Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles: Excavating the Sacred Space of the City


PART 1 ///

MELANIE K. YAZZIE: Please describe the Mapping Indigenous LA project. How and why did it start, who has been involved and what are the goals of the project?

MISHUANA GOEMAN: The project began about five years ago when a bunch of faculty came to the project, from different areas and different levels of engagement with the communities in Indigenous Los Angeles. It started when the Institute of American Cultures at UCLA instituted a call for grants, The Dream Fund, and in that call they wanted to bring different segments of the campus together. We had been talking about these Indigenous issues and in different respective centers. Maylei Blackwell had been dealing with Indigenous Latin American diaspora, I of course have been doing American Indian, but also a little work with the Tongva, and Keith Camacho in Asian-American studies worked with the Pacific Islander community. Wendy Teeter had been working with the Tongva communities for over 25 years, and so the project for her has been ongoing for 25 years, and it has been something that she has wanted to disseminate the knowledge about the Tongva community in Los Angeles in a particular, community-driven ways. My interests spurred when I was on a trip to Pimu (Catalina) and we discussed the fact that there was a medicine man brought out from Rosebud to deal with the buffalo overpopulation issue, and so there were transferring buffalo all the way to Rosebud — which is crazy. When the medicine man was there, he felt a presence. Nobody had consulted the Tongva community at all! In this transfer, they consulted an Indigenous person because they felt that was right, but not the people whose land they were on. Cindi Alvitre spoke about it being a village site, so the importance of place was well known. So, I was talking one day to Maylei around that and about points of Indigenous convergence and thinking through the multi-layered segments of Los Angeles, and its Indigeneity. I think the goals of the project really emanated from starting a conversation among these disparate Indigenous groups that the faculty has been having in our work, because we’re compelled to do that. But, how do we begin to have a conversation with community members so that the Pacific Islander community understands that they’re on Tongva Land or those newly arriving from the south as they are dispossessed. They want to be respectful too, but they’re just haven’t been a lot of avenues for people to be respectful to each other.