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Native American Sites | love San Fernando Valley

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Native American Sites

Learn about the history of the original inhabitants of the SFV

In a metropolis of 10 million of us, it’s a challenge to find anything that looks like it did for the 8,000 years leading up to 1769 (year of Spanish contact, and beginning of the end for the natural way of life). In the Valley, 250 years has altered most of it unrecognizable. It is a stretch to present something on this page representing native culture.

But there’s something that remains very visible — four Gabrielino/Kizh/Tongva/Tataviam town names on our freeway signs. You wouldn’t be the first to think these are Spanish names. But they are remnants of the ancient language. (As to what that language and the people were called, please refer back to the history page, as this is an unsettled matter among the descendants.)

SFV Native Villages

Four native names you see on freeway signs: Cahuenga, Topanga, Tujunga, and Pacoima were Kizh (pronounced keesh) Indian villages.  They originally ended with -nga, which means “place of” in the native language. In this culture, the village names describe a specific location.

Cahuenga/ Kaweenga = the mountain, place of the hill  (at Universal City)

Pacoima/ Pakooynga = the entrance, or running water (located about 2.5 miles north of the town of San Fernando near the mountains)

Tujunga/ Tohuungna = old woman (a large stone looking like a kneeling woman around the Little Tujunga River)

Topanga/topaa’nga = where the mountains run out into the sea (this village was actually the most northern Kizh village on the coast, but is included here since we have Topanga Blvd. running the width of the valley)

In addition, there were about 8-20 towns (rancherias) dotting the valley where there was a permanent source of water from the SFV aquifer or creeks or the Los Angeles River . But these were buried long ago beneath urbanization. You can visit three village locales. It will take a hefty dose of imagination to picture what the Valley looked like prior to the Spanish arrival at these locations. Settling into the Los Angeles region in 1771, the Spanish altered the entire region forever. Beyond emptying out villages for workers to build their empire, the plants and animals were impacted as well. And then our culture has paved it all over!

Gabrielino Equestrian Park –  Village of Tujunga was located in this area, perhaps closer to Hansen Dam. When the 210 Freeway was constructed in the 1970’s, many artifacts were unearthed. NE SFV                                                                                   S. End of Orcas Avenue                                                                                                                                                                                       Lake View Terrace 91342

Los Encinos State Park –  Although the park faces Ventura Blvd., the entrance is around the block on Moorpark. Before it became a Californio cattle ranch on El Camino Real, then a Basque sheep ranch and inn, this was the site of the large village of Siutcangna located at the year-round spring.  The village site was across Ventura Blvd. It has been dated at over 3,000 years old. Over two million artifacts have been excavated, along with burial grounds.  Where are those artifacts today?

Los Encinos State Park   S Central SFV                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       16756 Moorpark Street                                                                                                                                                                                       Encino 91436                                                                                                                                                                                                           (818) 784-4849

Rudy Ortega Sr. Heritage Park                                                                                                                                                            2025 4th Street
San Fernando 91340

Chatsworth Reservoir – Various accounts from the past describe a town in the area. There were grinding rocks in the hills, and important geographical sites in these rocky hills.

Chatsworth Reservoir Nature Perserve   W Central                                                                                                                                          Valley Circle Blvd/Woolsey Canyon Road                                                                                                                                                          Los Angeles 91311

Native Village Sites in SFV

A Partial List of Villages and Sacred Sites

Collection of Village Sites

Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center
Mt Wilson Red Box Road
Pasadena, CA 91101

Haramokngna sits in the San Gabriel mountains up Highway 2. The Center shares the story of the Five Tribes of the San Gabriel Mountains: Tongva, Chumash, Tataviam, Kitanemuk and the Serrano. This was a rest area on the trail leading from the ocean to the desert. Families gathered here, collected nuts and acorns, and shared the news. There are workshops and events held at the Center. If you’ve heard of the young Indian woman Toypurina — who led people from six villages to attack San Gabriel Mission — she was from the mountain village Jachivit (which was not Gabrielino/Tongva, but Serrano ). The village was located further in the mountains about 12 miles from here. SFV Granny wonders if it was near one of the campgrounds such as Chileo.

Silver Moccasin Indian Trail                                                                                                                                                                                   This 53 mile long trail network follows old Indian trails through the mountains. It goes right through Chileo Campground, an hour from SFV.



Geographical Sites

Cave of Munits                                                                                                                                                                                            This cave plays a part in Kizh/Gabrielino/Chumash mythology. Located in El Escorpion Park, in the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, West Hills. From the 101 Freeway, take exit 29 Valley Circle Blvd. Head north to Vanowen St. Turn left on Vanowen, go to the bend in the road. The trail is on the left. W SFV

Cave of Munits

Cave of Munits and Castle Peak

Cave of Munits from Victory Trailhead


Burro Flats – Inaccessible to non-natives. This painted cave is unusual and significant in the US as it marks both the winter and summer solstice. Today it’s protected on Boeing private property at the top of Bell Canyon, and the native people want to keep it that way — although SFV Granny has heard some interest in making the area into a park. The area was polluted by the one of the worst nuclear disasters in the US, which has been under clean up operations for years. But back in the 1940s, this was a movie location for westerns. In this clip of The Cisco Kid, the camera pans the area. When SFV Granny volunteered at the SW (Indian) Museum in Highland Park, there is a large replica of the cave in one of the galleries. It was very popular with fourth graders studying California history.

Burro Flats Painted Cave – W SFV

Rocketdyne Property



Santa Susana Pass – W SFV


Van Alden Cave – S Central SFV

Cahuenga Peak

Cahuenga Peak – SE SFV
Tree of Life Trail
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Tongva Peak – In the Verdugo Mountains, the eastern border of SFV                                                                                                   Tongva Peak                                                                                                                                                                                                              Hiking


Los Angeles River                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              SFV Granny has searched for the native name of the river, but it doesn’t seem to be recorded in any of the documents she’s read. A word for river is pa-hyt. The LA River begins as two creeks in the western hills of SFV. It flows along the southern edge, curves around the end of the mountains at the southeast boundary of the valley (today’s Griffith Park and the Glendale Narrows), and empties 48 miles away at Long Beach. There were about 45 villages (rancherias) built along the length of its banks. The river supported an abundant riparian environment full of food. It was also quite volatile, carrying as much water at times as the Mississippi near St. Louis! That’s why it ended up getting concreted in 1940. There are two places you can get a sense of what it was like: the only free-flowing remnant in the Sepulveda Recreation Area, and an 11 mile stretch in the Glendale Narrows with an earthen bottom where habitat is being allowed to return in the channel.

Indian villages along the river

Visit the river – S Central and SE SFV

Friends of the LA River activities (FOLAR)


El Alisal – The Council Tree                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   It will require the biggest imagination to picture this important Tongva gathering spot, just south of SFV. A six-story, 400- year-old sycamore tree grew  where the SFV and San Gabriel Valleys meet at the Los Angeles River — near the large village of Yangna where El Pueblo will be situated in 1781. It was the “water cooler” of its day, a board room  — a native Facebook to pass on information or discuss events. It shows up in old photos from the 1800s before it was cut down in 1892 .

Photos of El Alisal

Location of El Alisal and Yangna

The site of the Council Tree

Photo today of location – the 26 story building is the Metropolitan Transit Authority across the tracks from Union Station, south of Olvera Street and the Plaza.  It is northwest of the vacant lot where El Alisal once stood.

One Gateway Plaza                                                                                                                                                                                                  Los Angeles  90012


Indian Canyon/Vasquez Rocks NE of SFV                                                                                                                                                This site is outside of SFV,  but is a very recognizable landscape due to the large number of movies and ads filmed here. This would have been Tataviam territory. Today it is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. But these sites were all connected by Native American trading trails.


Sites of Interest in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

The Santa Monica Mountains form the southern boundary of the San Fernando Valley. They begin at Elysian Park in the east at the LA River, extending 40 miles to Pt. Mugu in Ventura County. There are hundreds of archaeological sites within the boundaries of the protected National Recreation Area. That’s the highest concentration found in any mountain range in the world! The western neighbors, the Chumash, created at least 26 known pictograph sites, which are still considered sacred.

Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center – SFV Granny attended the opening ceremonies when the land was first purchased for preservation in the 1980’s. Today there is a small cultural center, staffed by National Park rangers and/or a Chumash tribal member. This site is past Thousand Oaks, in Newbury Park at the western edge of the Santa Monicas. It’s at the top of Sycamore Canyon, which was a main trading corridor between the coastal Chumash and the inland Kizh/Fernandeno. The vistas and native plants give you a good idea of how SFV and the Los Angeles area looked pre-conquest. There are programs and hikes geared towards families.

Satwiwa Cultural Center

LA Times article Satwiwa

Boney Mountain/Sycamore Canyon Hikes

Four Horseman Cave – This is another intriguing site preserved on private property. It’s cool just knowing it’s there. At Saddle Rock Ranch, there is a cave of pictographs. What is so captivating is the Chumash artist(s) records the first view of a new creature to all the indigenous people in California – horses. Spanish soldiers riding horses through this route must have been such a stunning sight that it was noted on this rock!

Chumash pictographs of Portola’s Expedition 1770

Closeup of Portola Pictographs

Attempt to make cave paintings National Historic Site