History of the Gabrieleno's

                              "The European Incursion"

Meaning: The invasion by a group of people with the intent of changing and altering the culture of the invaded to conform to the culture of the invaders.

The first contrast is that of exposure. The majority of the California Indians in their tribal nations lived in relative isolation. Thus Spain and Europe were to deal not with a single people but a multiplicity of linguistic nations. And each linguistic nation was made up not of centralized nations but of tribal communities, each with its own center of authority and power, each fiercely defending its independence and autonomy.

The second contrast is that of the world view.  The natural barriers that kept the many tribal nations relatively independent and isolated also prevented the forming of huge alliances and political forces with powerful leaders unifying vast numbers of people. California's communities never envisioned a world of conquest or domination. The world to the GabrielenoTongva was  the world to the Gabrieleno Tongva. The idea of invading and conquering was foreign to the Gabrieleno Tongva and also to all California's tribal nations. The idea that a nation from across the sea was about to arrive and claim all of the land of the Gabrieleno Tongva as belonging to some unknown, unseen foreign king and that they were to immediately change their language, food, clothing, life style, mode of governance, and religion was impossible to conceive. Yet that is precisely what was about to happen. The result would be disaster, social annihilation. slavery, death. One wonders what rationale was used for such a cultural devastation of a people whose existence still posed questions to the Europeans.

As early as 1540 The second Spaniard Melchoir Diaz and his men who carried incredible weapons were entering the land. He waged a fierce battle against the Yuma, defeating them and driving the rest off. Sometimes the Spaniards would capture the people and enslave them: they would carry them off to mysterious other worlds beyond the sea. Rumors filtered deeper into the Indian territories.

What Cortez, Alvardo and Cabrillo intended was to finish the work of Columbus. Cabrillo in his mapping venture reached Pimu and Santa Monica Bay. He took note of the remarkable people, their friendliness, their sensuality and nakedness, their canoes and countless villages and moved on.

Sailors and priest would be rescued by Indian groups who in turn were influenced in several ways. The most devastating was the early introduction of European disease. From the Colorado- River- encounters and scattered wrecks and rescues, disease was beginning to spread across the land.

 The second was the introduction of "religious" ideas that were incorporated into Native belief system. We see such an influence in Gabrieleno Tongva today on these religious views. Even prior to the arrival in 1769 of the full Church and State, concepts of a deity who rewards and punishes and rises up to the sky to watch over people had begun to be part of the new religious movement along the coastal groups of this area (Chinigchinish). In the sixteen hundreds  Sebastian Vizcaino entered San Pedro Harbor, He stepped ashore to teach the Gabrieleno Tongva about Christian faith and placed a cross on what he called an idol (Miller 11). What Vizcaino had done, of course, much to the horror of the Gabrieleno Tongva, was desecrate a shrine. This act was in contrast to the hospitality the Gabrieleno Tongva had shown both Cabrillo and the newly arrived Vizcaino. Ten days later he sailed north, leaving Gabrieleno Tongva with a new awareness of what the Spaniards would eventually require of them. For about one hundred and sixty nine years the Gabrieleno Tongva were relatively safe. Still the stories of what was happening over the mountains were worrisome. Don Juan de Onate had conquered New Mexico by fire and gun brutalizing and enslaving the Indians populations as he marched. He devastated the land to such a degree that the potential colonists had to return to Mexico to avoid starvation.

Jose Galvez, the Spanish viceroy, occupied Alta California using the so-called Russian menace as pretext for gaining royal support for establishing the fortified "presidio" mission of San Diego, San Gabriel would follow in 1771. In the years between 1774 and 1790, during which eight missions would be established, Spain sent four major expeditions to Alaska to take possession; all failed. The impact was greater in California, but in fifty- eight years the grand plan for fortified missions would be over when California became a Untied States territory.

The best way to counter the potential encroachment of the European nations was to grant the Church (at no expense to the State) the right to send missionaries north into Alta California. The Church would finance missionaries with a few accompanying soldiers to "protect" them as they crossed into the northern frontiers of the Empire. It was the European Church and military pattern of colonization. Unknown to the Gabrieleno Tongva, their land had been declared part of Spanish Empire.

Spain had entered Los Angeles Basin in 1769 with the expedition of Don Gasper de Portola. The Church entered Los Angeles Basin in 1771 to establish the fourth Mission, San Gabriel Arcangel. After an initial encounter with unwilling and unfriendly Gabrieleno Tongva, the Mission was established. From the beginning the relation between the church, the military, and the Gabrieleno Tongva was fragile at best. Trouble arose early from the treatment of the  Gabrieleno Tongva by the soldiers who captured Gabrieleno Tongva men, bound them and tortured them until they produced their women who were then raped. When one of the chiefs complained, he was beheaded. His head was put on a spike and displayed at the mission as a warning. Endless complaints led nowhere. No charges were ever pressed against the soldiers for rape. Again from the very start the plan was to convert and change the Indians. The idea that the people were a civilized society, subject to it's own laws and authorities, with a culture and religion of it's own was not considered.

 The Franciscan missionary monks who were sent out of California Baja to establish the series of missions believed in their primary purpose: that of spreading the Christian doctrine among the Pagan Indians.  Consistent with this belief the "Missions" were to be institutions and shelters established to civilize pagan Indians; this civilization was expected to be acquired by the Indians in ten years. In theory, after the ten years, the Natives would be given back the land as they would become loyal Christian subjects of Spain. They would have become self-sufficient and Europeanized. The theory of course was never produced. At no time was the land ever returned to the Native Californians.

Many of the Gabrieleno Tongva, however, saw San Gabriel as a place of horror, starvation, exploitation, terror and death. The "Mission" became soldiers fort and prison.

All the Missions, forts and presidios were designed as rectangular enclosures with thick walls, narrow, shutters windows, towers, and heavy gates where sometimes as many as a thousand Indians were recruited and locked every night.

Those forts and prisons lacked any proper sanitation and ventilation; hence, that heat usually made it easier for diseases to spread among-st the enslaved Natives. San Gabriel was no exception.

The Franciscans of San Gabriel ignored Gabrieleno Tongva beliefs and forcibly converted them to Christianity and in the process attempted to destroy their religions. The first step of conversion was baptism. " The Natives" were baptized; therefore, they were required to remain at the Mission and pressured to wear Christian clothing. They had no say about the conversion. At this point, in order for an Indian to be considered true Catholics, they were required to practice their new religion every morning and again at every sunset.

  San Gabriel, like all Missions, became a place where the original natural work habits of the Gabrieleno Tongva were changed and their labor exploited.  Work habits were replaced by work "duties".  Their aboriginal work habits such as hunting, fishing, acorn harvesting. medicinal plant preparations were forbidden. Instead the bringers of "civilization" imposed unfamiliar work duties on the Gabrieleno Tongva; for example men were assigned to the fields, orchards, or vineyards; other tended livestock; still other served as tanners or blacksmith, or made adobe bricks, tiles, candles, soap, shoes, saddles, pottery, and other items. Gabrieleno Tongva were never compensated or paid their labor simply and clearly exploited. It was expected and demanded labor. Another words for such uncompensated and exploited labor is "slavery".

The Missions tended to look the other way when Spanish slave raiders plundered villages in search for labors. But yet land disputes occurred between the missions and both the military and settlers. And one of the points if "dispute"was "slavery"; despite the fact that the Church was making use of "unpaid and enforced" labor, it frowned on the use of "slaves" by the State. Junipero Serra failed in all attempts to control the soldiers who were used to capture the Indians at Mission sites. Soldiers were mounted on horses, armed with guns and using ropes rounded up a work force to build the mission. And even though laws were passed to prevent slavery they were ignored. The Pueblo of Los Angeles served as a major slave trafficking center. Many Gabrieleno Tongva children were bought and sold in the "placita" of Los Angeles. It's history has been carefully hushed. When Anglo-American arrived in California to strike it rich they to quickly took advantage of the benefits if Indian labor. Their best target were women and children to be used as potential servants.

Other dilemma the California Indians were facing was identity the Church forced them to change their names, they were no longer allowed to speak the their language, tell stories, sing and/or dance. If they were caught they were given ten lashes.

They also deprived the Indians of their native foods; aboriginal diet was replaced. As result of such diet, the Natives suffered serious health problems.

The Indians who attempted escaping from the Mission risked severe punishment once they were caught, one out ten or so undertook to escape  any particular time. The Indians were being carefully watched. There were many revolts because of this. (San Gabriel Mission 1785 Nicholas Jose and Gabrieleno Tongva shaman women Toypurina) Each Mission has dark tales to tell of revolts, punishments and torture. Yet the Church claimed to love the very Indians they were punishing. Serra justified such punishments by stating that his single purpose in coming to the lands of these barbarous peoples was to do them good and wrote that "we love them".

The European invasion of California had decimated the indigenous population in an unprecedented mass destruction. If one searches the records of the Missions, one comes across startling figures. San Gabriel founded in 1771 by 1832 records show 7,825 baptisms and for the same period 5,670 deaths.

1833 The Missions were secularized and private citizen were now given land grants over previously owned Church property. Rich Mexican ranchers now had access to both land and to free cheap labor. Both the Church and the State argued over the fate of the Indians. Neither group considered a revival of Indian culture for that meant a return to paganism. And neither group wanted Indians self-determination; that meant loss of labor. The end result is that in space of sixty-two years, a single lifespan, the Gabrieleno Tongva, whose territory stretched from Topangna to Kenyaangna and whose people numbered in thousands, were reduced to near extinction.

 The romantic view of the "Mission Days" never existed.




It is hard to say how many Gabrieleno there are today.  Some estimate that there are from 300 to thousands of Gabrieleno people. 

The Tribal Council headquarters is located in "San Gabriel", California, which is part of their traditional homelands. 

The Gabrieleno's are not yet Federally reconized.

The tribe wants people to realize that the Gabrieleno still exist.  The people are working hard to restore their cultural traditions. 

The "Gabrieleno San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians" aka " Gabrieleno Tongva" also formed a group called the Tongva Dancers.  The group preserves the people's dances and songs.  The group also teaches others about Gabrieleno culture.