Indigenous History and Culture in Long Beach

Long Beach is situated in the center of the territory occupied by the Tongva people who, prior to the arrival of European colonizers, were the area’s original residents. This area historically included the entire Los Angeles Basin as well as the southern Channel Islands off our coast.

Credit: Sharon Conner


According to archeological records, the oldest known Tongva village was settled some 9,000 years ago at Bolsa Chica beach. By 3,200 years ago, the territory known as Tovaangar was at the center of a trade network that stretched from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico.

During that time, there were around 100 villages in Tovaangar, with one of the most significant–Puvunga, sometimes spelled Puvuu’nga–located in the area where California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) is now located. Puvunga is a sacred site known as “the place of emergence,” where the Tongva believe the world and their people began.

When the Spanish arrived in the 1700s, they first encountered the Tongva people near the San Gabriel Mountains. The Spanish enslaved indigenous people to cultivate crops and build the San Gabriel Mission. The Spanish called the Tongva “Gabrieleños,” and today the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe retains that nomenclature.

Credit: Rancho Los Alamitos


In 2023 Rancho Los Alamitos launched a new virtual tour on the history of the Tongva-Gabrielino people and their influence on the present-day site of the Rancho, which occupies part of Puvunga. The virtual tour, “Seeing Puvuu’nga - A Tongva Tour of Rancho Los Alamitos,” was developed by the Rancho’s Tongva Education Team, composed of Tongva culture bearers, educators, and volunteers. The audio tour with accompanying videos is available for smartphones, and visitors are encouraged to listen to the tour as they walk the site.

In 2021, the Grant Neighborhood Association in North Long Beach voted to change its name to Neyham Neighborhood Association as a way to honor the area’s original inhabitants. Neyham means “friend” in the Tongva language, and the association worked with local Tribal council members to select the name and plant a ceremonial garden.

Credit: Sharon Conner


CSULB hosts an annual Pow Wow, an American Indian social celebration, on campus each year in the spring. The event features dancing, arts and crafts, Native foods, and vendors selling both traditional and contemporary American Indian art.

The Aquarium of the Pacific’s Moompetam American Indian Festival takes place each year in September, featuring songs, storytelling, and cultural artifacts brought to the event by representatives from many local tribes, including the Gabrielino/Tongva. The festival celebrates Southern California’s Indigenous people and their environmental stewardship of the land and ocean.

CREDIT: Aquarium of the Pacific
About the Author
Claire Atkinson
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