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Student leaders revise Janss Steps rename plans, now advocate for ‘Kuruvungna Steps’

Student leaders are proposing a new and more inclusive name to replace the Janss Steps name. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Samantha Fredberg

Nov. 5, 2020 1:59 a.m.

Student leaders have revised their plan to rename the Janss Steps and will instead propose a more inclusive name.

Undergraduate Students Association Council leaders and students from the American Indian Student Association now plan to make a proposal to rename Janss Steps to “Kuruvungna Steps,” after previously having passed a resolution calling on UCLA to rename Janss Steps to “Tongva Steps.”

Both the Kuruvungna name and the Tongva name were meant to honor Indigenous people who originally inhabited Los Angeles and the UCLA land, said AISA Vice Chair Desirae Barragan. However, even though Tongva is commonly known in academia, the name does not accurately represent the entire Gabrieleño Tribe, she added.

Kuruvungna is a word taken from the original Gabrieleño language and is also the name of the Gabrieleño village that inhabited the land that UCLA and Westwood are built on, Barragan said.

AISA and the Office of the External Vice President are finalizing a committee to work on the formal proposal, said Melody Satele, the director of campus partnerships in the EVP office. They aim to submit the proposal to the UCLA administration by the end of fall quarter, AISA co-chair Kokonow Kinney added.

Proposals to change names of campus landmarks must be submitted to the chancellor, who then forwards the proposal to his Executive Committee for recommendations, according to UCLA guidelines. If the committee approves the proposal, the chancellor would either make a decision or send the proposal to University of California President Michael Drake for his approval, depending on the situation.

UCLA also established an Campus Honorary Naming Advisory Committee composed of faculty, administrators and student leaders and an alumnus who would develop a process to consider whether current campus facility names are in keeping with UCLA’s values, according to a September statement from Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily A. Carter.

Even though USAC and more than 20 student organizations endorsed the July resolution, student leaders knew they needed to push the UCLA administration to change the steps’ name, Satele said.

“There’s only so much power that goes through the USAC resolutions,” she said. “We wanted to create a real change, so we decided to create a formal proposal that would go to the administration.”

Although the name Tongva is more well known, student leaders wanted a name that includes all members of the community, Barragan said.

“When we look at the native history that is taught by UCLA, we always hear ‘Tongva’ and ‘Gabrieleño,’ but when it comes to the reality of the tribal history, there are other entities that make up the Gabrieleño tribe,” Barragan said. “We want to ensure that all people are recognized and that their history was correctly stated.”

Barragan, who identifies as an enrolled member of the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians and Kizh Nation, said she knew the name Tongva excludes many Gabrieleño people, including herself. Still, she worked for the Tongva resolution since she thought it would be the best chance for Indigenous representation at UCLA.

“With the initial resolution, we knew that the name had to be something that people were already familiar with,” Barragan said. “With that platform, if it were to get passed, we would use it as an opportunity to correct the narrative and give more exposure to the histories that were never provided to students.”

Because of the support the resolution received, student leaders opted to choose a more inclusive name, Barragan said.

“(Kuruvungna) literally means ‘the place where we meet in the sun,’” Barragan said. “And if you think of Janss Steps, there’s no better name for that location.”

The original proposal for the Tongva Steps was not only an inaccurate representation, but offensive, said Andrew Salas, the tribal chairman of the Gabrieleño Band of Indians, Kizh Nation.

Spanish colonizers called the Indigenous people of the Los Angeles Basin “Gabrieleños” after the San Gabriel Mission, Salas said. Academic institutions created the name Tongva in the 1990s to refer to the tribe, he added.

“There was no such thing as a ‘Tongva Tribe,’ and to name something that never existed and has no relation to the prehistory of the land would only be adding to the lies of our California history,” Salas said. “It would prevent the steps from telling our true story.”

The name Kizh, also used to refer to the tribe, derives from the Kichireños, or the houses of the early Gabrieleños, Barragan said.

California recognized the original tribe of the Los Angeles Basin as the Gabrieleños in 1994. However, the state used the name Tongva in 2004 to establish land in Compton as the “Indian reservation for the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe.”

Salas said the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe does not carry the Gabrieleño bloodline and is separate from the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians and Kizh Nation.

The Tongva Council of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe did not respond to requests for comments.

Salas said the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians and Kizh Nation was not involved in or consulted for the original proposal to rename Janss Steps.

“It all came down to the way that UCLA currently implements tribal history,” Barragan said. “I’m personally OK with (the name Tongva), but coming toward the new name, I thought it would be better to be inclusive toward all of the Gabrieleño people of the Los Angeles Greater Basin.”

Though the formal proposal for the UCLA administration is in its early stages, Barragan, Satele and Kinney said they are excited to work for the name change.

“If this does happen, it will be a part of UCLA history,” Kinney said.

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