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UCLA botanical garden invites speaker to discuss land history, native plants

Plants growing in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden’s planned Tongva garden are pictured. The botanical garden invited Bob Ramirez, president of the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation, to lecture about the history and restoration of the Kuruvungna Village Springs site. (Courtesy of Cole Oost)

By Michelle Lin

April 14, 2022 6:01 p.m.

This post was updated April 17 at 10:41 p.m.

Bob Ramirez, president of the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation, said the revitalization and preservation of the Gabrielino-Tongva Kuruvungna Village Springs site has brought communities together to become more educated about native history and the enviroment.

The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden invited Ramirez to discuss the preservation of the Kuruvungna Village Springs at a lecture March 31.

The campus botanical garden provides a green space for nearby hospital patients, UCLA students, alumni and local high schools. The collaboration between the Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation and the botanical garden broadens the public’s perspective of the relationship between the community and land, Ramirez said.

Ramirez lectured on the history of the Kuruvungna Village Springs site and the steps taken to restore it as part of the botanical garden’s 2021-2022 public lecture series, “Transplanted: Examining Contexts of Plants, People & Place.”

Cole Oost, manager of public outreach, education and communications at the botanical garden, said the botanical garden hopes to deepen the relationship between the garden management and the Tongva community, as they were the original occupants of the land currently owned by UCLA.

“The whole point of the series is talking about different ways that people relate to plants and looking at all kinds of things that maybe aren’t traditionally talked about in botany, like colonization,” Oost said. “I would say especially indigenous people of America are left out of that conversation a lot of the time.”

Kuruvungna Village Springs, a site located on the Santa Monica fault line and next to University High School, was previously polluted with debris and taken over by invasive species such as crayfish, Ramirez said.

He said the community played a large part in clearing the Kuruvungna Village Springs. Groups such as the Boy Scouts and the UC Irvine sailing team pitched in to clear the pond and waste surrounding it. The Kuruvungna site welcomes visitors on the first Saturday of each month to get involved with maintaining the space, he added.

As part of his work to restore the Kuruvungna site with its original species, Ramirez also reached out to the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to promote the preservation of native California plants. The nonprofit donated thousands of dollars’ worth of native plants toward the effort to restore the Kuruvungna Village site.

(Courtesy of Cole Oost)
A plant (pictured) growing in the botanical garden’s upcoming Tongva garden. The project is dedicated to plants traditionally used by the Gabrielino-Tongva; plants of the garden are selected, planted and harvested with the help of Tongva community members. (Courtesy of Cole Oost)

The botanical garden is also contributing to native species restoration efforts.

Inspired by the work done at Kuruvungna Village, the botanical garden is preparing a garden project dedicated to Southern California plants traditionally used by the Gabrielino-Tongva, Oost said. He added that Tongva community members selected and planted all the plants in that area of the garden, and Tongva community members will harvest the plants as well. In addition, traditional Tongva ceremonies accompanied the planting process.

“I came and saw the magnificent work they’re doing with the botanical garden,” Ramirez said. “They started bringing on native plants and labor and skills and legitimacy.”

The planned Tongva garden is a step toward bringing the Tongva people to campus, showing them recognition and respect, Oost said.

Elizabeth Lara, an anthropology doctoral student at Deakin University in Australia who attended the event, said indigenous-based gardens are a way for universities to do more for indigenous peoples’ land access. Politics on matters like climate change and social inequity can also begin to be addressed through community garden projects which set an example for universities to support indigenous communities with more than just words, Lara added.

Ramirez said he sees human relationships with each other and the land as integral to the soul.

“To be a full human being, you should know about (your connection to the earth) and be connected to the way our ancestors lived,” Ramirez said. “It makes us feel whole and complete – and healthy in a psychic way and a spiritual way and a physical way.”

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Michelle Lin
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