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The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians




Monday, April 19, 2010
I've heard so much about the Native American peoples and how unfairly they've been treated that it never dawned on me that there might actually be a tribe that was not displaced, subjected to massacre or deported.  Having just returned from a 3-day trip to Palm Springs (CA), I had some time to kill before my flight and stopped by the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and got a bit of an unexpected (and pleasant) history lesson.  You see, I lived in Los Angeles for the majority of my life and taking weekend trips with my girlfriends down to Palm Springs was the norm.  I kinda feel ashamed to just now learn that fifty percent (!) of the land in the southern desert is owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.  In fact, the museum's Web site boasts that the Tribe stewards more than 31,500 acres of ancestral land which includes cities, county and protected Bighorn sheep habitat.  Clearly I was not travelling to the desert for a lesson in culture back then.  Nowadays, it's different.
The Cahuilla Indians have been in the Palm Springs area for over 3,000 years (and up to 10,000 years depending upon whom you ask).  The first human remains were found in 3000 BC.  Cahuilla lived in homes made of sticks and plants called "kish" (see photo below). First, they stuck long sticks in the ground and tied them at the top. The shape was round on top, not like a teepee. They would weave reeds or palm fronds together to cover the outside of the kish. They used plant fibers to make rope and string to hold it all together.  There was an area in the back of the museum where I snapped a photo of this replica. 
What's also cool is that when any decisions need to be made locally, both the Tribal leaders and the City Council take part in the decision making.  According to the gentleman at the museum, the Cahuilla Indians donate millions and millions of dollars to Palm Springs every year.
Today, the Cahuilla people span nine reservations across southern California, linked by a shared language yet distinguished by tribal identities forged by geography, culture, and law. As Agua Caliente, their identity is rooted in Palm, Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz, and Chino Canyons and is inextricably linked to the hot mineral springs considered sacred by their ancestors. It is in honor of these springs, called Se-khi (boiling water) in Cahuilla, that they eventually became known by the Spanish term for hot water, Agua Caliente.
I can't help but feel good hearing about a band of Indians that continue to celebrate and preserve their heritage with pride and wealth.  What a pleasant and interesting trip P.S. turned out to be after all.
According to Old-photos.blogspot.com, the lovely photograph of the Indian woman above was taken in 1924 by Edward Curtis. The woman is not identified by name, but it is indicated that she is part of the Desert Cahuilla tribe. 

2 comments:

Anonymous on: April 20, 2010 at 6:33 PM said...

I took a Native American Studies class at UCBerkeley around 1976 taught by a man who introduced himself as a member of "the Cahuilla Indians, the tribe that owns Palm Springs." I never knew where it was until we went there for winter vacation a few months ago. Neat place, lots of great 50's architecture.

Wyteyes on: April 27, 2010 at 4:40 PM said...

The woman's name is Rosebell Shelton and she is the great aunt of my wife Millie (Mirelez) Whitehead. Curtis labeled the picture "A Cahuilla Desert Flower." The Cahuilla peoples have a rich history through out the area from about Banning south. A google search will lead you to a lot of pics and history sections that will shed a considerable light on those times in Cal history. I would also suggest visiting the Living desert in the city of Palm Desert. There they have a plam house and living area that Millie's grandparents, Dave and Ruby Modesto, helped design.

http://ark.cdlib.org/?relation=oac.cdlib.org&mode=content&search=cahuilla&institution.x=15&institution.y=11

 

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