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Finding Yaangna, the Ancestral Village of LA's Native People

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This weekend, Heyday Books will launch LAtitudes: An Angeleno's Atlas, with 19 "maps" of Los Angeles (some literal, some impressionistic) accompanied by 19 essays on topics ranging from street grids to fish to missiles to radio DJs. We're exploring one map from the book every day this week.

Los Angeles has the largest Native American population in the US, but of all the tribes represented here, the fewest people belong to the region's own Gabrieleno/Tongva communities. "The first nations people of the Los Angeles Basin covered a significant expanse of territory, reaching north to Malibu, traveling into the southern sectors of Orange County and east into Riverside County, including the four Southern Channel Islands," writes Cindi Moar Alvitre in her LAtitudes essay "Coyote Tours," but their "principal ancestral village" was Yaangna, which "moved along the Los Angeles River for countless generations, before the water was confined and silenced within a concrete sarcophagus, separating the people from that which gives life."

Alvitre writes that the Tongva/Gabrieleno (and other nearby/related tribal communities)

took the initial hits of European intrusion and our populations decreased almost to the point of extinction … Colonization and missionization accelerated the pace of relocation as native people tried to outrun the colonizers, always clinging to the river. After the secularization of the Missions [when they were essentially shut down in the 1830s], native people were cultural prisoners-of-war, released from generations of confinement into a permanently altered existence. Yaangna became a refugee camp for tribal families seeking some sense of tradition. But finally, on "a cold fall evening in 1847, the last generation of Yavitem were turned out onto Calle de los Negros, the place of the dark ones, after their village was razed to the ground by the Los Angeles City Council." Yaangna probably last stood "on a site that is now marked by nothing more than a center divider on the Hollywood Freeway at the intersection of North Alameda and Aliso Street."

But still some Tongva and other Southern California "native-native[s]" persisted, as their homes were paved over and their "villages and trails [were] replaced with streets and neighborhoods that have no resemblance to their memories of the land." Today, Alvitre writes, the latest generation gathers sometimes for ceremonies and events at Farmlab at the Cornfield park in Chinatown, "acknowledged by many Tongva as a center of revitalization and the closest connection to the original Yaangna and the Los Angeles River."

Los Angeles State Historic Park

1245 North Spring Street, , CA 90012 Visit Website