Native Americans want action not apologies

Recently Mayor Garcetti renamed “Father Serra Park” in Downtown LA, after the public urged for the removal of the Spanish colonizer, Serra, who established missions in 1769 which would attempt to wipe out Native Americans in California.

Standing alongside members of the Gabrielino/Tongva and Fernandeño Tataviam tribes Mayor Garcetti stated, “We’re sorry as a city for all the things that were done as a Spanish city, a Mexico city, an American city to erase the peoples whose land this is and always will be.”

In a report by Native American Studies professor at CSULB, Theresa Gregor, it shows the Native population in Los Angeles, which is the highest in the country, totals around 140,764 people yet there are no federally recognized tribes by the city.

Although the Mayor’s apology was felt throughout the Native community, Gregor says apologies are not enough.

“We need stronger long-term commitments for reparations,” said Gregor “Such as, giving land back to California American Indians, recognizing Tribes with unceded territories and assisting them in gaining federal recognition.”

The loss of Native land did not just happen once, said Gregor, “tribes like those in LA County, were not given treaties or their sovereign rights; they were dispossessed of their lands three times, once by Spanish, Mexico, and by the US.”

According to a California Tribal Court report before the large migrations of gold rush seekers, fur trappers and missionaries into California, Native American population was estimated at about 200,000.

However between 1840 and 1870, that population declined to 12,000 due to disease, forceful removal, and death.

It seemed briefly like California made plans to cooperate with Native Americans, but that did not last. Between 1851 and 1852, 18 treaties were signed between the tribes and the United States. The treaties reserved 7.5 million acres for the tribes but were rejected by the U.S. Senate in secret session at the request of the State of California. When tribes showed up to claim the land they were promised, they were turned away.

If the 18 original treaties with California Indian tribes had been honored by the state and federal government, California Indian tribes would possess over 7,500,000 acres of land. Today, California Indian tribes collectively possess about seven percent of their unratified treaty territory.

In 2020, Gregor helped form a subcommittee called Civic Memory Workgroup that would be working closely with the LA Mayor’s office to construct an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Policy. This policy would be aligned with the National Congress of American Indians or NAIC policies and begin the work between indigenous leaders and scholars and the city.

In “Past Due: Report and Recommendations of the LA City Mayor’s Office Civic Memory Workgroup.” the committee lists realistic actions California can take which include:

  1. Acknowledging the history of erasure of the Indigenous People of Los Angeles,

  2. Recognizing the current struggles of Indigenous People of Los Angeles, instead of treating the community as a vanished people that once existed,

  3. Include an apology, or statement of reconciliation, to the Indigenous People of Los Angeles, with clear actions and policies to ease the effects of exclusion and erasure,

  4. And, outline practices, identified by representatives of the Indigenous People of Los Angeles, on how to have respectful, beneficial and culturally sensitive relationships with this community.

So far, only state owned colleges and universities like CSULB have adopted this agreement. The numbers are small but they are increasing.

UCLA, describes the agreement as, “ a statement that recognizes the Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from the “homelands and territories upon which an institution was built and currently occupies and operates in.”

The California Tribal Court report showed that in California there are approximately 110 federally recognized Indian tribes, including several tribes with lands that cross state boundaries. But there are many more to still be recognized.

Change is slow-moving but beginning with acknowledgment of the wrongs done to Natives is a start. Gregor insists that acknowledgement is more than just a one-time action but instead should be a practice adopted by everyone. “Here is one suggested rule of thumb: consider using the land acknowledgement at any event that includes a performance of the National Anthem, flag salute, or recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Renaming public parks, and issuing formal apologies are small significant acts, but implementing continuous acknowledgment and recognition throughout our everyday social gatherings and events can help normalize land acknowledgment.

Gregor hopes partnering with Los Angeles yields results, “This will provide an opportunity to center cultural equity, utilize an arts and cultural lens, and build on aligned efforts for regional impact in both the City and County of Los Angeles.”

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