LOS ANGELES — For nearly 100 years, UCLA has operated on land that once belonged to the Gabrielino Tongva tribe. But recently, the university made a partnership with the descendants of the original inhabitants to share access and stewardship on campus with the community
The agreement, called the memorandum of understanding, or MOU for short, states that “members of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe will advise UCLA on planting and land caretaking practices across campus.”
One area being designated for Gabrielino Tongva tribe use is the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, where native plants like white sage and tule reed have been planted.
Kimberly Morales Johnson, Gabrielino Tongva tribal secretary, said this area has deep significance for the tribe.
“Our people have been here for millennia. Our people have been documented to be here through the artifacts, the archaeology, and also through the documents,” Morales Johnson said. “It started with the early Spanish explorers, with Portola and Father Crespi.”
On the opposite side of campus, 3 ¼ acres of undeveloped land, called Sage Hill, has also been designated for Gabrielino Tongva use. Shannon Speed, director of the American Indian studies center at UCLA, was also part of the team that drafted the MOU.
“Three and a quarter acres of land doesn’t seem like a lot,” Speed said. “But it’s probably the largest stretch of undeveloped land in the west side.”
Speed said it was important to the university that the MOU go further than just a symbolic acknowledgement with no action behind it.
“It became obvious to the larger campus community that there was more to this than acknowledging the land, that relations had to be fostered and there had to be a mutual engagement and reciprocity.”