The Tongva Memorial

Three unique proposals were presented as Loyola Marymount University finalized the design of the Tongva Memorial. These proposals were meant to establish a place where people could pay respect and honor the Native Americans of the Gabrielino/Tongva nation and their cultural values. Therefore, the Tongva Memorial is paying tribute and remembering of the indigenous people on whose ancestral lands LMU sits.

Before the construction of the Native American Gardens at Loyola Marymount, the school went through a selection process of deciding which of the three designs would be used to commemorative the Gabrielino/Tongva. All the proposals had a concrete dolphin circle at the center of the gardens. The circular shape of the dolphin circle could be a reference to the Yuvar, which was a circular building that the Tongva used for most of their ceremonies (Harley).  Also, the dolphins symbolized their relationship to the sea, as the Tongva hunted fish for food and were skilled seafarers (Chambers). More generally, the dolphin circle symbolizes the spiritual connection that the Tongva felt towards animals. Jimi Castillo, a 62-year-old war veteran and Native American of mixed Tongva and Acjachemem ancestry, his excursion to Catalina Island to assist in the return of the buffalo that were transplanted there for a film in 1924:

On the way to the island we must have seen thousands, upon thousands of dolphins, which are sacred to our people. We call them Torovim and refer to them as the ancient ones. We believe they speak our language, they’re part of our creation story. They were headed in the same direction, toward Pimu. On our way back from the island we saw them again and this they were headed in the opposite direction, back towards the mainland. I believe that the dolphins opened up the pathway for these buffalo to cross the ocean. It was very emotional and touching to see all these things connected in this ceremony.

Castillo notes that the Tongva considered the dolphins sacred, which is evident in the creation story regarding them. Thus, the dolphin circles provide insight into the Tongva people’s religious and spiritual beliefs. In contrast to how we live on these lands today, the Tongva people – “People of the Earth” – revered to their ideal environment, and the establishment of the Native American Gardens was a way to highlight and preserve their cultural beliefs. The memorial is a means of paying homage to the Gabrielino/Tongva people and to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remind people that the Gabrielino/Tongva have not vanished but still exist as a nation.

Deciding on which proposal to undertake in the construction of the Native American Gardens was an extremely important one, because the memorial acts as a permanent historical exhibit for future generations to appreciate and recognize.

Written by Alireza Imani, History, LMU 2020

For Further Reading:

Chambers, Carol. “One Man’s Crusade to Take a Peak Into History.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 13 Aug. 2001,

Haley. “Gabrielino Ceremonies – California Indians.”

“Tongva Influence.” LMU Magazine,

“Washna (Playa Vista, California).” Industrial Los Angeles,