Members of the Tongva Nation Dancers shared stories and songs of their culture Sunday at the Stough Canyon Nature Center surrounded by the rustic mountains their ancestors have called home for more than 7,000 years.
The Gabrielino/Tongva tribe occupied all of the Los Angeles Basin, from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Santa Susana Pass and north Orange County, said Dana Bleitz, special recreation leader with the city of Burbank who has a master's degree in anthropology with a specialty in archeology.
"Early evidence says they arrived here 5,000 years ago and probably were here as early as 7,000 years," she said.
Chief Red Blood (Anthony Morales) of San Gabriel, his son, Guiding Young Cloud (Andrew Morales), and Sky Eagle (Matthew Lovio) of Pasadena have been performing their tribal dances annually at the nature center in Burbank since 2002.
They perform dances that would be used in social and ceremonial times, like celebrating a bountiful harvest season, Chief Red Blood said. They don't use drums, only hand gourds and clapper sticks. In the canoe dance, they wield paddles.
"It's an honor to perform these dances and let people know that our tribe continues to exist," he said. "People think we're extinct. Anthropologists have found evidence that our people have been here for 10,000-plus years, and we're still here."
The annual performance at the nature center gives the public an opportunity to get to know the first settlers of the area where they live now, he added.
"It's a way to show people we come from an ancestry that's ancient," he said. "
Nature center volunteers were frying bread and topping it with refried beans, fried crumbled hamburger and chopped tomato salsa.
"They call them Navajo tacos," Bleitz said.
They were also frying yucca, which tastes like French fries, she added. The bread in the early days was made of acorn meal.
People in the audience on Sunday came from as far away as Worcestershire, England, Chief Red Blood said.
And it is a great way to interact with the next generation, he added.
"One of the little children watching us today said as he was leaving, 'Where's your canoe?' and I told him it's down by the river and I'm going to canoe home."
Recreation leader Ian Adams said it was interesting to see the young children of the tribe passing on the knowledge of their culture.
"They are able to keep it going from generation to generation," he said. "That's pretty unique."