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Native American Los Angeles

American Indian Museums, Cultural Centers and Landmarks in Los Angeles


There were four coastal Indian groups that occupied the Los Angeles basin and surrounding areas before the Spaniards arrived. The Tongva, dubbed Gabrieleño/Gabrielino by their proximity to the San Gabriel Mission, the Tataviam, called Fernandeño by missionaries of the San Fernando Mission, the Chumash along the coast from Malibu to the Santa Inez Valley and the Ajachemem, also known as Juaneño, from Orange County down to the San Juan Capistrano Mission.

Descendents of these groups are alive and well and still living in Southern California and they maintain a variety of sites as sacred, historic and cultural sites. Additionally, several museums in the area have educational exhibits on the local Indian history.

Other Native American groups have also relocated to the LA area, giving Los Angeles the largest population of First Peoples in the United States. The history and artifacts of those nations are also represented in the collections of local museums and cultural centers. Their presence also results in a number of annual PowWows, which are not typical of California Indians.

1. Autry National Center

Autry National Center
© 2005 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 667-2000
The Autry National Center is "a history museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West." In addition to movie cowboys like Gene Autry, the Center showcases the collection of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, the second-largest collection of American Indian artifacts in the US. Some of the collection is exhibited at the Autry in Griffith Park, but part of the collection remains at the original Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Mt. Washington, which is only open on Saturdays. The Autry also has an ongoing theatre program, Native Voices, focused on works by Native American playwrights which are stages in a small theatre on site. The Autry holds an Intertribal Marketplace each November. More on Visiting the Autry

2. Bowers Museum

Bowers Museum in Santa Ana
Photo © 2008 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com
2002 N.Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92706
(714) 567-3600
The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana has a collection of over 24,000 Native American objects including basketry, pottery, bead work, stone and shell tools, weapons and jewelry. The largest part of the collection is from the Southwest, but there are prehistoric to modern artifacts from across the US.

3. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

The California Indian exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, © Kayte Deioma
Photo © 2011 Kayte Deioma, used with permission
900 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90007
(213) 763- 3466
Review and Photo Guide
The Lando Hall of California History at the Natural History Museum starts with a section on the First Californians including a dwelling and household implements, before moving through four hundred years of history to the present day.

4. Kuruvugna Springs Cultural Center and Museum in Santa Monica

Andrew Morales performing the Stick Dance at Kuruvungna Springs Life Before Columbus Day
© 2000 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com
1439 S Barrington Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 397-0180
Kuruvungna Springs, also known as Serra Springs and Gabrielino Springs is a site on the Grounds of the old University high School in Santa Monica. The Gabrielino Springs Foundation operates a cultural museum with artifacts uncovered at the site. It is open on the first Saturday of the month. There is an annual Life Before Columbus Festival celebrating Tongva/Gabrieleno culture, held at Kuruvunna Springs the Sunday before Columbus Day Monday.

5. Heritage Park in Santa Fe Springs

Tongva Exhibit at Heritage Park
Photo © 2012 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com
12100 Mora Dr
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
(562) 946-6476
Heritage Park in Santa Fe Springs, south of Downtown Los Angeles is a free outdoor museum that includes a Tongva dwelling, sweat lodge and granary, built by the volunteers from the San Gabriel Band of Tongva Indians, as well as a life-size sculpture of a reed canoe. There is a "PowWow" that focuses on California Indian traditions the first weekend of November.

6. Wishtoyo Chumash Discovery Village in Malibu

Wishtoyo Chumash Discovery Village in Malibu
Photo © 2011 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com
Nicholas Canyon County Beach Park
33904 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
(805) 658-1120
Other locations have single Tongva or Chumash dwellings, but Wishtoyo Chumash Discovery Village is the only site that has recreated an entire village that would have housed multiple families on a bluff overlooking Nicholas Canyon Beach in Malibu. The project also includes the habitat restoration of Nicholas Canyon Creek adjacent to the village. The site is only open by appointment and for ceremonies an festivals.

7. Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks

3290 Lang Ranch Pkwy.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
(805) 492-8076
The Chumash Indian Museum is a 346 acre park in Thousand Oaks, CA north of Los Angeles that includes Chumash historic sites, interpretive installations and living history programs that educate about the history and present day activities of the Chumash people. There is a fee for the museum, but hiking trails are free to explore.

8. The Antelope Valley Indian Museum

15701 East Avenue M (between East 150th & 170th streets)
Lancaster, California, 93535
(661) 946-3055
The Antelope Valley Indian Museum in Lancaster in northeast Los Angeles County is part of the California State Department of Parks and Recreation system. The collection includes objects created by the American Indian cultures of the western Great Basin, California, and the Southwest.

9. Puvungna at Rancho Los Alamitos and CSULB

Honoring of the Ancestors at Puvungna in Long Beach
Photo © Kayte Deioma, used with permission
6400 Bixby Hill Road
Long Beach, California 90815
(562) 431-3541
The Tongva village of Puvungna once occupied the area that is now California State University Long Beach, Rancho Los Alamitos, and the surroounding gated community. A section of Rancho Los Alamitos where Tongva artifacts have been found has been designated as an official Puvungna site. There is also an undeveloped area behind a parking lot next to the Japanese Garden at CSULB that is still used for ceremonial purposes by the local Tongva community, especially during the annual Ancestors Walk (mostly driving) in October, which visits a number of Ajachamem and Tongva burial and other sacred sites from Dana Point to Long Beach. There is also a stone monument to the Tongva at the Long Beach Veterans Hospital adjacent to CSULB.

10. Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center

Chumash Dancers at Satwiwa
Photo © Kayte Deioma, used with permission
Located at Ranch Sierra Vista / Satwiwa in Newbury Park, California
Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center is located at the Ranch Sierra Vista Ranger Station in the Santa Monica Mountain Recreation Area in Newbury Park, north of Los Angeles. The building is operated by the park system, but exhibits and programs are created by the Friends of Satwiwa, including local Chumash an Tongva Indians. Outdoor programs are often held near the kiche, a domed dwelling built by local Chumash and Tongva volunteers in the traditional style.

11. Native American Art Stores

The museums and some of the cultural centers above have gift shops, but there are also independent gift shops specializing in American Indian Art. These include Indian Art Center of California in Studio City, Raindance at Shoreline Village in Long Beach, the Native Collection at the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles.

12. PowWows and Gatherings

Southern California Indian Center Pow Wow at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Photo by Ventura Imagery courtesy of the Autry National Center
Each of the venues above hosts a variety of public events that showcase Native American culture. Many of them are held in November for Native American Heritage month, but there are also other events throughout the year. Additionally, many of the community colleges and universities host PowWows sponsored by their Native American student organizations. The largest PowWow in the LA area is organized by the Southern California Indian Center, a social service organization. Another annual gathering is the Moompetam Gathering of Coastal Indians at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

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