After Tongva land reclamation, 5Cs reflect on Indigenous history, resources

Barbara Drake holder her hands together holding flower as she closes her eyes.
The late Barbara Drake was a Tongva elder who had welcomed members of the Indigenous and Claremont Colleges community. (The Student Life)

For the first time in nearly two centuries, the first people who inhabited the Los Angeles area will have land of their own. Owing to an Oct. 10 donation from an Altadena resident, the Tongva, whose ancestral lands extend to the Channel islands, received the first returned plot of land since the mission system ended in 1833, the Los Angeles Times said.

With Los Angeles County land returned to the Tongva for the first time in almost 200 years, in time for Indiegenous Peoples’ Day, TSL reached out to students and faculty to see how support for local Indigenous communities has transpired at the 5Cs. 

The Claremont Colleges were built on land which was previously occupied by the Serrano and Tongva peoples before it was colonized by the Spanish. The city of Claremont, then called Torojoatngna, was part of a group of villages known collectively as Tovangar. 

In recent years, the Claremont Colleges have made efforts to recognize the history of the land they occupy through land acknowledgments at public events and across the campuses, as well as through partnerships with local Indigenous community members, like that between Tongva community members and Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy.

In 2021, Scripps College established a Native American/Indigenous Studies (NAIS) minor, the only one at the 5Cs. Dating back to at least 2014, the effort to establish a NAIS minor builds on a commitment made in Scripps’ land acknowledgement to “work to instill greater respect and recognition for the histories, cultures and contemporary presence of Native peoples in California and especially in the Los Angeles region.” 

Establishment of the NAIS minor followed a 2019-2020 report from Scripps’ Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) Initiative that set forth long term goals, including to “collaborate with the other colleges to support a cluster hire of … Native American and Indigenous faculty across several fields, … Establish an intercollegiate NAIS department … [and] Provide not only financial support, but also the academic and social support needed to ensure the success of Indigenous students.”

This year, Preston McBride, an Indigenous scholar of Native North America, joined the Pomona College History Department as its early U.S. Specialist

“Because of the undeniable significance of the history of colonialism and the subsequent exploitation of Native Americans, it is an important commitment for the History Department to offer courses that focus on Native American history,” Angelina Chin, chair of the Pomona College History Department, told TSL via email. 

McBride’s past research has focused on deaths of students at Native American boarding schools and reservations in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

“As a public scholar with an already deep involvement in indigenous advocacy efforts in the state, Preston McBride will dramatically improve the History department’s and the 5C communities’ connection to and engagement with indigenous communities in Southern California,” Chin said.

McBride did not respond to a request for comment.

To some Indigenous students, although the hiring of Indigenous faculty and the implementation of an NAIS major are important steps, the 5Cs still need to work to ensure better representation and support for students. 

“If they want to get the respect of other Indigenous students and people on campus, they probably should start with the people whose land they’re on.”

Gaby Talbert PO '25

Sara Orr PZ ’25 — a student with Osage and Kaw ancestry and the treasurer of Pitzer’s Native Indigenous Student Union (NISU) — spoke about the need for school-funded Native/Indigenous student groups. 

“When you realize that [the 5Cs] were built on Native American land, and we contribute to the erasure of Native Americans every single day by just existing and being on campus, it’s important to allow the indigenous students who are here, just in such small percentages, to have a safe space to be able to talk to other people and realize that their experience is valid,” Orr said. 

NISU was founded after the Indigenous Peer Mentor Program (IPMP) disbanded last year following a proposal from Pomona’s Associate Dean of Students Brandon Jackson, Orr said

“[IPMP was] a 5C student-driven collective focused on the communal well-being and development of students identifying with an Indigenous community from across the world,” according to Pomona’s Peer Mentoring Program webpage.

Jackson’s proposal required IPMP and five other mentor groups to accept guidelines — which included ending open enrollment and implementing a mentee-tracking system — as a condition for continued institutional support. 

IPMP decided to dissolve rather than to accept policies which required student surveillance, Orr said. 

Orr added that NISU, which is housed in the Pitzer Hall Living Room, continues to fight for its physical space on campus. According to Orr, Pitzer does not allow NISU to lock its space, forcing group members to enforce use of their space and resources themselves, while other groups have access to spaces they can lock.

“Not only is this institution on stolen land, but they don’t even give us space that is highly, specifically ours. We have to share it,” Orr said.

Pitzer communication representative Wendy Shattuck told TSL the college was not able to respond for comment in time for the article’s publication.

Gaby Talbert PO ’25, who is a member of the Dakota and Cahuilla Tribes and co-president of NISU, said having a space to build community was especially important to support Indigenous students in navigating studying at the 5Cs.

“A lot of Native students come from underprivileged communities, and they don’t have the same benefits that a lot of the students that I’m around have,” Talbert said. “And I feel like we also have certain racial issues that happen at school … We just need to find our own people to relate to.” 

Despite past collaborations between the 5Cs, Orr and Talbert said that there is still work needed to create a meaningful relationship with the local Tongva community.

Orr said that the April 2021 death of Tongva elder Julia Bogany, who served as Pitzer’s Elder in Residence,“fragmented” the relationship between Pitzer and the Tongva.

“I think some people on campus are doing the hard work, but the institution itself doesn’t have a relationship with the Tongva,” Orr said. “Specific people at Pitzer had a relationship with a Tongva, and now they’re not here, or they’re not working in the same capacity.”

Talbert said that preserving a relationship with the Tongva is one step the 5Cs can take to support Indigenous 5C students.

“If they want to get the respect of other Indigenous students and people on campus, they probably should start with the people whose land they’re on,” Talbert told TSL.

Ultimately, the Land Back movement is one step toward healing for the Native/Indigenous community, according to Orr.

“There’s a saying that you’re only native if you’re on land that people don’t want,” Orr said. “If they want your land, they’re going to do everything in their power to erase every single aspect of you ever being there. And that’s by erasing your culture, by erasing the physical aspect of being on that land and then harming your future generations so that they can’t reclaim their indigeneity.”

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