What’s in a name? Everything.

When people are taking about their community heritage and traditions, it can become a very serious issue. That’s what happened to two local groups of indigenous people—the Tongva and Kizh tribes—who have far different takes on their history and name. Both have strong opinions, some evidence, but clearly different views

In 2017, Pomona got a huge surprise when electing to place a statue in Ganesha Park honoring local indigenous people. The members of the Tongva and Kizh tribes could not agree on a name of the “true tribe” to be written on the dedication plaque. Days passed as the discussion continued with no agreement. Finally, both tribes agreed to be called “Gabrieleños,” when referring to all local indigenous people. As you will see from the letters below, the disagreement continues.

Earlier this year, the COURIER published two columns written by John Neiuber that talked about the history and culture of these local indigenous tribes. The issue of their names came up again, causing some readers to write in support of their Kizh or Tongva heritage. Below are the letters commenting on these stories. Since there are simply too many people who chose to write, we moved the discussion to our website where space is not an issue. The latest comments start at the top. Additional comments can be made at the end.

Thank you for working with us in trying to give everyone a voice, in a civil and respectful manner. —PW


Setting the record straight

Dear editor:

Due to the printing of two resent articles in the Courier and a number of the letter to the editors which had numerous inaccurate statements I feel obligated to compile this address. First of all, it was Mr. Cleaves father who was involved with the Tongva springs foundation and not Mr, Cleaves the younger. The Springs Foundation Council is completely separate from our actual tribal government council, the sovereign governing body of the Gabrielino Tribe. The council Mr. Cleaves senior was associated with was an organizing body of the Gabrielino/Tongva Springs Foundation (not a tribe). Later the organization changed its name to the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribal Council.  It’s during this time, the myth of “Tongva” was born and the term presented to the public. 
I believe the removal of the word “foundation” and the addition of “tribal” was an attempt to legitimize themselves to state and federal agencies. The foundation council was established by non-lineal descendants of the Gabrieleno with the exception of one legitimate member, Ernie Salas (my father). After the success of the foundation’s efforts, my father received the gate access key to the springs. It was after this great success, that other non-natives began to infiltrate the group. This was about the time Mr. Cleaves senior got involved in 1994.
Like all tribal governing Councils, we are made up of true lineal descendants. This was not the case for the Springs Foundation, nor did it need to be as an organization. The Gabrielino / Tongva springs foundations members were mostly non-Natives and some that were unethically claiming to be Natives. It is hurtful to see these johnny-come-latelies, just like many of these commenters on this forum that claim to know our history. Actual lineal descendants are still here. We’ve been hearing these untruths for years and now the sleeping giant has been awakened and we can no longer turn the other cheek.

What happened to our Nation 26 years ago is being told. I believe it is now time for the ancestors to be heard and they are speaking through me. The truth of the made-up term tongva and how imposters have tried to destroy our tribe and steal our history with lies. We are exposing the truth, not just with counter accusations, but with actual facts. They have and continue be disrespectful and take advantage of us and robbed us of our history and birth rights just to benefit themselves. My hope is by sending this that you and others on this forum can spread the truth instead of fiction. It is time the truth be told.
• The “Tongva” term originated with C. Hart Merriam during his research of California Indians and their languages between 1905 and 1929.  It would be a more correct statement to say, “The “Tongva” tribe and tribal name were not created until 1992”. In Merriam’s original writings between 1905 and 1929, he identified the Indians living in proximity of the Mission San Gabriel as “San Gabriel” Indians. He also identified that according to certain Native Americans living in the Fort Tejon area the people called themselves “Tongva” but he provided no support. In addition, Merriam gathered further information from his translators stating that the “Tongva” language was spoken by some members of the tribe living around the Tejon area. None of the translators were identified by name, including Mrs. Rosemyer, in Merriam’s original unedited works. In Merriam’s original collection of notes written between 1903 and 1935, and published in 1955, he notes that Mrs. Rosemyer’s father was Serrano and her mother was San Gabriel. Merriam draws no conclusion that either of them belonged to a “Tongva” tribe.

In 1992, the “Tongva” tribal name was first introduced at a Gabrielino Tribal Council meeting without any ancestral naming evidence and support but as a self-named tribal name. 

• The reference to AJR96 and the reason it did not include the term “Tongva” is not accurate. Congressional records indicate that State of California employed researchers could not find evidence that would support the use of the term “Tongva” as the ancestral tribal name of the Indians of the Mission San Gabriel. The information is documented by the State of California and is supported by the exclusion of the “Tongva” tribal name from the resolution. It should be noted that three subsequent legislative bills that included the name “Tongva” were submitted and ultimately cancelled without clearing committee discussion. In addition, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848) and the Treaty of Castaic, Texon, etc. (1851) did not include the tribal name of “Tongva”.

• Your reference to the false claims of the lineage of “Tongva” tribal members is without support.  Research identifies no Native American genealogical reference exists which includes “Tongva” as a genealogical Native American name and reference. This is supported by the evidence that the “Tongva” tribal name did not exist until 1992 and no genealogical records would thus include the term “Tongva”.  In summary, with no genealogical evidential support for the tribal term “Tongva”, it is highly unlikely that the members of the self-named “Tongva” tribe have evidential support by proven genealogy records identifying themselves to be the true ancestral Native Americans of the Mission San Gabriel.  
In conclusion, the facts have been identified in the three points above regarding the origins of the “Tongva” term and “Tongva” tribal name, the origination of the self-named “Tongva” tribal name, and questionable lineage of members of the self-named “Tongva” tribe with inaccurate genealogical connections to the Indians of the Mission San Gabriel. These statements are not hearsay or opinions but are proven facts with evidence supporting each of these statements. The evidence challenges the accuracy of the “Tongva” tribal name and the integrity of “Tongva” tribal members based on supported facts and evidence. A lot of individuals rely on BIA documents as proof that they are who the document says they are. Today, in our effort to gain federal recognition only genealogical evidence of ancestry are acceptable.  I suggest that if you want to claim indigenous ancestry that you take the time to find out who you truly are. Hire professionals who can study your family line. This way the truth will set you free.  
Chairman Andy Salas

Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians—Kizh Nation



Dear editor:

I am disappointed that the COURIER has endorsed Claremont Heritage’s Tongva Land Acknowledgement Statement, which is empirically flawed and is not supported by the strength of historical, archeological and eyewitness evidence. No Gabrieleno/Tongva Indian can trace his ancestral village site to Claremont, because Torojoatnga never existed and is a flat out lie. Mark Acuna, who after taking his DNA ancestry test, and found out he does not have Native American DNA blood quantum, knew that Tongva land acknowledgement could not be proven unless a Gabrieleno/Tongva village site be established. So he falsely created this preposterous history within the city boundaries of Claremont. The land acknowledgement issue at hand is the city boundaries of Claremont, not the Los Angeles Basin. The truth is being stretched significantly. Mr. Neiuber’s articles have all the fingerprints of Mark Acuna’s attempts to revive a lost culture that was decimated and destroyed by Western European illegal aliens who overstayed their tourist visas. Why isn’t Mark being called out for this? It is because he can hide behind persons like Mari Lee Schaff and John Nieuber who can promote Mark’s propaganda and lies.

The standard of truth and evidence that Native Peoples use for land acknowledgement is 99 percent, not preponderance or “fake news.” 

The city of Claremont, the Claremont Colleges (Pomona College) and especially Claremont Heritage is complicit in the historic institutional racism, white privilege, and perpetuation of promoting racial stereotypes and lies that still exist in Claremont today. 

I also noticed that the Claremont city website just recently changed their Native American original inhabitants’ history from Serrano to Tongva. Is this because Pomona college’s website falsely declares that Torojoatnga existed? I will investigate how this arbitrarily by chance happened. I am not blowing air and have reasoning capabilities gifted to me by Our Creator to reveal the truth (God’s truth). I am a “gente de razon.”

Al Villanueva


[Editor’s Note: The COURIER has not endorsed or supported the Tongva or Kizh point of view. At this point, we are simply providing a forum for a sensitive, ongoing issue discussed for years between two groups of local indigenous people. —PW]


Tongva concerns

Dear editor:

This is a response to an opinion letter published in the recent issue of the COURIER. While I appreciated John Neiuber’s recent and informed articles on the Tongva, the letter by Mari Pritchard Parker makes a number of factually incorrect claims about the Tongva community. 

First off, I deeply appreciate the work of John Neiuber in documenting the history of our Tongva people in this region. As happy as I was to see this recognition of our local Indigenous community, of which I am a proud member, I was very disappointed to see that the COURIER chose to print the letter from a white anthropologist attempting to claim the right to determine what endonym we use to define ourselves. It is a bit shocking in this day and age that an anthropologist with no connection to the Tribal community would make such a claim and it is also disturbing that the COURIER would choose to publish it without first checking some of the easily verifiable and provably false claims made in the letter.

The first is a claim that the term Tongva was created in 1992. This is quite surprising, coming from someone claiming to be an anthropologist, as C. Hart Merriam recorded this term in the first decade of the twentieth century from Mrs. James V. Rosemyre whose mother was Gabrieleno, as we were called by our colonizers. His research was presented in scholarship in 1906, and it is authoritatively historically attested in “Studies of California Indians” (77-86). The term is also found in his holographic notes, and it is even used on the wax cylinder recordings at the Smithsonian that contain the only recordings of our language, also from the first decade of the twentieth century, and also from Mrs. Rosemyre. I am myself a lineal descendant of Mrs. James V. Rosemyre, also known as Narcissa Higuera, and that endonym has been in continuous use in our family. It was also used by the community prior to our work to save Kuruvungna (of which I was also a founding director).

Kizh simply means “house” in our language. It was never an endonym and the small family group currently using the term, which they have every right to do, has only used it for the last two decades. In fact, a number of the current members of the Kizh group used the Tongva endonym in correspondence and even Tribal paperwork in the early 90s, which we still have in our records. The claim that the Kizh group is the only one recognized by the state is flat out false. In fact, that group did not even exist at the time of the state recognition. A number of the institutions the letter claims recognize the Kizh do not actually have a process for doing so, and those governmental organizations that do recognize Indigenous communities also recognize Tribal governments and organizations that use the term Tongva. The statements in Mari Pritchard Parker’s letter are at best misinformed.

There is also a historically inaccurate portrayal of the reason the term Tongva was not used in the 1994 resolution. This point is admittedly less widely documented, but I do know the history as I was part of the team that helped draft the language of the resolution and worked with the state assembly members supporting it and was present at its passage. The term Tongva was not rejected by the state, but rather it was not used as one Tongva community claimed to have the exclusive right to use the term and there was a desire to make the recognition as broad and uncontroversial as possible. Again, I was present at these discussions and if there is any documentation to back up an alternative account, I have yet to see it (and I have asked for it, repeatedly). While I do recognize that this could be a simple mistake, the claim that seems to be made here that the State of California somehow rejected the term is both false and problematic.

The other, more disturbing claim is about the lineage of the people who use the term Tongva. Mari Pritchard Parker wrote:

“The term “Tongva” and the individuals who created and continue to use the term are not the descendants of the Kizh of the Greater Los Angeles Basin and surrounding areas. The creation and use of this name and the co-opting of the indigeneity of the true descendants has created confusion and caused harm, whether intentional or not.”

I’m afraid this comment is beyond the pale and borders on or may be actual libel as it attempts to imply that we who use the term Tongva are not true descendants or Indigenous. I served as membership and certification chair in the 1990s and can confirm and attest, as I have done at the request of the state assembly in session, that all enrolled members can prove clear lineal descent to an Indigenous Gabrieleno ancestor. A number of the community who use the term Tongva, including myself, have BIA degree of Indian Blood certification. My family is also recorded on the Census roll of Indians from 1928 as hailing from San Gabriel and of Indigenous descent, a Gabrieleno. 

It is particularly egregious when an outsider, a person who is not of Tongva, Gabrieleno (or whatever term is preferred) descent makes claims about the lineage, heritage, and membership of an Indigenous community. As an academic with a focus in Anthropology I would hope that Mari Pritchard Parker would be aware of this. It should be particularly embarrassing for her as her own academic institution, Pasadena City College, recognizes the Tongva, “our college is built on land historically inhabited by the Tongva people more than 3,500 years ago” (Resolution No. 631 Pasadena Area Community College District – Pasadena City College, November 2019). I really don’t have any idea of what her stake in this issue is, but numerous anthropologists and historians at prominent institutions in our region recognize the use of the term Tongva as the only historically attested endonym of our people. You can also see the Tongva endonym used in the work done at institutions like UCLA and in their Mapping Indigenous LA project (https://mila.ss.ucla.edu/), and in the land acknowledgments of both UCLA and UC Riverside which recognize the endonym Tongva, as do all reputable scholars.

I do understand that issue of Tribal identity can be complicated and vexed.  I hope that you will repudiate this racist and uninformed attack and discuss these issues with myself and other Tongva and Gabrieleno community members who live in this area, and we can work towards a more accurate understanding of the complexities and that you can be convinced by the copious evidence, much of it widely available.  The printing of the defamatory attacks made in this letter is incredibly problematic, and I hope that you will respect the wishes of the vast majority of our community who do recognize both the Indigenous endonym of Tongva and the colonial term of Gabrieleno which we continue to use.

Dr. Wallace Cleaves

Member of the Tongva

Associate Professor of Teaching, UC Riverside 


Claremont Heritage Tongva Articles

Dear editor:

The archeological dig at the Indian Hill mesa site produced pottery shards. The Gabrieleno/Tongva did not make clay pottery. The Cahuilla Indians did. (Honnold Special Collections)

The burial on the SW corner of the mesa site is a Cahuilla burial site, as is the burial site at Ganesha Park (Toibinga). Cahuilla elders shared this information with Pomona Valley Native American Elders Robert John Knapp (Claremont) and Tony Cerda (Pomona) some 35 years ago. The Cahuilla elders shared that they died as a result of the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s.

Tooch Martin, Claremont’s first white settler who lived in Palmer Canyon, identified his neighbors as Cahuilla. (Honnold Special Collections)

The village of Torojoatnga is pure mythological fiction. There is no physical evidence this Indian Hill mesa village ever existed. Maps by the first Spanish Franciscan priests and military soldiers does not include Torojoatnga. Torojoatnga is not included as a village in the Bernice Eastman Johnson map (The Gabrielenos) nor Crawley’s The First Angelinos map. But the strongest evidence are the 120 Indian villages documented by the Franciscan priests (from the San Gabriel Mission records), which also included Serrano and Cahuilla villages but does not include the Indian village of Torojoatnga. Native American land acknowledgement must include the ancestral village site that once existed.

The Indians that lived in the San Gabriel Mission area when first encountered by white people (Franciscan priests) identified themselves through Sonoran Indian interpreters as “gente de razon.” meaning “people who can reason.”  Translate this Spanish into the Gabrieleno/Tongva language, and you will have the real name of the Gabrielenos. The only problem is the language is extinct and the culture was destroyed and decimated by Western European invasion. As the Pritchard letter to the editor (COURIER 2-19-21) stated, “Tongva” was first introduced in the early 1990s by the Anthony Morales faction from San Gabriel, The other factions are the Kizh faction from Whittier (where the first San Gabriel Mission was built) and the Stein faction from Santa Monica.They are all fighting and suing each other. All three factions are not sovereign Indian Nations and are fighting for federal recognition so they can bring Indian gaming to Southern California. The majority of them used to be middle class Mexican Americans prior to 1988, the year Indian Gaming was permitted by the US government.

The semi-feudal Spanish mission at San Gabriel categorized all Indians assigned to this mission as “Gabrieleno,” and did not distinguish them from each other by tribe or language. Serrano and Cahuilla Indians were also enslaved at the San Gabriel Mission.

To make matters more confusing, my maternal grandparents resided at the Serrano tent encampment on the west side of the Indian Hill mesa site near Webb Canyon for one year while their home was being built in the Arbol Verde Mexican Indian neighborhood circa 1913-14. My grandfather and my mother passed these oral traditions on to me.

Further research needs to be conducted to empirically conclude who the original inhabitants of Claremont were.  

Al Villanueva

Claremont First Nations Purepecha Elder Claremont

50-year resident and elder



Response to Tongva/Kizh

Dear editor:

I am a former Chief of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and a 28-year resident of Claremont. 

The San Gabriel, San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians has existed and maintained community before and after the establishment of the San Gabriel Mission in 1771. The only tribe from San Gabriel is the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians. We are not known or share our name with or by any other organization. The State Recognition was specifically given to the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians. The San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians has been recognized by a Los Angeles Court to be the legitimate tribe of the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe. We are actively contacted and consulted by government entities as the most likely descendants to conduct reburials and monitoring of newly discovered Native American sites in Southern California.  

Tongva remained unknown to the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians until the 1970s. It was not readily accepted because we were indoctrinated to identify ourselves by our Spanish Mission given name, Gabrieleno. Over time, documents and records confirmed Tongva as our Native name. Tongva has been accepted into our Tribe and the community at large. 

Kizh was one of hundreds or more small villages spread throughout the entire Los Angeles and Orange Counties. To include the Southern Channel Islands. Ms. Pritchard is apparently speaking for a few people who claim they are descendants of a small village called Kizh, a vast difference from the territory of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indian  approximately 5,866 sq. miles.  

This Kizh group, claiming to be descendants of this small village should not be construed as people or a group that speaks for all Gabrielenos or Tongva people. 

The Kizh group does not have a significant historical footprint or established legitimate historical records other than their own personal claims, all made sometime after 1994.

Mari A. Pritchard Parker, RPA, has no historical confirmation or proof on many of her inaccurate or misinformed statements. It also appears she is sharing stories from ill informed sources that are passing on unconfirmed stories as true.

The history of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleno Tongva history is far too complex for this article. Colonization stripped us of all our identity starting in 1771 and now we have to contend with people that further try to strip us of our name.  Our native story is one of survival and perseverance. We have weathered the storms of the past and we are still here.  

We need to spare ourselves the lack of knowledge and shaming for not knowing it all by those who have not traveled our journey.

All one has to do is ask Kizh members or others to provide the original State Recognition certificate which of course they cannot. They would also not be able to share or provide the specifics of the ceremony, who was present and who initiated the recognition. They were not around or in existence as a group.

Members of the Kizh nation are welcomed to be their own entity but they do not represent the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians nor do they speak for all Gabrieleno/Tongva People who they apparently do not recognize. 

Art Morales

Elder/Former Chief

San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians


Kimberly Morales Johnson 

Tribal Secretary 

San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians


We live on Tongva land

Dear editor:

Thank you for the well researched articles by John Neiuber about the history and culture of the Gabrielino-Tongva Band of Mission Indians, which appeared in the January 29 and February 5 issues of the Claremont COURIER. We understand that the term Gabrielinos, a name coined by the Spanish missionaries and rancheros, included people from many Indian bands in the Los Angeles basin. We also read the response by Mari Pritchard Parker on February 12, related to the history of the Gabrielino-Kizh people. Ms. Parker implies in her letter that the name Tongva is not a legitimate name. Apart from whatever political, economic, or land issues the eleven bands of Indians who currently live in the Los Angeles basin engage in, we believe in the right for a band to name itself and have that choice honored. 

According to the book “The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles” by William McCawley, published in 1996 by the Malki Museum Press, California’s first museum of Native Americans, the Tongva people lived in the area close to the San Gabriel Mountains including the geographical area that is Claremont. The Kizh people lived in the Whittier Narrows. Tongva means people of the earth and Kizh means houses. 

At Pilgrim Place in Claremont where we live, the Tongva people used to hunt and gather tule reeds and willow branches on this land for their houses. We recognize that we live on Tongva land, the name that connects the Tongva people to the earth. We have a reciprocal relationship with the Tongva people as we learn from one another and share our cultures. 

Natalie Shiras and Maura Corley

Tongva Journey Group at Pilgrim Place



The Gabrieleño-Kizh Nation

Dear editor:

We are sending this letter in regards to the printing of two recent articles about the history of Claremont that included hurtful and erroneous information about the indigenous people of this area.

The Indigenous People of the greater Los Angeles Basin and surrounding areas have been called the Gabrieleño since they were the laborers who built the Mission San Gabriel. Since this period, the indigenous peoples have experienced the most horrific atrocities. They were removed from their ancestral lands, and there were attempts to eradicate their culture, history, language and identity as a people. Today, they continue to experience atrocities by individuals who are attempting, once again, to steal their birthright to manipulate the public for their own self-gain by wrongly using a modified village name to identify the original people.

During mission times (late 18th Century), indigenous people were collected by the Spanish from many villages in what are now parts of Los Angeles County, Orange County, Ventura County, the greater Southwest, and Mexico. Even though these people had different cultures and spoke different languages, as time passed, they melted into a community.

The original peoples that inhabited the Greater L.A. area historically referred to themselves by their village names. The were named by the Spanish the Kichireños, and by other surrounding indigenous peoples the Kizh (from the Kizh word for the willow homes they built). Many tribes today are returning to their original names. Through genealogical and historical documents, it has been established that the members of the Kizh Nation are the direct descendants of the indigenous peoples from the greater Los Angeles area.

In 1994, the California Joint Assembly introduced a resolution to recognize the Gabrieleño as the “designated Tribe of the Greater Los Angeles Basin.” As it stands, the Gabrieleño (the lineal descendants of the Kichireños as described by the Spanish prior to the construction of the Mission and the subsequent use of the term) are the only ones recognized by the state, and not the groups calling themselves the “Tongva.” The term “Tongva” had been added to the 1994 resolution before coming to a vote; however, the State Senate rejected the term because there was no credible foundation for its inclusion and use. Three subsequent legislative bills that included the name “Tongva” were submitted and ultimately canceled without clearing committee discussion. In addition, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848) and the Treaty of Castaic, Texon, etc. (1851) do not include the tribal name of “Tongva.”

While not yet officially listed by the Department of Interior on the list of “Federally Recognized Tribes,” the Gabrieleño (now referred to as the Kizh Nation) are officially recognized by several state and federal agencies, including the Native American Heritage Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Army Corp. of Engineers, as the true lineal descendants of the original people.

If one researches the term “Tongva,”

one will find no historical or ethnographic reference to any tribe, band, village or group called “Tongva” prior to 1992 when the term was erroneously created with the best of intentions to save the Kurvugna Springs at Uni High School in Los Angeles. The term “Tongva” and the individuals who created and continue to use the term are not the descendants of the Kizh of the Greater Los Angeles Basin and surrounding areas. The creation and use of this name and the co-opting of the indigeneity of the true descendants has created confusion and caused harm, whether intentional or not.

The Gabrieleño-Kizh Nation people are alive and well in their traditional homeland. Their lengthy and deeply rich history is an important part of the California story. If they are to be properly honored and respected, we must begin by acknowledging their existence, their identity, their origins and their authenticity.

For further documentation contact Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians – Kizh Nation at PO Box 393, Covina, CA  91723, 844-390-0787, www.gabrielenoindians.org

Mari A. Pritchard Parker, RPA

Adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology, Pasadena City College

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