Photos by Mathew Scott

FEATURED STORY: Kimberly Morales Johnson & Samantha Morales Johnson

Land Back in Los Angeles

Following the first land return in 200 years to the Indigenous peoples of Los Angeles County, the Tongva Taraxat Paxaava Conservancy was formed. Located in the Altadena hills, the Conservancy represents the beginning of a process meant to rematriate and reestablish connections between tribal members and California native plants to their ancestral and unceded lands.

Here, Executive Director of the Conservancy, Kimberly Morales Johnson, and Land Return Coordinator, Samantha Morales Johnson, express some of their hopes for the usage of this site — and what it’s like working as a mother-daughter team.

Kimberly Morales Johnson

“I remember sitting under the oak trees at another space with Auntie Barbara Drake, and she said, ‘Look around you’ and I’m looking at people that I know I’m distantly related to, and she said, ‘Right here, miracles are happening.’ I feel it’s the same thing at the Conservancy. Miracles are happening because of people [gathering] who have had differences in the past, but I view that as a problem of colonization. When you don’t have much and you give somebody $5, everybody’s fighting for that $5. So how do you break that?

Well, this is not a story about me, really, or Samantha…We are one part of a story of a tribe that has been eliminated, eradicated, murdered for colonial, capitalistic, ugly people. That’s the truth. So our story deserves to be told — just like some of the street names.

People say street names all the time without realizing whose name they’re highlighting and realizing whose land they’re on, whose land was stolen…It’s the story of a greater population, a greater community that’s still here, that has still survived.”

Samantha Morales Johnson

“I think we’re exiting an era of scarcity, that $5 that my mom was just saying. We’re entering an era of abundance. That abundance is not only coming from people actually paying us for our work — for what seems like the first time, from what I’m hearing — but also from people understanding that the way the world is working right now is no longer sustainable. I see our community come into nature and it feels like a fish reentering water. I think that because we’re going to be having more and more access to our natural resources, to the things that took care of us — and we in return took care of them — we’re going to be seeing less and less conflict because we’re all going to have this goal again of taking care of our land like we did before colonization.”

As for what it’s like working in a mother-daughter team, the key is in knowing when to have fun.

“We’ve been doing a pretty good job because we’re pretty fun. Dance parties, roller skating. I think that native people, in my opinion, have the best sense of humor because how else do you survive? We crack jokes, we listen to music, we sing, we just try to have joy in the places where we can, because otherwise we’d be all kinds of stressed out.”

Kimberly Morales Johnson is an active member and tribal secretary of the Gabrieleno / Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, where she maintains tribal traditions and continuity and is dedicated to the preservation and continuance of Native American culture and tradition. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy, and is a PhD student at UC Davis in Native American Studies. Her passion is to tell the story of the Tongva with, by, and for the community.

Samantha Morales Johnson is a Land Return Coordinator of the Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Land Conservancy, a science illustrator, and ethnobotanist. Alongside her mother, Kimberly, she started the Protect White Sage Digital campaign to protect Grandmother White Sage. She has a BA in Marine Biology from CSU Puvungna and has been using her ecological knowledge to tackle advanced ecological problems that come with land return.