Tongva Memorial Installed in Ballona Discovery Park

On July 16 a small gathering of representatives of the three entities responsible for the creation of Ballona Discovery Park in the community of Playa Vista: Playa Vista, Loyola Marymount University, and Friends of Ballona Wetlands, joined Robert Dorame, Tribal Chairman and Most Likely Descendant of the Gabrielino Tongva Indians of California, some of his family members, invited guests, and members of the Tongva community, to inaugurate the Tongva Memorial in Ballona Discovery Park. The monument honors the Tongva people from the village of Guashna, where Playa Vista now sits.  Ancestral remains, found during the construction of Playa Vista, were consecrated in a Burial Mound in the Park in 2008, with a plan for a monument to go in later.

It is fitting that on the 10-year anniversary of the opening of Ballona Discovery Park, that the Tongva Monument would be installed by the Creator of the art piece.  Robert Dorame had waited for this day in July 2021, when he was to debut his monument, per an agreement with the developer, Playa Vista.  A series of three stone-like objects, ranging in size from 4 to 7 feet tall, with etchings and insets, tell the story.  The monument, or memorial, serves as a legacy – not only for the artist to pay homage to his ancestorial people buried in Playa Vista from years gone by, but also to provide future generations of all Park visitors a reaffirmation of their existence and a tribute to his people, how they live and how they thrive.

The ceremony was intimate and informal, but full of ritual and meaning.  Robert invited anyone who wanted to be saged to come up before the ceremony. Various members of his tribe gathered at the Monument to bless and sing songs, place ochre, and offer mugwort washing. Representatives of the three Park entities were invited to symbolically place sunsticks, cogstones, and discoidals in a monument stone and then in the earth on the Burial Mound, connecting the Monument to those buried there.

Marc Huffman, representing Playa Vista, walked this road with Robert Dorame for the many years it took to agree upon and follow through on the commitment to find an acceptable final resting home for those Gabrielino Tongva people who were found on the Playa Vista development site.  “Working with Robert to conceive and implement the Memorial to the Ancestors has been a tremendously moving experience, and I am so pleased to now see it completed after so many years of our efforts.”


Eric Strauss, representing Loyola Marymount University with James Landry, addressed the crowd sharing the importance of the partnership and bond between the University, the Friends and the Developer. “The installation of this beautiful piece of art serves as an invitation to broaden the community of celebration here in the Park. Robert Dorame is a talented artist and he serves as a wonderful bridge between the communities of peoples that lived here before us and those of us acting as stewards in the present. The hope is that the sculpture serves equally well the connection to future visitors who will come to the Park, ponder its beauty and commit to the challenge of building equitable communities.”

Ruth Lansford, Founder of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, said, “We are so honored to have this sacred monument to the Gabrielino Tongva people at Discovery Park, memorializing their eternal presence among us.”

Afterwards guests were invited to take walks throughout the entire Park, to visit the Ki and other Native American sites.  Michele Romolini, Managing Director of CURes, joined Mercedes Dorame, daughter of Robert Dorame, as she was presented with a Hummingbird book from Eric Strauss, and coincidentally was wearing a hummingbird hat.  That was the order of the day, synchronistic and serendipitous encounters by those in attendance. Michele shared, “It was special to be part of such an incredibly meaningful day. We have a lot to learn from the Gabrielino Tongva and their ways of knowing and valuing all parts of the ecosystem.”  The Tongva Monument blends in beautifully with the Park’s native plants, whispering of a time when they were held sacred, as much as the air and sky. Rocks, earth, water, plants, animals, people – they are all sacred to the Tongva.  They are all one.

It was a remarkable event in an incredible Park that tells the Tongva and Ballona stories, a treasure to visitors who come from all over the world.  As Robert said, “this Monument is for all people, it is dedicated to our ancestors and future human life on earth.”

The Park is open to the public and welcomes guests of all ages to Walk the Watershed Walk, learn the history of Ballona, honor the Indigenous People who called Ballona their home, and celebrate their existence in our modern day era – especially during National Native American Heritage Month in November:

Please read these other wonderful articles about the Tongva Monument event: