After nearly 200 years, the Tongva community has land in Los Angeles County and the National Register of Historic Places. With just a few small reservations and few people, they have built over 400 homes and created hundreds of jobs.
But as these Tongva’s have continued to build upon what may be the world’s largest indigenous community by number of speakers, their culture is under threat.
The Tongva people’s native language was decimated by the U.S. government in the mid-1990s, and many of them have never even been able to speak their language as adults.
The Tongva people are primarily of the Shoshone Nation, and they have lived in the region for thousands of years before European settlers arrived here. In fact, they are a Shoshone community, which is why many Tongva say that their language is “Shoshoneic.” Many of them, however, prefer the terms Tongvaish and Tongvais.
Tongva is an indigenous language spoken in the United States that shares similarities with the Buryat language of Russia, Yakutsk, and other indigenous languages around the world. The community’s members are fluent in English and have learned Spanish and Vietnamese as second or third languages.
When Tongva was forced to be spoken only by U.S. citizens like me in the 1980s, they didn’t realize it would take several decades for their culture to be recognized by the public.
But thanks to a series of events, Tongva’s are finally being recognized by people like myself, by their descendants, and by people who have spent a great amount of time traveling and documenting their language.
A Tongva man in his home in Yerba Buena, Calif. (Photo: Joe Skupa for CalMatters)
What’s really interesting is how people have been slowly coming to understand their culture, language, and history