In Memoriam: Tongva elder Julia Bogany

A woman wears a cream short sleeved shirt, a beaded hat, and shell necklaces.
Tongva elder Julia Bogany was a beloved member of the 5C community. (Courtesy: Ben Cowan PZ ‘18 and Mason Polk PZ ’19)

Tongva elder Julia Bogany died March 28, 2021, according to an email sent to the Pitzer College community April 1 by Pitzer faculty and students of the Indigenous Peer Mentoring Program who worked closely with her. She had been affiliated with the Claremont Consortium — and Pitzer in particular — for over a dozen years.

A member of the Gabrieleño Tongva, Bogany dedicated more than 30 years of her life to reviving and uplifting Tongva culture, language and arts in California. Her time with Pitzer stretches back to 2007 and since then she’s been an educator, mentor and guide to hundreds of students, faculty and staff.

“Her work to uplift, revitalize and decolonize the legacy of the Native Americans on whose land we have settled has made a huge impact not only locally and nationally, but specifically in the educational and social justice work of Pitzer and the Claremont Colleges,” the email said.

Since 2010, Bogany had been Pitzer’s elder in residence, a program that invites Indigenous elders to campus for teaching and learning opportunities. She was also a part of the Grandmother Garden in collaboration with fellow Tongva elder Barbara Drake and the Pomona Farm, according to Pitzer’s website. The project aimed to create a space on campus for Tongva elders to host Native cooking and medicine workshops. Additionally, she taught native culture and history as well as women’s issues at the 5Cs and the Claremont School of Theology.

“I always say I’m not trying to change history, I’m trying to correct it. By telling the truth and not always just saying the negative, but saying how we survived. Because it’s about a survival,” Bogany once said in an interview to Pitzer media studies professor Gina Lamb, Lamb told TSL.

Bogany is remembered as “an unstoppable force, in perpetual motion,” a fitting testimony to her constant dedication to the Indigenous community. She was a Tongva cultural consultant, served on the Tongva Tribal Council and was a founding member and on the board of several organizations committed to protecting and uplifting the Tongva way of life, including Kuruvanga Springs and Keepers of Indigenous Ways. 

For over 30 years Bogany hosted classes and workshops across California and even put together a Tongva dictionary, according to the email. She regularly met with teachers, school boards and universities to revise their curriculum in a way that accurately reflected the history of California and California tribes.

“She spent countless hours caring about people: checking in on their well-being, teaching them about Native Tongva ways of being and helping people grow,” said Tricia Morgan, managing director of Pitzer’s Community Engagement Center. “A truly phenomenal woman, friend and partner in community.”

Lamb shares similar sentiments with Morgan, remembering Bogany as a “model of resilience” revered and loved by all because of how much she gave to people and looked after those she worked with. Her advocacy for greater Tongva visibility and land acknowledgement was for the benefit of future Tongva generations. 

“She was hyperactive, had an incredible laugh and had the wisdom of big-picture, long-term change,” Lamb told TSL. “She made people hear the harsh truth about colonization.”

According to Lamb, Bogany dedicated much of her life to countering the narrative that colonization of Tongva land was beneficial. She worked extensively with schools and colleges in California to include Tongva history and the negative aspects of colonization in their curricula. She wanted to make sure Tongva people weren’t written out of history or made to feel invisible.

“[Bogany] often started her work at 4 or 5 a.m., driving all around California to talk to and collaborate with artists and organizations,” Lamb said. “Her energy was truly boundless.”

Lamb said that Bogany was associated with the Claremont Colleges as long as she was because she appreciated being given the space to conduct hands-on workshops instead of just speaking at classes. 

Scripps College is the first college in the Claremont Consortium to offer students a minor in Native American/Indigenous Studies, while Claremont Graduate University recently created the Claremont Native American Fellowship that helps selected Native American students earn a teaching credential and master’s in education.

Bogany was the recipient of a number of accolades, most recently being awarded the California Missions Foundation Chairman’s Award in 2021. The award “recognizes individuals that have made a great impact on the studies of early California history and/or preservation of historic sites in their respective communities,” the email said. In prior years she was awarded the Spirit of Tradition Award, the Heritage Award from the Aquarium of the Pacific and named champion for native children by the National Indian Child Welfare Association, according to the email. 

“[Bogany] was larger than life. She was always drawing upon some context, insight or information that reframed what people were thinking and talking about,” the email said. “She was such a powerhouse, always on the go and connecting a million things, a whirlwind of grounded energy imagining and creating and showing up.”

Bogany was laid to rest the morning of April 17 at a cemetery in San Bernardino, according to an announcement from her family on a GoFundMe page created earlier in March to fund medical expenses of a stroke she suffered. 

In an email to TSL, Morgan said she and colleagues who worked closely with Bogany anticipate hosting a public event in the fall to “allow for thoughtful planning in partnership with [Bogany’s] family and those closest to her.”

Lamb believes Bogany can best be honored by people continuing her legacy to make Tongva people visible. 

“She will be sorely missed by all those who knew her,” Lamb said.

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