Pre-Mission Period (prior to 1769)

Indigenous people have inhabited present-day California for thousands of years; fossil records date back to at least 9,000 BCE. Native Californians were largely hunter-gatherers due to the abundance of food available in the region.

The Los Angeles basin was inhabited by people known by the Spanish as "Gabrielinos," with the widely adopted endonym "Tongva," being preferred by many to describe the people of the region.

Prior to Spanish colonization however, there was likely no commonly used name to describe the people of the Los Angeles basin as a whole, and names were primarily used to denote the village a person came from. For example, the people of downtown Los Angeles (Yaanga) would have identified as the Yaavetam and an individual was a Yaavet. There were thousands of communities spread across the Los Angels basin from the Channel islands to the deserts of eastern So Cal that were allied and connected through inter-marriage, trade relations and ceremonial reciprocation.

European contact came in the late 1500's and eventually led to the establishment of the San Gabriel Arcángel mission in 1771 in present-day Los Angeles. The native people were reduced into the mission institutions, and as a result, these very important and cohesive networked relationships began to unravel.

Mission Period (1769-1834): THE SETTING OF OUR FILM

Beginning in 1769, the Spanish established 21 Franciscan missions upwards along the California coast, the goal being to Christianize the native people. Conditions for native people at these missions were often harsh. The people were forced into the labor of building the missions and maintaining crops and were often punished with whipping and other forms of torture.

The area around Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, one of two missions in the Los Angeles area, is the setting of our story. San Gabriel was founded in 1771 and lends its name to the Gabrielino Indians of the area. The mission still stands to this day, and is a major tourist attraction in Southern California.

Mission mythology still pervades California life, continuing to perpetuate a fractured narrative that largely ignores the experience of Native Americans in the region and often pretends like they don't exist. Our goal is to tell a story about where California came from; a story to help shed some light on the less-represented side of history.

Mexican Period (1834-1848)

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1834. The California missions were slowly secularized, though many continued to be in use for religious purposes. Native people in California were granted Mexican citizenship, and with that, some received land grants for their families. However, thousands more remained without their own land.

American Period (1848-Present)

California was annexed by the US and became a state in 1850 after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. With statehood came a myriad of problems for the native people of the region. Native land ownership was not honored by the American government and/or was dishonestly procured and and as a result many Native Americans were driven from their land ruthlessly by American pioneers who came west in search of Manifest Destiny.

The removal of native people from their land was also State-endorsed. According to Benjamin Madley in the LA Times, " State endorsement of genocide was only thinly veiled. In 1851, California Gov. Peter Burnett declared that 'a war of extermination will continue to be waged ... until the Indian race becomes extinct.' In 1852, U.S. Sen. John Weller — who became California’s governor in 1858 — went further. He told his colleagues in the Senate that California Indians 'will be exterminated before the onward march of the white man,' arguing that 'the interest of the white man demands their extinction.'"

Fast forward to present-day and the Tongva/Gabrielino people of the Los Angeles area continue to hold onto their traditions in spite of the many years hiding their heritage from census forms and watching the lands of their ancestors developed into one of the biggest cities in the world.

From the book "First Families; A Photographic History of Native Californians," by L. Frank and Kim Hogeland:

"Southern California holds a special place in the American imagination as a land of perfect beaches, palm trees, surfers, and movie stars. In this place where people come to reinvent themselves and redefine the world around them, people born in California are a rare bunch, and Native Californians, with roots deep in the land, rarer still. But while largely absent from the media, the original inhabitants of southern California are still a strong presence in their ancestral homeland. On reservations and in the cities, recognized by the government or not, thousands of native people are carrying on, often just under the radar of the dominant culture, still caring deeply about the land of their ancestors despite the astounding transformation of the landscape. It is difficult to be an Indian under any circumstances, think what it must be like to see a phenomenon like Los Angeles spreading over your meadows and valleys, diverting your rivers, building parking structures on your holy sites, transforming the land that nurtured your ancestors into something unrecognizable."