MMW Serves – Indigenous California

This program is embedded within UC San Diego’s Making of the Modern World general education program, combining academic preparation and experiential activity.   A 4-credit MMW seminar in Winter term provides the academic preparation (and counts for MMW14 or MMW122).   After completion of the term, the class travels to the San Jacinto Mountains and Coachella Valley area in Southern California learn from the Cahuilla community. 

Cost:  $450.00. This covers transportation from UCSD, food, lodging, and activities over Spring Break. There is a Non-Refundable $200.00 deposit due upon your acceptance.   The second Non-Refundable payment is due by Feb 2.  

Application: This program has a limited capacity. Applications open in early fall term. Contact Prof. Herbst for details. 

Course: Participation requires successful completion of the MMW seminar in Winter, which meets on Mondays, 3-5:50pm.

The program is situated in the region of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains, part of the Peninsular Range in Southern California.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain Region.

This region contains two CA State Parks (Anza Borrego Desert SP and Mt. San Jacinto SP), with other land managed by the State Park Service. There are vast areas of federal land, including the San Bernardino National Forest, managed by the US Dept. of Agriculture, and other areas under the Dept. of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.   Nearby is Joshua Tree National Park, managed by the National Park Service.

San Bernardino National Forest.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a National Scenic Tail, which stretches 2,653 miles from the US/Mexican border to Canada, passes through the region.  It is managed through a partnership between federal authorities and the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Native American Reservations. 

This region is home to Native American communities of the Cahuilla, Luiseño, Cupueño, Serrano, and Chemehuevi peoples, who have lived in and around the entire area of study.  Their lands have been vastly reduced in size, their cultures besieged and undermined, and, in many cases, their reservations have severed connection to their original homelands after the imposition of the existing reservation system, all of which will be topics of study for our program.  The University of California also has a claim in this area, managing a UC Natural Reserve Site at James San Jacinto Mountain Reserve, at which we will stay for part of the program.  Nearby, there is also a reserve managed by the California State University system.  

Yokoji Zen Center. San Jacinto Mountains.

In addition to public and indigenous land, the region has much privately owned land, which now provides winter recreational activities or sites for spiritual retreats through diverse paths.  

Resorts of Coachella Valley

This mountainous region sits above the resorts and agricultural land of the Coachella Valley, which, like Imperial Valley to the south, exists by importing water from the Colorado River through aqueducts across the desert.   The current residents of Coachella Valley have so exhausted the aquifer on which the indigenous people had relied that the valley is only sustained by replenishing the aquifer with water from Colorado River. 

Figure 9. Salton Sea.  Showing the fertile Imperial Valley to the southeast and the green of the Coachella Valley to the northwest, bounded by mountain and desert environments.

To the region’s southeast is the troubled — and troubling —  Salton Sea, which was created in the early twentieth century by the irrigation management failure of the California Development Company. The CDC had formed less than a decade earlier to garner profits by moving water from the Colorado River to the valley it renamed “Imperial” to foster land sales.  It aimed to “reclaim” the desert for “productive” use.   Swollen by summer floods in 1905, the river shattered the flimsy control mechanisms hastily set in place, and its waters flowed unchecked for two years, downhill to the lowest part of the Salton Trough, now known as the Salton Sea.   This event had – and has — a direct impact on the environmental health of the region and its communities.  Yet, the process was not entirely “human made.” Over the millennia, the Colorado River has changed course many times and flowed into the desert.   Once, an inland sea filled the Salton Trough, far larger than today’s Salton Sea. This body of water, referred to as Lake Cahuilla, endured into the sixteenth century.   Its legacy is apparent on the “bathtub rings” on the sides of Santa Rosa mountains, in the archaeological record — see the Cahuilla fish traps in the desert–, and in the oral stories told by the Cahuilla people, which influenced their prescient sense of what was to come in 1905.

The region’s diverse “owners” manifest different views on how best to “use” the land.   It is the varied designations of jurisdiction – this allotment of “control”– that is central to this program.   How did this allotment come to be?  What changes were imposed to designate these boundaries?  Who was displaced and how were (and are) such acts “justified?” What were (and are) the means and methods of advocacy and resistance to these imposed changes?  What are the consequences – intended and unintended — of all of these actions?  What does “justice” mean in light of dislocations and changes?  What are present and future prospects for justice – environmental, social, and economic?  How does this systemic activity reflect a larger pattern operative in the state, nation, and world? 

The very names now used for the locations that we will encounter are subjects of inquiry.   The sacred hovers over the desert:   St. Hyacinth (San Jacinto) is a thirteenth century Polish Dominican and St. Rose (Santa Rosa) is a seventeenth century saint from Lima, Peru.   The town of Banning, located in the Gorgonio pass between mountain ranges, had been home to a Cahuilla community, which was displaced and moved to reservations by the federal government after settlers had appropriated the area for ranching, one of whom, Phineas Banning, is commemorated in the town’s name.   Other regional names were designated to promote the area:  Beaumont (Beautiful Mountain; actually named after the hometown town in Texas where a developer came from), Niland (=Nile Land) and Mecca (a name that ran into controversy after 9/11).   Where a name even acknowledges the indigenous presence, it does so from the outside and after displacing the community, as in Indio, the largest city in the Coachella Valley.  The name is Spanish for “Indian,” a designation that would not have been used by the indigenous people.   Similarly, the town of Cabezon, east of Banning, was originally named Jacinto and then changed to its present designation in honor of this Cahuilla leader of the late nineteenth century. In the Anza Valley to the south, there is the town of Cahuilla, located on the Cahuilla Reservation, just west of the city of Anza, named after the Spanish explorer who passed through the region in the late eighteenth century. Yet, there still are the indigenous names for these places and an indigenous memory that continues to see meaning and connection in them.  Mt. San Jacinto, for example, is called Ayaqaych by the Serrano and Taqwish He’Kii by the Cahuilla.  It is precisely this meaning and connection that the program will explore through its course content, site visits, and guest talks.  This brief excursus is intended to show how regional names offer a pathway of inquiry for the questions of our program.

The course addresses these many questions, examining the eighteenth to twentieth century, an era of technological change, imperialism, and nationalism that witnessed the region’s transition from Spanish to Mexican to American control, and dramatic environmental transformation and change. It also touches on topics of sovereignty, rights, and culture (and related contestations), controversies of conservation and preservation, access to water and food security, the impact of tourism, environmental racism, and climate change.     

Program locations include the Agua Caliente Museum in Palm Springs, which focuses on the area’s Cahuilla culture, the Malki Museum, located on the Morongo Reservation, and the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center in Banning, whose mission is to preserve and share the cultures of Southern California’s indigenous peoples.  

For further understanding, here is a brief bibliography:

Akins, Damon B. and William J. Bauer, Jr. We are the Land. A History of Native California. Oakland: U of California P, 2021.

Bean, Lowell John. Mukat’s People. The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1972.

Bean, Lowell John and Katherine Siva Saubel. Temalpakh. Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Banning: Malki Press, 1972

Carrico, Richard. Strangers in a Stolen Land. Indians of San Diego County from Prehistory to the New Deal. 2nd Ed. San Diego: Sunbelt, 2008.

Culver, Laurence. The Frontier of Leisure. Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America. New York: Oxford UP, 2010.

Deloria, Jr., Vine. God is Red. A Native View of Religion. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2003 (Original 1973).

Dozier, Deborah. The Heart is Fire. The World of the Cahuilla Indians of Southern California. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1998.

Fagan, Brian. Before California. An Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants. New York: Roman & Littlefield, 2003.

Gilio-Whitaker, Dina.  As Long as Grass Grows.  The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock. Boston:  Beacon Press, 2019.  

Gottlieb, Roger S., ed. This Sacred Earth. Religion, Nature, Environment. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Guerrero, Vladimir. The Anza Trail and the Settling of California. Berkeley: Heyday, 2006.

Harjo, Joy. How We Became Humans. New York: Norton, 2002.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. New York: Norton, 2015.

Harjo, Joy. An American Sunrise. Poems. New York: Norton, 2019.

Hughes, J. Donald. An Environmental History of the World. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the Sacred. Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002.

Lane, Belden C. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.

Mills, James E. Pilgrimage Pathways for the United States. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2021.

Phillips, George Harwood. Chiefs and Challengers. Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern California, 1769-1906. 2nd Ed. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2014. (Original 1975).

Sheldrake, Rupert. Science and Spiritual Practices. Transformative Experiences and their Effects on Our Bodies, Brains, and Health. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2017.

Suntree, Susan. Sacred Sites. The Secret History of Southern California. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2010.

Thorne, Tanis C. El Captain. Adaptation and Agency on a Southern California Indian Reservation, 1850-1937. Banning: Malki-Bellena Press, 2012.

Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn, ed.. Spiritual Ecology. The Cry of the Earth. Port Reyes, CA: Golden Sufi Center, 2014.

Voyles, Traci Brynne. The Settler Sea and the Consequences of Colonialism. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 2021.

Wild, Peter. The Opal Desert. Explorations of Fantasy and Reality in the American Southwest. Austin: U of Texas P, 1999.