Tongva Living History Garden Lays Down Roots for Community Building

Students and communities members tend to the Tongva Living History Garden at the Chaffey Community Cultural Center in Upland. (Photo courtesy of Scott Scoggins)

A scrub oak tree welcomes visitors to the Tongva Living History Garden, in respect for the tree’s life-giving importance for Tongva people. The garden, a brainchild of Barbara Drake, a Tongva Elder, and Scott Scoggins, director of Pitzer’s Native Summer Pipeline to College program and Pitzer’s tribal liaison, is located in Chaffey Communities Cultural Center. 

Built with the help of 5C volunteers and students in the Pitzer’s Native Summer Pipeline to College program over the course of eight years, the garden consists of four separate plots, each corresponding to a different era of Tongva history. The plants grown in each plot are representative of periods of time – the Tongva era plot is focused on pre-mission Tongva history and features all native plants, while the San Gabriel Mission plot features plants brought to the area by Spanish missionaries. The other plots focus on the Rancho Era and the citrus boom.

The garden was created in partnership with both Pitzer’s Native Youth to College Program and the Draper Center, and is funded entirely by donations.

I joined student volunteers from the Claremont Colleges last Friday to help clear weeds from the plots. Participants learned about medicinal herbs and had the opportunity to make tea from white sage, nettles, Yerba Buena (mint), pineapple weed (chamomile), and rose hips.
 
Student involvement in the garden is continually growing, said Olivia Luxton PZ '11, who now works with Scoggins and Drake through the Draper Center. “We’ve had to turn people away and we really want to avoid doing that,” she said.
 
“It’s really been an amazing project to see how it’s blossomed, and so many people now are coming to see it, and trying to replicate it as well,” said Scoggins.

It is the only garden of its type in the area, but has inspired other Native groups. “[Drake] is now bringing other tribes, other nations to kind of see if they could do something similar,” said Scoggins.
 
The garden project is educational, and strives to teach Tongva history and raise awareness. “A lot of folks don’t know that there’s indigenous people," said Scoggins. "A lot of folks don’t know the difference between California Indians’ history and other American Indians’ history, so this is very important because this is like a classroom.” 

Drake would like to expand the educational purposes of the garden to reach not only college students, but also students in junior high and elementary school. She hopes to partner with Pioneer Junior High School and find an elementary school in Upland to form a cross-age teaching program in which junior high school students mentor younger students in an outdoor classroom. 

Several of the Claremont schools have themed outdoor gardens, according to Drake. “It’s history through the plants, it’s teaching them where they live,” she said. “They came from somewhere else, and [it’s important] to know who was here and that these plants were here and a lot of them still are.”
 
In addition, Drake says she hopes to start harvesting and pickling produce grown in the garden in the near future, in order to generate more income for the garden.
 
To Luxton, the garden is vital for connecting Native Sovereignty to environmental issues, as well as social justice and mental health issues. “I saw them as separate issues, like there’s environmental issues there’s native American sovereignty, there’s mental health, but I didn't realize how inextricably linked they all are,” said Luxton. 

Luxton believes that working with the Tongva Living History Garden has changed her perspective on kinship, a culturally defined web of social relationships. “When they’re being honored, [kinship relations] help keep a balance to a person’s daily living, a person’s mental health, to a society’s interactions where social justice would come in,” said Luxton. 

She added that establishing kinship relations would also benefit Native Sovereignty. “I found that by just stepping out of the way or by forming community with a lot of the elders it directly affected and alleviated a lot,” she said.
 
The Tongva Living History Garden will be hosting workshops throughout the semester. Email tongvalivinghistorygarden@gmail.com to RSVP.