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Native Americans Were Here First | love San Fernando Valley

4th Largest Unofficial City in America!

Native Americans Were Here First

Visit sites important to the original Valley people.

California has always been a blessed, diverse environment. That’s why millions of us choose to live here in spite of the high cost of making ends meet, endless concrete, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. In SFV Granny’s opinion, this truly was a garden of Eden for the native people who lived here first. They balanced their needs within the pristine environment. Can you imagine the sky blackened by enormous flocks of birds? Or trash-free, unpolluted beaches? Sigh.

It was the same here in the SFV. Except there was a fraction of the amount of people because they couldn’t exceed the amount of fresh water available naturally. Villages were located by water, which would be the L.A. River or springs.

For five years (1985-1990), when SFV Granny was just out of college and raising a baby, she gave tours at the Southwest Indian Museum in Highland Park. It was so much fun week after week to meet hundreds of 4th graders who came on field trips to learn about the native people of the Los Angeles region. We shared as much accurate knowledge as we knew at the time.

In the past 30 years, more archaeology, anthropology, and research studies have been conducted to give us a better picture of who the first people were. In 1978, a Cal State Hayward professor had written for the Smithsonian that the original Gabrielino/Tongva people were long-extinct. However, lineage descendants let it be known that they were alive and well in the 1990s!  SFV Granny has attended talks given by or about direct descendants of Indians who had lived in the San Gabriel Valley.  She has met descendants from families taken San Fernando Mission. Tribal websites are listed below, as are some informational websites.


Brief Kizh/Tongva history 

Discussion of place name spellings

The relationship between the people, river, and land – good read about the LA River; start page 26 about the native tribes

The Fernandeno Indians

The last native speaker in the Valley


SFV Native Villages

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 (at Universal City)

Pacoima/ Pakooynga = the entrance (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 villages dotting the valley, located at permanent water sources.

Maps of villages

What happened to Yangna?


  •      There are at least three groups claiming to speak for the descendants of the Native Americans who lived in the Los Angeles region — and the San Fernando Valley — for eight thousand years. When the Spanish arrived from Baja to build Mission San Gabriel Arcangel in 1771, there were hundreds of long-settled villages.  It can be confusing for outsiders to know who actually speaks for the people today. They themselves differ on how they identify themselves, and who the direct descendants are! Sadly, 240 years after being conquered, there are no full- or half-blooded native people or speakers of the languages first heard in the region. It was common to marry Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo settlers.
  •      There was not one big tribe called Gabrielino or Tongva. The custom of the native community was to identify with their own village and the nearby area. The people taken to the San Gabriel Mission were all called Gabrielino. Those working the San Fernando Mission lands were collectively called Fernandeno, even though they spoke different languages because they were from several cultural groups. But those names were not what they had called themselves.
  •      In a desire to be respectful, many Anglos have wanted to use a name that wasn’t non-native. When SFV Granny gave tours at the Southwest Museum, this was a common question from school kids, teachers, and adult visitors.  In the 1990’s, the term Tongva came into wider use. Now it’s controversial. It may describe the village where the San Gabriel Mission was located, but other tribal people don’t feel it identifies them. They prefer the first written description found in an 1845 USA government report describing the indigenous people who lived in large brush homes as the Kizh.
  •      The people have splintered over a desire of some to build a casino, which others oppose. The federal government has never recognized Kizh/Gabrielino/Tongva as a tribe. They have been denied a reservation or benefits that other American Indians have received. But none of the descendants have  given up on their efforts to be recognized since California became a state back in 1849!

Kizh Nation – centered in San Gabriel Valley

Kizh Gabrielino Band of Mission Indians

Tongva Band – centered in Santa Monica

Gabrielino-Tongva Band

Gabrielino/Tongva Nation – centered in Chino

Tongva Tribe


Multicultural Zone

The area around the rocky northwestern edge of SFV near Chatsworth, Porter Ranch, and Sylmar was a peaceful, multicultural zone. Three different cultural groups were neighbors in the area: the Kizh, Tataviam, and Chumash. It may be that Pacoima was a Tataviam village. It’s not Spanish.  Today’s Pacoima is in the north valley where the three ancient cultures existed side-by-side.

Tataviam Official Website and Map of Villages

Tataviam People (people facing the sun)

Pukuu Cultural Community Services – the Tataviam, or PAVASIKVITAM as SFV Granny has heard people call themselves, established Pukuu (meaning ONE) to assist native families. They also award educational scholarships.

1019 2nd Street
San Fernando 91340


Juana Maria — The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

Quite possibly, this woman is the most famous Tongva/Gabrielino person. The Russians and Aleutian fur trappers killed many of the inhabitants of her island out past Catalina Island (who traded soapstone with the mainland). The Spanish priests gathered up the rest of the people and took them to the missions on the mainland. Juana Maria was left behind but had the skills to live alone on the island for 18 years. When she was found, she was taken to Mission Santa Barbara. She died within 7 weeks.

Every 4th grader in the state reads her story as imagined in Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. SFV Granny has always felt that Juana Maria was taken to the wrong mission. I’ve wondered what would have happened if either the American sea captain or the Spanish priests had realized her language was related to the Gabrielino and Fernandeno and taken her to one of those missions. She could have had someone who understood her dialect, so she wasn’t so isolated. We might have learned her real name instead of what a priest gave her.  But she ended up in the midst of Chumash speakers. Of course, the whole mission system would have been a shock to her system, given how unhealthy it was for the other Indians.