The most conservative estimates indicate that 80,000 American Indians live permanently in the Greater Los Angeles area, but Indian activists believe at least 200,000 are here at any given time, most seeking economic opportunities not available elsewhere.
Whatever the population figure, their prominence is being celebrated today in Santa Monica.
It's an honest-to-goodness powwow, with more than 100 Indians participating in dances and rituals that demonstrate their cultural heritage.
"A powwow is both a social gathering and a glorification of the warrior," said Glenda Ahhaitty, a coordinator of the powwow, which is part of the three-day Santa Monica Indian Ceremonial Show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. "Today's war dances honor those who serve in the contemporary military."
Dancers from the northern and southern plains will compete for titles and prizes, but tribes from all over the United States and Canada will make appearances in their ceremonial costumes.
'Arena Becomes Sacred'
Ahhaitty, a Cherokee from Oklahoma who with her husband, Melvin, has been coordinating powwows in the Southland for about 15 years, explained: "Once the dance circle is closed and the drums are brought in, the arena becomes sacred. Our oral history is found within these songs and dances. This is our connection with the deceased, all the way back to ancient times."
An Indian elder will explain what is happening during the powwow, and a program giving the order and meaning of the dances will be available; no tape recorders will be allowed.
The powwow, which is free, is scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. today on the lawn in front of the Civic Auditorium, but doors to the Indian ceremonial show and sale will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the auditorium: adults, $6; seniors 55 and older and children 12-17, $5; children 6-11, $4; children 5 and younger get in for free.
On display and sale will be Indian-made jewelry, kachina dolls, rugs and blankets, pottery, basketry and leather goods. A special treat, fresh Indian fry bread, will be prepared on the premises.
The Indian presence is nothing new in Southern California, of course. Complex and highly developed Indian cultures have existed in the Southland's canyons and valleys and deserts for at least 10,000 years.
While rapid population growth in Southern California since the turn of the century has contributed to the loss of significant archeological resources, isolated Indian sites have been preserved. Here are several places you can still visit:
Albinger Archaeological Museum--More than 3,500 years ago, Indians began coming to this place seasonally. Archeologists have found the burned stone remains of their earth ovens, milling stones and stone bowls. Chumash Indians built a village on the site about AD 1500 and called it Mitz-kana-kan or "place of the jaw."
You will see a replica of a Chumash canoe and an ancient earth oven, circa 300 BC, as well as shell beads, bone whistles and basket fragments.
The museum offers free tours, lectures and films and a junior archeology program for children ages 8-12.
Albinger Archaeological Museum, 113 E. Main St., Ventura; (805) 648-5823. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Antelope Valley Indian Museum--Near a rocky butte in the heart of the Mojave Desert there was once a settlement of Kitanemuk Indians who made use of a year-round nearby spring that no longer exists. In the late 1920s, artist H. Arden Edwards created a museum there that now features Indian artifacts from all over the Southwest.
The museum's regular program includes movies, slide shows, exhibitions of basket weavers and a "touch table" where visitors may grind seeds, start fires and cook food in the ancient way.
Antelope Valley Indian Museum, 15701 E. Ave. M, Lancaster, (805) 942-0662. A large sign will direct you. Open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second weekend of each month except July through September. Admission $3 per vehicle. Special group tours also available by appointment (two to three weeks' notice required; 10 people minimum) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays. Admission $15 per group of 10 to 15.
Ojai--Ojai means "nest." In 1966, volunteers founded a museum to preserve Indian artifacts found in the Ojai Valley. Today the museum, located in the city's old fire house, displays grinding stones typical of the Oak Grove Indians. You will also see Chumash tools, including arrows and hooks made of bone and shellfish.
The museum's research library is open to the public by appointment.
Ojai Valley Historical Society and Museum, 109 S. Montgomery St., Ojai; (805) 646-2290. Open Wednesday-Monday, 1-5 p.m.
Malibu Lagoon--Malibu was once known as Humaliwo, a Chumash word for "place of the wild surf," but if you watch the waves from the Malibu Lagoon, you will note that they die down as they near shore. It is thought that these calm waters were a launching site for canoes. Some historians speculate that Malibu Lagoon was the site of the large Indian village discovered by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.
The museum displays Malibu artifacts: a mortar bowl from Point Dume, a grinding stone from Las Flores Creek and a variety of arrow points, spear points, pipes and pendants. You will also see a large mural by Julie Van Zandt May that depicts the site as it may have looked in 1542.
Malibu Lagoon Museum, 23200 Pacific Coast Highway; (213) 456-8432. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Last docent-led tour at 1:15. Call for special tours. Grounds open dawn to dusk. Admission free.
Park La Brea--About where the Park La Brea Towers apartment complex now stands was once an ancient Indian village whose inhabitants controlled access to the nearby springs and tar pits. The large milling stones found there indicate that it was a permanent settlement.
"People would come here from far away to collect tar and they would carry items to trade," says George Jefferson, assistant curator at the nearby Page Museum. These items included elk antlers and seashells worked into pendants and beads.
The 9,000-year-old remains of the La Brea Woman, the only human ever found in the La Brea dig, can also be seen at the museum. "Evidence suggests she was related to the early Chumash people," said Jefferson.
Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd.; (213) 857-6311. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Monday. Information: George Jefferson, (213) 857-6316. Admission: Adults, $3; students with ID and seniors 62 and over, $1.50; children under 5 free.
Eaton Canyon Nature Center--Gabrielino Indians once used Eaton Canyon as a summer and fall gathering site. They were attracted to the lush riparian plant community that grows in Eaton Canyon. Edible plants such as elderberries, coffee berries, golden currants, chaparral currants and holly-leaf cherries can still be gathered by those who know native plants. Nearby oak woodlands provide a good supply of acorns.
Inside the Nature Center you will see Indian artifacts found locally. A course on Indian uses of native plants is offered twice a year.
Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park, 1750 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena; (818) 794-1866. Open Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Free admission.
Satwiwa Loop Trail and Native American Indian Cultural Center--Since prehistoric times, the Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa area in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has been an important ceremonial site. Today it features a hiking trail that will introduce you to an ancient way of life. The grasslands, oak woodlands and chaparral supplied materials for food, clothing, medicine, housing and basket making. You will also see Boney Mountain, which played an important role in the celebration of the solstice.
On Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., an American Indian park host is available to answer questions at the center. Admission is free. Information: (818) 888-3770.
Satwiwa Loop Trail and Native American Indian Cultural Center at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. Take U.S. 101 to Wendy exit in Newbury Park. Go south on Wendy to Potrero Road, turn right on Portrero to intersection of Pinehill Road and Portrero. Free parking mile into the property. Open daily, dawn to dusk.
Painted Cave--This California State Historical Monument, a sandstone rock shelter painted with pictographs, is one of the more spectacular Chumash sites. Not a lot is known about the Painted Cave's origins, but theories abound. One is that the abstract symbols and mythological drawings were painted by Chumash "priests" to help restore cosmic balance, perhaps at the time of important astronomical events. Archeologist Travis Hudson theorizes that one of the paintings was done at the time of an eclipse of the sun in 1677. Another speculation is that the painters were on personal vision quests, in search of spiritual helpers, and that the paintings may have been part of a puberty ritual for boys. Or, perhaps, the colorful paintings were simply illustrations of legends and stories told by elders of the tribe.
Painted Cave can be viewed during daylight hours; it is protected by iron bars. Find the cave by driving north on U.S. 101 past Santa Barbara. Take California 154 north, six miles up San Marcos Pass Road to the intersection with Painted Cave Road. Turn right to a shady canyon with a sign reading Painted Cave.
Palm Canyon--For centuries, Agua Caliente Cahuilla (pronounced kah-wee-ah ) Indians have lived in the rugged canyons near Palm Springs. In 1876, the federal government deeded in trust a 32,000-acre reservation. More than 100-square miles of the reservation lie within Palm Springs city limits, and today the band of Indians represents Palm Springs' largest single landowner.
A moderately graded footpath in the magnificent, 15-mile-long Palm Canyon offers a chance to imagine the independent and peaceful life enjoyed by this ancient people. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the canyon is the stands of Washingtonia filifera palm trees for which it is named. Cahuilla oral history suggests these trees were planted in aboriginal times.
You will also find a trading post offering Indian jewelry, art and artifacts, refreshments, hiking maps and conversational cultural lore.
Palm Canyon, at the southern end of South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (619) 325-5673. Admission is $3 for adults; $2 for seniors 62 and older; 75 cents for children 6-12; $3.50 for equestrians. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. September to June.