Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Toypurina: the Joan of Arc of California

"Be brave and fight."


A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting with the chief and other members of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians, Kizh Nation, which is the tribe who first inhabited the areas of Los Angeles and North Orange County.  When I tell people I met the local tribe, the most common reaction is, "There's a local tribe?"  This is not a historical accident.  The story of the Kizh people has been one of tragedy after tragedy, and their history has been largely suppressed or distorted.  When I met the members of Kizh nation, they told me their tribal history, and I picked up a relatively new book they published called Toypurina: the Joan of Arc of California.  The book tells the little-known history of a Kizh woman named Toypurina who, in 1785, led her people in a revolt against their Spanish oppressors.  She is a folk hero to the Kizh people and, according to the book, "She is the only Native American woman to have initiated, organized, and led a revolt against foreign oppression in all American history.  She is outstanding and unique in Native American history and therefore, in American history as well."

Here's a brief summary of Toypurina's story, taken from the book:

"In 1785, she was approached by a neophyte (baptized captive) Nicolas Jose at Mission San Gabriel.  He was reacting to the conduct of the Spanish not only to his own situation, but also to the atrocities (murders, whippings, rapes, forced religious converstions, and slave labor) that had been committed against the Gabrlielenos from the beginning the Spanish invasion until that point.  Toypurina, age 25, accepted the challenge and initiated, organized, and carried out a revolt utilizing an armed force of Indian warriors.  On the night of October 25th, 1785, Toypurina led her force and attacked the mission.  But because a corporal of the guard had been informed of the revolt ahead of time, the Spanish mounted an ambush.  When Toypurina arrived, she and some of her warriors were arrested.  She was then subjected to a sham trial at the mission where no less than the governor of Alta California, Pedro Fages, sat in judgement.  As punishments, she was exiled, baptized into Christianity, forced to divorce her Native husband and remarry a Spanish soldier and then eventually was buried at Mission San Juan Bautista."

Though the revolt was unsuccessful, it stands as inspiring testament to the spirit of the Gabrielenos, and their resistance to oppression.  The authors of the book compare her to Joan of Arc because "Both were religious leaders of their people, both organized revolts against invading foreign powers, both led rebel forcers in the field, both were betrayed, both were subjected to sham trials, and both sufferend tragic ends." 

The authors also compare Toypurina to other, more well-known female American heroes like Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Coretta Scott King because "the common threads of all Ameicans are our love of freedom and our 'American Dream' to provide the best, both spiritual and material, for our families and for our children's future...Toypurina rose to the occasion.  She wanted to right the wrongs done to her people and to her land."

The book serves as not only a biography of Toypurina's life, but also as a kind of tribal history written, not from the perspective of outsiders, but by the tribe itself.  The authors (which includes the chief) write at the outset: "With this work, we, the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians, are writing a new kind of history for us--our own history.  It is a humanistic history rather than a cold, dispassionate typical study."

Because Toypurina has been so grossly misrepresented even by scholars, much of the work of the book Toypurina is deconstructing false histories (which abound for Native Americans) and trying to reconstruct the real history, based both on scholarly study and tribal oral history.  It is a unique book in this way.  It is deeply self-conscious of the problems inherent in trying to reconstruct the past, and this is something more historians ought to wrestle with, especially when dealing with histories that have existed only on the margins of "official" history.  It is a lovely, thought-provoking, and inspiring book that serves as a model of a how a group of people can, through research and storytelling, assert their identity and self-worth.

As the authors rightly note in the introduction: "Sometimes, in order to right the wrongs of the past, it is necessary to write the wrongs of the past."

To purchase your very own copy of this book, visit the tribe's web site HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment