Natasha Brennan
Special to Indian Country Today

Tongva elder, educator and language-keeper Julia Louise Bogany — known as "Wiseone" — died March 28 of complications from a stroke. She was 72.

Bogany was legendary throughout Southern California for her mission to preserve Tongva culture through language classes, partnerships with local institutions and universities and her work to gain recognition for her tribe.

She hosted talking circles, produced a dictionary of the Tongva language and served as an elder-in-residence at Pitzer College. A 47-foot mural at California State University, Dominguez Hills, depicts Bogany sitting underneath an oak tree.

“Those of you who knew Julia know that she was part of almost every aspect of Southern California Native culture, in particular all things related to the Gabrieleño-Tongva people,” the Gabrieleno Tongva Band of Mission Indians wrote in a statement.

“Julia was passionate about education and worked tirelessly as a Tongva Cultural Consultant, an advocate for her tribe and held various educational workshops for over 20 years.”

A service was held Saturday, April 17, with burial following at the Mountain View Mortuary and Cemetery in San Bernardino.

She leaves behind her husband, Andrew Bogany; four children; 10 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

‘Sometimes it feels invisible’

Bogany was born July 16, 1948 in Santa Monica. After her parents’ divorce when she was young, she lived with different family members, developing an interest in the  Gabrieleno history on her mother’s side and attending tribal meetings to absorb the information.

Tongva elder Julia Bogany is depicted in this work, “Lessons from a Wise Woman, by artist iris yirei hu. The art later became the source for a 47-foot mural at California State University, Dominguez Hills. (Photo courtesy of Pitzer College)

She earned her GED and began working as a preschool teacher, but in her free time she learned more about her tribe, led cultural workshops and volunteered to help the homeless and formerly incarcerated people.

Her efforts intensified after a conversation with her teenage great-granddaughter Marissa Aranda.

Aranda interviewed her great-grandmother about Indigenous people for a class presentation; she asked how it felt to be Native.

“Sometimes it feels invisible,” Bogany responded.

“This statement touched me deeply,” Aranda wrote in a statement shared by Pitzer College Media Studies Professor Gina Lamb. “As a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Julia never came across as invisible in our eyes. She’s never presented an ounce of weakness. She has always risen to the challenge with whatever, and whoever, came in her way.”

She continued, “The driving factor for Julia to continue her work was to finally break out of that invisibility not for herself, but for future generations. That was something I was proud to witness.”

Bogany created a website, To Be Visible, to educate people about the history of the tribe.

She also served as the cultural affairs officer for the Gabrieleno Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians since 2000 and as president of the Gabrielino Tongva Foundation, which preserves, restores and protects the Kuruvungna Springs Tongva Village site and cultural center in Santa Monica, where the Tongva Annual Gathering is held. She was vice president of Keepers of Indigenous Ways.

A cultural advisor

Bogany worked closely with the University of California, Los Angeles’ American Indian Studies department on numerous projects, including one on diverse perspectives and the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens.

She aided in the development of the UCLA Land Acknowledgement and worked extensively with the special advisor on issues ranging from the establishment of a reflection area on UCLA campus, the return of ancestral remains and connecting the university to Kuruvungna Springs, a tribal village site.

She hosted talking circles at the University of Redlands and also worked with the University of La Verne, California State University Los Angeles and the University of Southern California.

A mentor to many, Bogany gifted everyone with hand-made Tongva jewelry, and had a talent for finding students who were struggling.

“Every moment when I'm talking to her on Zoom, or we're doing stuff, she was always making something for someone,” Lamb said. “When she does a talking circle, or she deals with a student with trauma, she always has a little gift to give them. She could always identify when someone is having a hard time … She had a sixth sense for it.”

She also collaborated on many local art projects, including an installation at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California and the creation of a Metro bridge on California’s 210 Freeway, designed to depict two woven Tongva baskets.

She pushed universities and museums to provide educational access and resources to Tongva community members.

“These were just first steps, and Julia had many plans for deepening our connections at UCLA,” according to a statement issued after her death by Shannon Speed, director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center; Randall Akee, chair of the American Indian Studies Program; and Mishuana Goeman, special advisor to the chancellor for Indigenous issues.

“Her presence and guidance throughout the years will be deeply missed, as will her friendliness and passion for youth and education. We are honored to have known her, thankful for the opportunity to have worked with her, and grateful to have learned from her,” they said.

Bogany was also a guiding elder and cultural advisor to Los Angeles County Regional Parks, served on the Native American College Board and was an active member of the Indigenous Education Now Coalition.

Earlier this year, Bogany was awarded the California Missions Foundation Chairman’s Award, honoring her impact on the study of California’s early history.

Last year, she was awarded the Spirit of Tradition Award by the Los Angeles City and County Native American Indian Commission, and in 2019, she was named “Champion for Native Children,” the highest honor given by the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

In 2010, Bogany was awarded the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Heritage Award during its annual Native American festival, Moompetam.

Picking up the mantle

Bogany’s legacy will continue to live on, friends and family say.

Fourth grade students in California now learn about the history of the mission system, thanks to her efforts to work with teachers and school board about correcting the history of California and its tribes.

“She worked tirelessly to gain recognition for her tribe, to counteract the ‘erasure’ that colonial systems brought with the missions, the ranchos, and the American land takeover,” the tribe wrote.

Lamb recalled Bogany often waking up at 4 a.m. to drive to events all across the Southland.

“She was so bent on this mission of making Tongva people visible,” Lamb said. “Her famous quote was, ‘Tongva women never left their ancestral land, they just became invisible. How do we make ourselves not invisible? This is the question I ask every day.’"

Pitzer College students will work to keep her To Be Visible project updated, under the guidance of Bogany’s great-granddaughter, and her Tongva history and language books will continue to be sold.

“One silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that there now exist hours and hours of recorded Zoom talks given by Julia over the course of the past year,” Lamb said. “We are working on compiling these recordings along with others of Julia teaching, in a digital archive. Her collected research and her own personal library collection hopefully will find a place where tribal members/family can access for many generations to come.”

Her work lives on as well in the permanent public art projects she influenced to make Tongva visible in the contemporary urban landscape, and in the restoration and protection of Kuruvungna Springs, Lamb said.

But it may be the message she leaves behind that has had the most impact.

She was “a strong, loving woman who put everyone before herself,” her granddaughter wrote. “Even when she was down, she made sure others weren’t. Even when she was drained, she made sure she gave 101 percent. Even when she was busy, she made sure to clear an hour of her free time to help someone else.

“That is the kind of Tongva woman I aspire to be.”

Donations to the family can be made to this page. Originally launched by Joseph Aranda to cover her medical expenses, the account will now fund her funeral and memorial expenses, with any leftover funds going toward care for her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

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