At Kuruvungna Springs

The Oasis at Kuruvungna Springs

Today was the “Life Before Columbus” Festival of the Gabrielino-Tongva Indian Tribe. (Appropriate, as tomorrow is Columbus Day, one of America’s more uncelebrated holidays—except by banks and the Civil Service).

About half a mile from our apartment is a site sacred to the Gabrielinos, who once occupied Southern California between Catalina Island and Cajon Pass, between Santa Barbara and Orange County. I am speaking of what is variously called Kuruvungna Springs, Tongva Sacred Springs, and Serra Springs. It is tucked into the Southeast corner of the University High School campus in West Los Angeles.

The Gabrielinos are not one of the better-known Indian tribes, but as Professor Paul Apodaca of Chapman University remarked at the festival, there are two hundred separate Indian tribes in the State of California, and something like a hundred Indian reservations. The tribes belong to some eight language families. My guess is that the Gabrielinos, like other smallish tribes, have not been able to gather the political support to have their own reservation or casino. And, in fact, many political entities do not recognize them. I can understand their budgetary collywobbles to some extent, but I recognize them, as does the City of Los Angeles. (The little Tongva cultural center at Kuruvungna Springs has a series of official scrolls attesting to their status by various governmental entities.)

That does not hide the fact that, when Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before the Mast landed in L.A. in the mid-1830s, it was the Gabrielinos he encountered. They were named by their affiliation with Mission San Gabriel, which they helped to build. They were one of the few maritime bands in California, rowing in their plank canoes to Santa Catalina and the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara.

The little oasis around the springs (which form part of the water supply of the City of Santa Monica) is a serene and peaceful place in the great wen that is Los Angeles—which, by the way, is called Yangna in the Gabrielino tongue.