June 06, 2010

Indians in Rolling Hills Estates

Peninsula development battle ground?

By Melissa PamerAt the edge of a trail, he found what he says was either a chert knife or projectile point--a handcrafted ancient tool. He began excitedly searching the ground, finding flakes of stone that he believes show the area was a site where American Indians created hunting and cooking implements.

Since then, he has spent a lot of time at the place he calls Thunderhawk Hill, an appellation chosen for an honorary American Indian name that Johnson said was given to him by a Oglala Lakota medicine woman.

Having found state records showing previous archaeological discoveries nearby, Johnson has come to believe the area was once a significant settlement for local Tongva people. He compares it to Malaga Cove, long known to have been an American Indian village location.

"There's no reason this site couldn't be as important. Nothing has been excavated," Johnson said. "We have no idea what's underneath there."

The discovery--which Johnson likened to a "spiritual experience"--has now taken on a life of its own, becoming entangled in one of the most controversial issues in the affluent, bucolic city.

Critics of a luxury-home development proposed for the area next door to Thunderhawk Hill--on the site of Rolling Hills Country Club and a former rock quarry--have rallied behind Johnson.

The residential project, known as Chandler Ranch, has long generated frustration among local equestrians who are worried its lack of horse amenities will alter the nature of horse-friendly Rolling Hills Estates.

Now, along with a local Tongva representative and a Long Beach archaeologist, some equestrians are calling for further exploration of decades-old archaeological sites before the stalled 114-home subdivision can move forward.
Comment:  This isn't what I'd call a pop-culture story. It's just a typical battle between developers and preservationists.

What's interesting to me is that it's only two or so miles from my childhood home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Yet I don't recall anyone's saying that we were on Indian land when I was growing up. That they might've dug up some Tongva arrowheads or bones when they were excavating our pool.

I like this because it shows our sense of historical privilege. A couple centuries ago, some combination of Spaniards and Anglo-Americans forced the Tongva off the peninsula. No one cared about their legal or moral rights to the land. After that, it became another "uninhabited" stretch of America. Anyone except the Indians could buy it, watch it appreciate in value, and profit from it.

Let's suppose the Peninsula now contains 50,000 homes with an average value of $500,000. That's probably a conservative estimate, and it excludes commercial property. That alone is $25 billion worth of real estate.

That could've belonged to the Tongva, who could've sold or leased it to the white interlopers. Instead, the Tongva have no power or wealth, no federal recognition, nothing except vestiges of their history and culture. The vast majority of Peninsula residents have never heard of the Tongva.

What kids could learn

We can't undo that, but at least we could acknowledge it. How about having schools invite the Tongva to teach Tongva lessons? How about hosting some Tongva art on public buildings? How about giving some places Tongva rather than Spanish or English names?

My street had the outdoorsy but inaccurate name Elkridge Drive. It wasn't a ridge and I doubt any elk roamed there. It probably was a field of rabbits, gophers, or lizards, before it became a suburban tract. So call it the Tongva word for "rabbit patch" or whatever.

For more on the subject, see My Spanish Upbringing, Prayer Ceremony at Ballona Wetlands, and Indians in Culver City.

P.S. The name "Thunderhawk Hill" is kind of lame. A Lakota Indian gave the name Thunderhawk to a white guy, so he applied the name to a hill in Southern California? Because Plains Indians are good stand-ins for all Indians? How about coming up with a Tongva name for the place, Mr. Johnson?

Below:  "Jacob Gutierrez, a Tongva descendant, prepares for a ceremony on a Rolling Hills Estates site believed to have been Tongvan settlement." (Steve McCrank)

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