Angie Behrns in her Tongva regalia at the springs on University High in West L.A.
She fought to save the Tongva sacred springs at Uni High when a developer threatened to cut off the water supply. She fought to establish a museum with Native American artifacts on site. She fought to keep LAUSD from “mismanaging” grant funds to clean up the site that once was a village and burial grounds.
Now after 23 years of fighting, Angie Dorame Behrns, 78, a tribe elder, is quitting. The local Native American hero retired last month as president of the Gabrielino Tongva Springs Foundation, which helps administer the Southeast corner of Uni High where two springs bubble up the precious water that sustained the Tongvas before any white settlers came to the region.
“She’s been a one woman show,” said Ron Andrade, director of LA’s city-county American Indian Commission. “She has run that foundation. She did all the work to get that land set aside. She’s been a tremendous leader. I’m very pleased to see she is being kind to herself, but I’m very sad to see her go.”
Thanks to Angie’s efforts, anyone can visit the springs – named the Kuruvungna Springs after the village that has been built over – every first Saturday of the month from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m free of charge.
“We’re going to miss her. She’s done a tremendous job,” said Tongva Chief Anthony Morales. “It’s kind of sad that she’s leaving. We thank her for keeping it going all this time.”
The Spaniards called them Gabrielinos, but they called themselves Tongva. Their official name now is Gabrielino/Tongva band of Mission Indians of San Gabriel.
Angie always enjoyed the springs when she attended University High School in the 1960s. There were pine trees around them, and the students turned lunch time into a picnic around what was a natural wonder and beauty on campus.
Angie was reminiscing at a 1991 alumni reunion and wanted to show her husband, Don Behrns, the beauty of the springs. As they walked down the gentle slope towards the south side of campus, what she saw filled her with horror.
The lower springs were filled with garbage cans, school benches and trash. The site was completely overgrown. Tree trunks were defaced by graffiti.
“I felt like a knife had been plunged into my stomach,” Angie said. “I was totally sick at what I saw.”
For many years, the southeast corner, with the large “lower” springs — had been used for horticulture classes. But years of disuse and neglect had destroyed the site that Tongvas considered sacred and is registered as a state historic site.
Wondering what to do, Angie called her brother Dan Dorame, and he told that the springs were destined to an even worse fate. The developer of the Barrington Plaza luxury highrise apartments on Wilshire Boulevard just north of the campus was planning a second phase to add three levels of underground parking that would block the flow of water to the springs, Angie said. Read the rest of the story.
Editor’s Note: Although this article on the Santa Monica Patch is not a Christian testimony per se, Angie herself is born-again. I found her story inspiring.