Honoring Our Native Hosts

by | Jun 27, 2023

. . . you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.”                                          

Deuteronomy 26:5

We begin by acknowledging that Los Angeles sits on the land of the Gabrieleno/Tongva peoples. We acknowledge the Gabrieleno Tongva as the original caretakers of Tovangaar which spans LA County and the California Channel Islands. The Gabrieleno Tongva people continue to remain in relationships with these lands through ceremony, culture, and stewardship. They are important parts of not only the history of this area but also in continuing knowledge of this place.

This is a land acknowledgement offered by the Tongva Taraxat Paxaava Conservancy (TTPC), which roughly translates to “the people’s land.” The TTPC was created to steward the very first plot of land returned to the original people of Los Angeles, which is in Altadena and called Huhuunga (the Place of the Bears). We are connected with the TTPC, not only because we are settlers on this land, but because the Land Return Coordinator, Samantha Morales-Johnson, and her family are members of La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church, and her people, the Gabrieleno/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, have their headquarters in our La Casa de San Gabriel community center.

The General Assembly in 2018 adopted the report on the Doctrine of Discovery with recommendations that include:

  • Urge the session of each congregation, as well as each mid council, seminary, Presbyterian Women’s groups, and other organizations to confess their complicity and repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.
  • Encourage mid councils to begin their meetings with an acknowledgment of whose land they are meeting on and that greetings to the assembly include a welcome from those Indigenous peoples currently living on the land.

There are many other initiatives, confessions, and resources related to the Christian Church’s response to our genocidal treatment of Indigenous peoples. They can be found at https://facing- racism.pcusa.org/item/41901/. Analysis of and ecumenical responses to the Doctrine of Discovery can be found at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/racial-equity-womens-intercultural- ministries/gender-and-racial-justice-ministries/doctrine-of-discovery/.

In San Gabriel Presbytery, we recognize this responsibility, to some extent, during our November Presbytery meeting, as November is Native American Heritage Month. This year, we have been blessed with the knowledge of our Native neighbors. At our recent Day of Service, an Indigenous botanist gave compelling information about the use of native plants for healing purposes. These plants are being tended on the campus of Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church as part of the Wild Yards Project.

The TTPC, in its excellent website https://tongva.land/, offers many perspectives on how to contribute to the return of land to the Native peoples. You may have heard the term “land back.” The TTPC gives different options on how to participate, not only by giving land back, as was done in Altadena, but also by returning your home gardens to native plants through yard return.

Samantha gave me permission to share with you this article, and an invitation to contribute through providing supplies for the peace and healing center the TTPC seeks to build:

Meyiiha (Hello)!

Since 2022, we have cleared over 30 tons of debris (colonial junk) thanks to the help of community and we are finally free of it. Tehovekoopo ‘xaa (deep gratitude/may you be well) for all of those who helped us clear Huhuunga (Place of the Bears) of decades of rusty furniture, hazardous materials, and so much wood.

This Summer Solstice we are calling in support at Huhuunga for items that we need to continue to make the site a shyee’evo (healing space) and yovaar (ceremonial space). We made a wish list of some things including cooking supplies for food sovereignty, water clothing for tribal canoe journey, and camping needs. You can pick some thing(s) from the registry which will be delivered directly to the TTPC.

Please support & share: www.myregistry.com/giftlist/tongva-dreams.

TTPC Board and Staff

The passage from Deuteronomy 26 represents, for me, the complicated relationship for Christians as spiritual descendants of Abraham and his family (Jacob is traditionally identified as the “wandering Aramean”). The story of the Israelites is one of migration, which is why we so often reflect on God’s repeated directives to care for the stranger, as the Israelites were once strangers. The part we gloss over is the fact that there were Indigenous peoples already in “the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it.” (Deuteronomy 26:1) The conviction with which Abraham’s descendants took over land that they believed God gave to them has been repeated by many generations of Christians who believed that God gave to them whatever land they chose to claim.

San Gabriel Presbytery is noted for our generous welcome of immigrant churches and communities. I believe we are being called to carry out God’s directions to respect all of God’s people, including our Native hosts. And as we are being reminded of our responsibility to the environment, we are becoming more aware of the wisdom and respect that the Native peoples can offer us about being a caring and faithful member of God’s creation. May we have open minds and hearts to learn.