The Tongva (/ˈtɒŋvə/ TONG-və) are those Native Americans who inhabited the Los Angeles Basin and the Southern


Channel Islands, an area covering approximately 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2).[1] The Tongva are also known as the Gabrieleño, Fernandeño, and Nicoleño[a]—Europeanized names that were assigned to the Tongva after Spanish colonization. Gabrieleño and Fernandeño are derived from the names of Spanish missions built on or near the tribes' territory—Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and Mission San Fernando Rey de España, respectively—while Nicoleño is derived from San Nicolas Island.[b] Along with the neighboring Chumash, the Tongva were the most powerful indigenous people to inhabit Southern California. At the time of European contact, they may have numbered 5,000 to 10,000.[1]

Many lines of evidence suggest that the Tongva are descended of Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples from Nevada who moved southwest into coastal Southern California 3,500 years ago. These migrants either absorbed or pushed out the Hokan-speaking peoples in the region.[2][3] By 500 AD the Tongva had come to occupy all the lands now associated with them.[2] A hunter-gatherer society, the Tongva traded widely with neighboring peoples. Over time scattered communities came to speak distinct dialects of the Tongva language, part of the Takic subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan language family. There may have been five or more such dialects (three on the Channel Islands and at least two on the mainland).[1] The Tongva language became extinct in the twentieth century, but a reconstructed form continues to be spoken today.

Tongva Lands

Initial Spanish exploration of the Los Angeles area occurred in 1542, but sustained contact with the Tongva came only after Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was constructed in 1771. This marked the beginning of an era of forced relocation and exposure to Old World diseases, leading to the rapid collapse of the Tongva population.[4] At times the Tongva violently resisted Spanish rule, such as the 1785 rebellion led by the female chief Toypurina.[1] In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and the government sold mission lands to ranchers, forcing the Tongva to culturally assimilate. Three decades later California was ceded to the United States following the Mexican–American War. The US government signed treaties with the Tongva promising 8.5 million acres (3,400,000 ha) of land for reservations, but these treaties were never ratified.[5] By the turn of the 20th century, the Island Tongva had disappeared and the mainland communities were also nearing extinction. The endonym Tongva was recorded by American ethnographer C. Hart Merriam in 1903 and has been widely adopted by scholars and descendants,[1] although some prefer the endonym Kizh.[6] Since 2006, there have been four organizations claiming to represent the Tongva Nation: the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, known as the "hyphen" group from the hyphen in their name;[7] the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe, known as the "slash" group;[8] the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians;[9] and the Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council.[10] Two of the groups are the result of a hostile split over the question of building an Indian casino.[11] In 1994, the state of California recognized the Tongva "as the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles Basin," but no group representing the Tongva has attained recognition by the federal government.[5] In 2008, more than 1,700 people identified as Tongva or claimed partial ancestry