The Yang-na Indians were living in the basin when the first settlers came. It would be a fitting tribute to them to rename the L.A. Dodgers after the tribe.
By Leon Furgatch
Drum roll, please, for the Los Angeles Yang-nas. No, not the Los Angeles Yankees. The Yang-nas.
The Yang-na village was just across the Los Angeles River from the Mexicans' settlement, and the Yang-nas watched with great curiosity as the newcomers first made camp and carried water from the river for cooking and washing.
Although the Yang-na tribe is now extinct, there is proof that it existed in the diary kept for the Gaspar de Portola Expedition of 1769 by Father Juan Crespi.
And...it seems I was right. It seems this article has butchered the facts. Yang-na was the name of a village, not a tribe.
Here are the facts:
Gabrieleno Tongva Mission Indians
Proposal proves ignorance about Indians
A few points lurk behind this notion of renaming the Los Angeles team "Yang-nas." Among them:
Furgatch seems to assume the LA-based Indians are dead and gone. If he didn't assume that, he stopped his research before learning the truth. Either way, he convinced himself that the Indian name was unused and available.
Naming the team "Yang-nas" would pass on this ignorant attitude to the public at large. The thinking would go something like this:
PERSON #1: "Yang-na"? What's that?
PERSON #2: A local Indian tribe.
PERSON #1: Oh, yeah? How come I never heard of them?
PERSON #2: They're extinct.
PERSON #1: What a shame. But we can still honor them, right?
PERSON #2: Yes. By renaming the Dodgers, we'll always remember these gentle, primitive people who no longer exist.
PERSON #1: Just like the Fighting Sioux and Fighting Illini?
PERSON #2: Exactly.
Team names usually honor legendary or historical people--e.g., Trojans, Vikings, or Pirates. We don't name teams for blacks (Zulus) or Asians (Kamikazes) because we see these people around us. We don't objectify them as playthings because many of them would object. But we assume Indian mascots are okay because "they" vanished long ago.
The "Yang-na" name undoubtedly would lead to offensive comments: "The Yang-nas are losers!" "Kill the Yang-nas!" "Scalp the Yang-nas!" It would encourage fans to dress up in headdresses and warpaint and wield imaginary tomahawks. And it would promote the idea that the Tongva are dead and gone like the Spartans and Illini.
People don't learn from mascots, so they wouldn't learn about the Tongva ("Yang-na") history and culture. They'd do what mascot lovers do everywhere: substitute mascot love for actual appreciation. They'd be like the fans and politicians who love the "Fighting Sioux" but don't care about the Sioux.
How to honor the Tongva
If the Dodgers want to honor the Tongva, they can do so in many ways besides renaming the team. Build a replica of the Yang-na village near the stadium. Have Tongva displays and crafts inside the stadium. Rename the venue Yang-na Stadium to memorialize the village. Have a monthly Tongva day with a ceremony and prize giveaway. Etc.
That's how you honor Indians. Not by fantasizing about who they were in the past, but by recognizing them for who they are today.
For more on Indian mascots, see Turbaned Indian Offensive, Chief Wahoo Okay and "Fighting Sioux" = "Obnoxious Baboons."
Below: "This drawing depicts a straw hut village of the Yang-na Indians, who lived in Chavez Ravine before the first settlers from Mexico arrived in Los Angeles." (University of Southern California Digital Library Archive)