. “So we have a long history. We have to find a way to preserve [culture].”
But the Tongva are not alone in their struggles with state and federal government agencies that seek to extinguish their land history. While modern land grabs like the one made by Long Beach are common in California, it appears that the Tongva are not unique in their struggle.
“They’ve been fighting this for a long time. This is a fight they’ve been fighting for decades,” says John Nienzi, the former California attorney general who represented the Tongva Nation in an attempt to gain federal recognition.
“This is not an open and shut case,” he says. “There are a lot of different interests involved.”
A Case of Injustice
The case of the Tongva was not an open and shut case, nor did it involve a single interest.
California’s Native American Lands Protection Act of 1978, which protects Native American lands against federal and state attempts to seize their land rights, is among the most heavily