Native American Museums and Landmarks in Los Angeles

Living history performers dance at the American Indian Heritage Month at the US Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District

Los Angeles District/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

There were four coastal Indian groups that occupied the Los Angeles basin and surrounding areas before the Spaniards arrived. The Tongva, dubbed Gabrieleño/Gabrielino by their proximity to the San Gabriel Mission; the Tataviam, called Fernandeño by missionaries of the Mission San Fernando Rey de España; the Chumash along the coast from Malibu to the Santa Ynez Valley; and the Ajachemem, also known as Juaneño, from Orange County down to the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Descendents of these groups are alive and well and still living in southern California, and they maintain a variety of sites as sacred, historic, and cultural sites. Additionally, several museums in the area have educational exhibits on the local Indian history.

Other Native American groups have also relocated to the L.A. area, giving Los Angeles the largest population of First Peoples in the United States. The history and artifacts of those nations are also represented in the collections of local museums and cultural centers. Their presence also results in a number of annual powwows, which are not typical of California Indians.

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Autry National Center

The Autry National Center, originally founded by Gene Autry, is now part of the Autry National Center, located in Griffith Park adjacent to the Los Angeles Zoo.
mark6mauno/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA 90027

The Autry National Center is "a history museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West." In addition to movie cowboys such as Gene Autry, the Center showcases the collection of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, the second-largest collection of American Indian artifacts in the United States.

Some of the collection is exhibited at the Autry in Griffith Park, but part of the collection remains at the original Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Mount Washington, which is only open on Saturdays. The Autry also has an ongoing theater program, Native Voices, that focuses on works by Native American playwrights that are staged in a small on-site theater. The Autry holds an American Indian Arts Marketplace each November.

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Bowers Museum

Historic Belltower Entrance to the Bowers Museum
Eric Stoner/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 

2002 North Main Street
Santa Ana, CA 92706

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana has a collection of more than 24,000 Native American objects including basketry, pottery, beadwork, stone and shell tools, weapons, and jewelry. The largest part of the collection is from the Southwest, but there are prehistoric to modern artifacts from across the United States.

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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Entrance of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
ray_explores/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

900 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90007

The Lando Hall of California History at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County starts with a section on the First Californians including a dwelling and household implements, before moving through 400 years of history to the present day.

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Kuruvugna Springs Cultural Center and Museum

Historic landmark at University High School, Los Angeles, California, United States; featuring Chumash-style 'Ap hut
Jengod/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 

1439 South Barrington Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Kuruvungna Springs, also known as Serra Springs and Gabrielino Springs, is a site on the grounds of the old University High School in Santa Monica. The Gabrielino Springs Foundation operates a cultural museum with artifacts uncovered at the site. It is open on the first Saturday of the month. There is an annual Life Before Columbus Festival celebrating Tongva/Gabrieleno culture held at Kuruvunna Springs the Sunday before Columbus Day Monday.

Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Heritage Park

12100 Mora Drive
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670

Heritage Park in Santa Fe Springs, south of downtown Los Angeles, is a free outdoor museum that includes a Tongva dwelling, sweat lodge, and granary, built by the volunteers from the San Gabriel Band of Tongva Indians. It also includes a life-size sculpture of a reed canoe. There is a powwow that focuses on California Indian traditions over the first weekend of November.

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Wishtoyo Chumash Discovery Village

Nicholas Canyon County Beach Park
33904 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265

Other locations have single Tongva or Chumash dwellings, but Wishtoyo Chumash Discovery Village is the only site that has recreated an entire village that would have housed multiple families on a bluff overlooking Nicholas Canyon Beach in Malibu. The project also includes the habitat restoration of Nicholas Canyon Creek adjacent to the village. The site is only open by appointment and for ceremonies and festivals.

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Chumash Indian Museum

Ventureño Chumas Indian Village diorama at the Chumash Indian Museum.
mark6mauno/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 

3290 Lang Ranch Parkway
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362

The Chumash Indian Museum is a 346-acre park in Thousand Oaks, which is north of Los Angeles. It includes Chumash historic sites, interpretive installations, and living history programs that educate about the history and present-day activities of the Chumash people. There is a fee for the museum, but hiking trails are free to explore.

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Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Antelope Valley Indian Museum's California Hall, looking south.
Junkyardsparkle/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 1.0

15701 East Avenue M
Lancaster, California, 93535

The Antelope Valley Indian Museum in Lancaster in northeast Los Angeles County is part of the California State Department of Parks and Recreation system. The collection includes objects created by the American Indian cultures of the western Great Basin, California, and the Southwest.

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Puvungna at Rancho Los Alamitos

Exterior view of the Rancho Los Alamitos
David Wakely/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5 

6400 Bixby Hill Road
Long Beach, California 90815

The Tongva village of Puvungna once occupied the area that is now California State University Long Beach (CSULB), Rancho Los Alamitos, and the surrounding gated community. A section of Rancho Los Alamitos where Tongva artifacts have been found has been designated as an official Puvungna site.

There is also an undeveloped area behind a parking lot next to the Japanese Garden at CSULB that is still used for ceremonial purposes by the local Tongva community, especially during the annual Ancestors Walk (mostly driving) in October, which visits a number of Ajachamem and Tongva burial and other sacred sites from Dana Point to Long Beach. There is also a stone monument to the Tongva at the Long Beach Veterans Hospital adjacent to CSULB.

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Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center

Ranch Sierra Vista/Satwiwa
4126 1/2 West Potrero Road
Newberry Park, CA 91320

Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center is located at the Ranch Sierra Vista Ranger Station in the Santa Monica Mountain Recreation Area in Newbury Park, which is north of Los Angeles. The building is operated by the park system, but exhibits and programs are created by the Friends of Satwiwa, including local Chumash and Tongva Indians. Outdoor programs are often held near the kiche, which is a domed dwelling built by local Chumash and Tongva volunteers in the traditional style.

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Native American Art Stores

The museums and some of the cultural centers above have gift shops, but there are also independent gift shops specializing in American Indian Art. These include Indian Art Center of California in Studio City, Raindance at Shoreline Village in Long Beach, and the Native Collection at the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles.

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Powwows and Gatherings

Tribe member greets Navy World War II veteran Paul Duronslet, a Cherokee tribesman from Los Angeles, Calif., during the gourd dancing festivities at Native American Veterans Association's Annual Veterans Appreciation
DoD News/Flickr/CC BY 1.0 

Many local venues host a variety of public events that showcase Native American culture, most of which occur in November for Native American Heritage month. Keep in mind that there are also other events throughout the year.

Additionally, many of the community colleges and universities host powwows sponsored by their Native American student organizations. The largest powwow in the L.A. area is organized by the Southern California Indian Center, which is a social service organization. Another annual gathering is the Moompetam Gathering of Coastal Indians at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

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