Long Beach group chooses new neighborhood name to honor Tongva tribe • Long Beach Post News
Standing outside a liquor store near the intersection of Cherry Avenue and 64th Street in North Long Beach, Jeff Rowe and Virginia Carmelo examine two patches of uncut grass and weeds growing near the sidewalk as the hot August sun shines on them.
The patches are only a few feet long horizontally and even shorter vertically. A parking sign stands askew from the ground.
Not much at first glance, but the couple are optimistic that the grass patches will eventually be turned into ceremonial gardens filled with plants and herbs essential to the indigenous Tongva tribe that predominated in the area. almost 10,000 years ago.
But this isn’t the first time Rowe and Carmelo have worked together to honor the Tongva people.
Neighboring residents of the former Grant Neighborhood Association, named after the neighborhood Ulysses S. Grant Primary School, voted this year to change its name to Nehyam Neighborhood Association— “nehyam” which means “my friend” in the Tongva language. .
The name change also comes as Long Beach prepares to redraw its municipal district boundaries. Long Beach Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said the city intends to fully recognize the neighborhood’s new name on an updated map of city neighborhoods. The map will be updated after September 8.
Rowe, president of the new Nehyam Neighborhood Association, hopes to plant sage, chia, yerba manso, three-leaf sumac and wild California grapes in the proposed garden in the fall. It will also feature a plaque on the wall of the liquor store that will educate passers-by about Tongva’s history.
He said there was no need for a building permit from the city, just approval from the owner of the liquor store who has already given him permission to create the garden.
Rowe motioned to Carmelo, who is a descendant of the Tongva tribe. “His ancestors figured out how to shelter it, what to eat and which to make medicine,” he said.
Grant’s presidency in the late 1800s attempted to juggle western expansion with peace between the federal government and Indigenous peoples.
Policies to assimilate the tribes into Western culture were adopted, which proved catastrophic for the tribes.
The old name of the neighborhood was something Rowe and other members of the neighborhood organization felt they could no longer support, and it was Carmelo’s knowledge of the culture of his ancestors that guided their plan to change the neighborhood. name.
“As a Native American, in our cultures it’s always a protocol to recognize the original people of the land, and now we’re extending it here to other cultures,” Carmelo said. “It’s just a matter of respect, just basic respect.”
The Tongva, also known as the Gabrielino-Tongva, are a primarily nomadic gathering tribe who originally settled throughout the Los Angeles Basin, including parts of Signal Hill and Long Beach, before the European settlers do not settle and begin to urbanize the area.
Very little history surrounding the Tongva has been officially recorded in relation to more well-known tribes. The lack of records made any effort to obtain federal recognition, medical and financial support almost impossible.
Among the lack of cultural documents, there is also no official alphabet for the Tongva language, and many linguists and cultural consultants, such as Carmelo, have had to develop one over time.
The history of the Tongva people lives on through monuments and tribe descendants like Carmelo, who speaks the native language.
The founding of the Grant Neighborhood Association dates back to 1974. However, Rowe believes it could have been created a few years earlier.
The association has established a clubhouse in the old Long Beach 12 Fire Station in the heart of the neighborhood at 6509 Gundry Ave. The group organized weekly crop exchanges to provide residents with healthy food and held meetings outside the fire station.
Grant Elementary School was built in 1935 and more buildings were added in 1949 and 1955.
In 2019, Long Beach officially recognized the Grant District as a Historic District, the first in North Long Beach, to preserve the old suburban homes that were built there in the 1930s.
To earn this recognition, Rowe said the neighborhood association needed to sort through multiple files to provide planners with evidence to support the neighborhood’s historical significance.
Sorting through the records, Rowe said the association discovered that homes in the neighborhood were originally only sold to white families, highlighting a redlining story and the discrimination that has affected some communities in Long Beach for generations.
“It was painful to find out. That it was our legacy, ”Rowe said.
The group debated for months what the name should become. Meanwhile, Rowe saw an opportunity to name the Neighborhood Association after something that would pay homage to the tribes who lived in the area as there were very few monuments dedicated to them.
Rowe contacted the Gabrielino-Tongva Indian Tribe Council’s Los Angeles office about the name change idea they approved.
The council helped him get in touch with tribal members in the Long Beach area, eventually reaching Carmelo’s son, who told him his mother had experience in cultural counseling.
“We just wanted to observe and recognize the first people here. That was our real reasoning, ”Rowe said. “In particular, our conversation started after George Floyd. It just seemed like we couldn’t ignore Grant’s legacy. “
At first, not everyone in the neighborhood association agreed with the name change.
Rowe said some members have argued that Grant is part of the nation’s history and should be preserved. Rowe responded by saying there was no record of Grant setting foot in North Long Beach, which he said helped win over those who remained hesitant.
Efforts to address the history of the indigenous peoples of Long Beach are not a new concept.
In a similar case to the Rowe Neighborhood Association, Cal State Long Beach made the decision in 2018 to remove the school mascot Prospector Pete and change her to a shark.
The controversial decision was made amid growing concerns from students and activists alike that the historical accounts of violence against Indigenous tribes by gold diggers during the state’s gold rush were something that the school should not celebrate.
A year later, the school had to contend with the construction of a student accommodation center in which teams moved dirt and debris to a nearby plot of land called Puvungna which is sacred to the Tongva. The incident led to discussions in the courtroom about the protection of sacred lands.
Carmelo believes the push for tribal recognition is something that should have happened a long time ago, but the actions taken by Rowe and the diverse community of North Long Beach are welcome.
“It is always an honor for anyone to recognize our elders and ancestors,” said Carmelo. “But when we see other cultures spreading it, this recognition is of great importance.”