The history of our people goes back thousands of years. For millennia, we developed a complex and beautiful culture, which included religion, astronomy, rich and varied cuisine, economy, and complex social structures. We developed ingenious ways to live sustainably off the land of Southern California and its natural resources. The name of our tribe, Kizh, comes from the dome-like dwellings we lived in, primarily along rivers. We were one of two California tribes who mastered boat-building, and traveled along the coast of Southern California.
In the 1700s, Spain began to colonize California, and thus began the long journey of suffering for our people. The missions they established were like concentration camps, where our people were forced to live as slaves, and abandon our sacred traditions and culture. Having lost much of our land and sovereignty, we worked on the ranches of prominent Spanish and Mexican landowners. Our people often intermarried with these families, so today we have a mixed ancestry, though we have the documents to prove that we descend from the original inhabitants.
Things did not improve for our people when Mexico won its independence, nor when the United States took control of California. Under American rule in the mid-1800s, our people were denied basic rights and were often killed by vigilante violence. We worked as farmhands on the ranches of Los Nietos, Richardson, Temple, Bixby, and Rowland to name a few, and lived with such famous Los Angeles families as BIA Agent and LA County Supervisor Benjamin D. Wilson and US military war hero George S. Patton.
Many of our children were sent to “Indian Boarding Schools” such as the Sherman Institute in Riverside where we were forbidden to speak our language or practice the traditions of our culture.
Despite centuries of attempts to eradicate our people and culture, our resilience has allowed us to survive. Due to the efforts of my father, Ernest P. Teutimez Salas, the Gabrieleño Tribal Council gained acknowledgement of its nonprofit status and recognition by the state of California in 1994. Chief Salas is the great great great grandchild of Nicolas Jose who was a Native American leader of great power.
Though we have existed and continue to live on the lands of ancestors, we still do not have federal recognition by the United States federal government.
The Gabrieleño were first known by the Spanish as Kichireños “people of the willow houses” they were the people who canoed out to greet Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo upon his arrival off the shores of Santa Catalina and San Pedro in 1542. Cabrillo declined their invitation to come ashore and visit. Their original name Kizh (pronounced keech) having been lost through assimilation into Spanish culture, they came to be called Gabrieleño because of their forced labor with the San Gabriel Mission . They once inhabited all of Los Angeles County , as well as parts of Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County.
There are over 100 prominent known sites that are Gabrieleño villages, each having had as many as 500 to 1500 Kizh huts. Hereditary chieftains who wielded almost total authority over the community led the villages. Today academia continues to desecrate our true name, culture and history by promoting the misnomer of Tongva.