April 04, 2011

Rename the Dodgers "Yang-nas"?

Batting first for the Yang-nas ...

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
[W]hat to rename our blue crew that makes baseball sense and conveys civic pride?

Drum roll, please, for the Los Angeles Yang-nas. No, not the Los Angeles Yankees. The Yang-nas.
And:The pobladores from Mexico were the first foreigners to settle here, by the authority of the king of Spain, and the new community was blessed with the Los Angeles name. But Chavez Ravine—the area now occupied by Elysian Park, Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Police Academy—was first peopled by the Yang-na Indians.

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.
Comment:  I've never heard of the Yang-na Indians, and I was born and raised here. I thought the local Indians were the Tongva (Gabrielino) Indians.

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 IndiansWith a name meaning "People of the Earth" in the Tongva language, the Gabrieleno-Tongva Mission Indians were the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles Basin. Living up to their name, they readily used the natural resources around them, with the Los Angeles River supplying an ample lifeline of water, food, and shelter. Driven out of their homeland with the arrival of settlers in California, there have been numerous controversies throughout the history of Los Angeles surrounding development and land rights. They still remain an active part of the community; however, with over a thousand Tongva people living in the Los Angeles area.Yangna--Early Los Angeles CommunityAccording to research by Dr. Harry Kelsey of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Governor de Neve, six months prior to the establishment of the Los Angeles pueblo in 1781, had undertaken preliminary diplomacy with the Tongva (Gabrielino) Indians at the Yangna settlement (located on what is now the Los Angeles Civic Center). This was to develop friendly relations with the local people before Spanish settlers began moving into the area. Yangna was a favorite native trading center. Governor de Neve arranged for the baptisms of dozens of Yangna residents and even assumed the role of padrino (godparent) for 12 persons.A commenter on the LA Times article puts the pieces together:Crespi does not name the native people he encountered but refers to them as “heathens” or in Spanish as “gentiles,” or people yet to be baptized. It is only later, once the San Gabriel Mission is established, that the particular tribe in question is referred to as Yang-nas. Definitely a mispronunciation of Tongva. The literal translation of Tongva means, like most tribal names, the people. Later Missionaries begin to refer to them after the local Mission, GabrieleƱo. These people are definitely not “extinct.” Many Tongva people still live in Los Angeles and elsewhere today and maintain a strong relationship with their traditional lifeways.So...not named "Yang-na" and not extinct. Oops. Other than that, great article.

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)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Comment: I've never heard of the Yang-na Indians, and I was born and raised here. I thought the local Indians were the Tongva (Gabrielino) Indians."

Yang-na was a Tongva/Gabrielino village.

"El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was founded in 1781 at Yanga, a Tongva Indian village long the Pacific coast in present-day California."

The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History pg 672