Tongva artists see Indigenous story in the tragedy of P-22

When Los Angeles’ most famous mountain lion, known as P-22, was euthanized Saturday, his death made headlines across the country, awards from prominent politicians and a memorial walk honoring what one congressman called “our beloved mascot.”

But perhaps the heartiest tribute came from representatives of the Tongva, the first people of Los Angeles to feel evicted from their own land like P-22.

Tongva artist Weshyot Alvitre posted a montage of photos of the mountain lion on Instagram this week, accompanied by a song she sang in the Tongva language to the famous cat: “To send you back in our language, lest you be in it.” stuck world after all the suffering you had to endure.”

The post received more than 1,500 likes and multiple comments.

Alvitre and fellow Tongva artist Mercedes Dorame were particularly hard hit by the mountain lion’s death because the cat’s expulsion history mirrors that of its own people.

“It reflects us,” Alvitre wrote in a poem about the cougar posted to Instagram. “He was born in this land like those who came before him. I am angry and sad that he will not have a chance to return to the country as he should.”

A color sketch of the P-22 Mountain Lion's head.

A drawing of P-22 by Weshyot Alvitre.

(Courtesy of Weshyot Alvitre)

The Tongva, the first people of Los Angeles, lived in Southern California for thousands of years before Spanish, Mexican, and white American settlers destroyed and subjugated their villages. In October, they received a 1-hectare plot of land from an Altadena homeowner, which they used to establish Tongva tribal lands for the first time in nearly 200 years.

The parcel, like the P-22’s hunting ground around Griffith Park, is being squeezed by suburban sprawl.

Wildlife authorities say the mountain lion has been suffering from a range of illnesses – including old age – and has likely been hit by a car in recent weeks, which could explain its recent interactions with people and their pets.

Alvitre noted that cars like the one that likely hit the P-22 travel highways built over Tongva trade routes and on top of traditional burial sites.

“Colonization has affected the country and the health of the country and the health of everything that depends on the country,” she said.

The Tongva have a special relationship with animals.

“We don’t put ourselves above them; we consider them our relatives,” said Alvite. “And when we see them suffer, it’s really a reflection of our suffering.”

And many of us will die prematurely, with direct contributions from all of these triggers affecting our mind, body and spirit. Most of us will not reach our full quality of life because humanity slung us there and drugged us there. He reflects us. He was born in this land like those who came before him.

— Weshyot Alvitre, Tongva Artist, via Instagram

Both Alvitre and Dorame said the “wildlife flyover” created for cats like P-22 over the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills is necessary but an insufficient step to address how the built environment displaces wildlife and people from the community nature has removed.

Native animals and humans have a connection to the Los Angeles Basin, Dorame said.

“You can’t isolate the individual from the country, you can’t isolate a community from its base,” she said.

She was concerned about P-22’s celebrity status, which she said reduced the cat to a “sparkling, sparkling specimen” and overshadowed the tragedy of the big cat’s deteriorating habitat. Tongva artists see Indigenous story in the tragedy of P-22

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