became a state in 1850, it was the worst period yet for the Kumeyaay
Indians. Technically wards of the federal government, caught in a battle
between states' rights and the federal government, the Kumeyaays found
themselves with no protection.
California passed the act for the Government
and Protection of Indians in 1850. This act assumed state authority
over the Indians and empowered county sheriffs to mark boundaries and
protect Indians and Indian lands "as needed." The act also legalized
the indenturing of Indian children, granting custody for males until
age 18 and females until 15 years old.
Children often were seen being driven to market,
where Indian boys were sold for $50, and girls for $100. Thousands of
Native Americans were made legal wards of Anglos who sought a cheap
and steady labor supply. An advertisement inviting new settlers to California
boasted free land and free Indian labor.
California Indians, through a succession of
laws and the state's refusal to grant the federal government the rights
to deal with Indians, lost both property and civil rights, including
the right to bear arms, testify in court on their behalf, attend public
schools, practice religion or speak their language.
Indians arrested for vagrancy, which was common
for those forced from villages and mission homes, or without proof of
work for 10 days, were jailed and auctioned off by sheriffs as laborers.
Anglos got them out of jail in return for which Indians were forced
to work for "duration and pay rates established by their benefactors."
California distinguished itself for its harsh
treatment of Indians. In 1850, a special federal commission was sent
to deal with California Indians. The commissioners brought treaties
to be signed by Indian leaders of the southern region.
The 18 treaties, covering more than nine million
acres, allowed the majority of bands to remain on their aboriginal lands
and provided sufficient land for what was left of the coastal bands
to relocate to the mountains. When these treaties were sent to the United
States Congress for ratification, the new Anglo-American settlers and
Mexican land owners objected. The California Legislature sent a report
to Washington, opposing the treaties and recommending the removal of
all California Indians to Indian Territory (the present state of Oklahoma).
The U.S. Senate shelved the treaties. But no
one told the Indians that their treaties had not been ratified and that
they had no legal title to their ancestral family and tribal land.
In March 1851, Congress passed the Act to Ascertain
and Settle the Private Land Claims in the State of California, appointing
a federal land commission to hear evidence presented by those who claimed
valid Mexican land titles and to determine lands held, used and occupied
by Indians. The act specifically required the commission to determine
Indian lands, but did not request Indians to present claims. The commissioners
were negligent in their duty to identify Indian land rights, ignoring
all evidence of Indian villages usurped by rancho and mission allotments.
Even worse, the commission declared that all
land that did not have a title confirmed by the commission, or as Mexican
pueblos, which was almost all Indian land, was public land of the United
States, open to pre-emption and homesteading.
Unaware that the treaties had not been ratified,
or that the special commission had placed their land in the public domain,
the Kumeyaay remained in their villages, farming their lands, raising
animals and following familiar economic traditions. Despite land loss,
the Kumeyaays continued to support themselves. None received rations
or aid of any kind. They even paid local taxes.
By 1870, farming and ranching conditions for
the Kumeyaay had deteriorated. They had lost so much land and their
existing homes that most were starving and ill-equipped to survive either
summer droughts or winter cold. Mounting political pressure pushed the
president to create two San Diego County reservations by executive order.
These two small pieces of land, the San Pasqual and Pala reservations,
were expected to accommodate all the Indians of southern California
and some northern California tribes.
Much of the land was rocky and without good
natural water sources, making it inadequate for grazing livestock, much
less providing farmland for all the Indians of southern California.
Indians opposed this plan, realizing they could not survive under such
conditions. The Kumeyaay did not want to leave their ancestral homes
and farms. The San Pasqual and Pala bands objected to being overwhelmed
by the large numbers of other Indians who would be pushed into their
small farming villages and valleys.
First canceled, then, five years later the two
reservations finally were created in 1875, concurrent with another presidential
order which withdrew an additional number of small reservations from
the public domain (actually original native lands). Many Kumeyaays opposed
this action, feeling that the reservations being surveyed were not preserving
Indian homes or farms, but removing Indians to poor land where they
would be unable to provide for themselves.
Inadequate as these lands were to sustain the
traditional independent lifestyle of the Kumeyaays, many reservations
came into existence at this time, including the Sycuan Reservation and
El Capitan Grande from which the Viejas and Barona bands descended.
Recognizing that executive orders could be repealed
and promises to Native Americans were subject to cancellation, settlers
continued to file homestead claims, or move onto the reserved lands.
Some claimed their move predated the presidential order. Others moved
onto reservation land and declared Kumeyaay improvements their own,
not for the purpose of acquiring the property, but to file for compensation
from the government when the land finally was deeded to the Indians.
Other land historically belonging to the Kumeyaay, or formerly granted
under Spanish and Mexican law, was once again ignored. The theft of
Kumeyaay farming and grazing land continued unchecked.
The Kumeyaay, irrespective of their original
home sites, farms or clans ultimately wound up concentrated on tiny
reservations of the worst possible land, without water or an environment
conducive to farming or any form of economic self-sufficiency.
California set itself apart from other states
by refusing to approve federal treaties with the Indian tribes for land,
and also by establishing an official policy of extermination. As stated
by California's first governor, Peter Burnett, in 1851, "that the war
of extermination will continue to be waged until the race becomes extinct
must be expected." In 1851-52, the California Legislature authorized
payment of claims totaling more than $1 million to pay the voluntary
militia for bullets and bounty on dead Indians.
The state's first bond of $400,000 was issued
in 1854, to pay for bodily proof of an executed Indian.
During this time, the former New York Century
newspaper wrote, "In the Atlantic and Western states Indians have suffered
wrongs and cruelties at the hands of the stronger race, but history
has no parallel to atrocities perpetrated in California." Chauncey S.
Goodrich, in his thorough analysis of the legal status of California
Indians concluded: "The swift economic development of California was
bought at a certain cost of human values. It was the Indian who paid
More than 25,000-strong when the Spanish arrived
in 1769, the Kumeyaay numbered about 3,500 when the Anglo-Americans
took over the territory. The 1990 census reported about 20,000 Indians
(including all urban ethnic and tribal groups) in San Diego County.
The Kumeyaay proved very adaptable and quickly
passed along the farming and other skills learned in the missions and
as laborers on ranchos. In fact, lands that were taken were often productive
farms and ranches. With time, and by honoring the civil rights of the
Indians and leaving enough land and resources to create opportunity,
both the Kumeyaay and American settlers could have lived and prospered
side by side.
Myths that Indians were lazy, unwilling to learn,
and did not know how to use the land do not hold up historically. Most
were created and perpetuated to justify stealing, slave labor, racial
murder and persecution. Local records indicate that until 1930 the Kumeyaay
constituted the entire work force for the county's early agricultural
and livestock farms and ranches, as well as whaling, shipping and fishing
industries. Indians also helped to build San Diego's roads and railroads,
all of which took skill and a work ethic.
The 20th Century
Throughout the 20th century, the Kumeyaay continued
to struggle just to survive, not to mention the attempt to find justice
and to protect their cultural identity, and civil and constitutional
rights. By 1929, California Indians had learned the language and the
political rules. They filed suit against the government for land lost
by the U.S. Senate's 1851 tabling of treaties. The attorney general
of California was appointed the attorney for the tribes, over the protest
of the Indians. The courts awarded $17.5 million, or $1.25 per acre,
for treaty land lost. The value of all goods and services ever given
to or spent to eradicate or enslave Indians was deducted, leaving $5.2
million, or $150 per capita.
A second suit, filed in 1949 and settled in
1964, concerned compensation for other Indian lands, excluding the previously
settled treaty loss claim and Mexican rancho land grants, resulted in
a settlement of 47 cents per acre.
The United States' termination policy of 1953-1968
brought Indian tribes near the brink of collapse. The federal government
declared that reservation services and Indian benefits should be ended
at the earliest possible time. In the decade that followed, Congress
terminated assistance to more than one hundred tribes, regardless of
Each of these tribes was ordered to distribute
its land and property to its members and dissolve its government. California
tribes were hardest hit. The Mission Federation of Indians was formed,
which included Kumeyaay, who went to Washington, D.C., to fight termination
of local bands.
Also in 1953, Public Law 280 was passed by Congress
without discussion with California Indians. This law conferred criminal
and some civil jurisdiction over tribal matters to the state. In addition
to usurping authority for enforcing criminal activities on tribal land,
the civil provisions of PL 280 gave the state jurisdiction over areas
of private rights such as divorce, accidents, child custody, probate
and other domestic issues.
In return, the state agreed to be responsible
for the welfare of the reservations. California is one of only four
states to have adopted PL 280.
As a result of PL 280, federal services, except
those relating to the land trusteeship, were terminated, leaving California
Indians again dependent on the state, their longtime enemy, for aid
and assistance with reservation problems. Even though the state now
received federal funding to supply services in San Diego County, the
Kumeyaay were regularly and shamefully denied health and old age care,
as well as Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
Indians were turned away from the county hospital,
which was accepting federal funding for Indian care. In 1950, Indians
were segregated in San Diego County schools and labeled retarded as
a result of IQ tests that failed to register cultural differences in
children. Not one Indian graduated from high school in the county that
Rights guaranteed the Kumeyaay as citizens of
the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did not become
a reality until the passage of the U.S. Indian Citizenship Act in 1924,
and American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.
Then there was the nagging issue of water rights.
Just as the loss of good land created havoc with the ability of California
Indians to provide for themselves, the newcomers' insatiable thirst
for water proved devastating. Water rights issues were litigated early
in the century, and continue today.
An example is El Capitan Reservoir. Kumeyaay
bands placed and originally located on the El Capitan Grande Reservation
were evicted from their valley homes in 1934, as a result of the city
of San Diego's desire to provide water for new development. A special
Act of Congress condemned the prime watershed of the reservation, turning
it over to the city. Indians protested, but were forcibly removed and
their homes burned.
The Barona and Viejas bands were formed as a
result of El Capitan bands acquiring nearby property to rebuild their
homes, school, church and farms. Replacing the valuable watershed and
water source proved more difficult.
The 20th century continued to be a time of shifting
federal policies toward Indians from isolation and concentration into
reservations, assimilation, reorganization and termination. Able at
last to get legal representation, legal suits continued for civil rights,
and the protection and recovery of water and land rights. Occasionally
the Indians won.
In 1972 President Richard Nixon ended the termination
policy and initiated a policy of self-governance and economic development
for tribal reservations. Laws were passed to increase economic incentives
and federal funding was restored for many tribal programs, including
health and education services. Despite the failure of the federal government
to provide the means for economic self-sufficiency, as a result of the
new U.S. policy of strengthened self-governance tribes began to seek
and initiate economic opportunities.
The most significant economic opportunity to
come to tribes was gaming. Isolated and removed from mainstream commercial
corridors, most reservations had little to attract consumers or businesses.
With the landmark Cabazon vs. California Supreme Court decision in 1987,
tribes secured the recognition that as governments, they could engage
in gaming in states which were either engaged in some form of government-sponsored
betting, or did not forbid gaming as state policy. Again, California
displayed its hostility toward Indians by attempting to close down a
small bingo parlor on the Cabazon Reservation in Riverside County and
Barona in San Diego County even though the state was engaged in lottery
and keno gambling.
What followed for the next decade is modern
history. Three Kumeyaay tribes, the Barona, Viejas and Sycuan bands,
opened gaming facilities which have grown into successful businesses.
Tribal government expenditures of gaming revenue and Indian games and
facilities are regulated by a federal law, passed in 1988, named the
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Besides creating an oversight body, IGRA
requires tribes and their respective states to negotiate compacts for
joint regulation, limits or types of games allowed and revenue sharing.
Again, California proved to be one of the most
difficult states. Even though the lottery generates more than $2 billion
in annual revenue for the state, and race track and card room betting
is commonplace, the tribes engaged in a political fight with former
Gov. Pete Wilson. The battle focused over the types of electronic games
the tribal casinos could offer, and how many. The neighboring state
of Nevada weighed in heavily with political contributions and lobbying
to protect what it viewed as competition from the tribes to its major
Nine years of legislative fights and legal suits
with the Wilson administration culminated in a final compromise offered
by the governor in the form of the Pala Compact. The majority of the
tribes in the state rejected it on the basis that they were not part
of the negotiations, which were conducted exclusively with a non-gaming
tribe in San Diego County.
The tribes also objected to the reach of the
Pala Compact, on the grounds it went beyond gaming and attempted to
regulate and control governmental policy belonging to the tribes.
Facing closure of their businesses by U.S. attorneys,
without a tribal-state compact, the tribes mounted a voter initiative,
Proposition 5. Providing for joint-state regulation of the games, and
revenues for local governments, non-gaming tribes and other California
citizens, Proposition 5, in a historic turn- about of Indian political
fortunes, passed in November 1998. The vote was 68 percent in favor
of the tribal-proposed agreement in San Diego County.
Even though the voters approved a compact allowing
the tribes to keep the limited scope of games they had been operating,
a state Supreme Court challenge by Nevada casino-backed organizations
and a labor union saw the will of the voters overturned in August 1999.
The decision was based on the state's constitutional prohibition against
"Nevada and New Jersey-type casino gambling."
Upon dismissal of Proposition 5, the tribes
and the new governor, Gray Davis, entered into negotiations on new compacts.
These compacts were signed by the governor and ratified by the state
Legislature on Sept. 10, 1999. However, these compacts, signed by 60
tribes, require a change in the state constitution to legalize and imple-ment
them. This measure, entitled Proposition 1A will be on the March 7 California
primary ballot. Proposition 1A changes the state constitution to allow
casino-type gambling on tribal reservations only.
By the end of the 20th century, fortunes for
some of the Kumeyaay, three of the 13 bands in San Diego County, began
to change as a result of revenues generated from gaming. Gaming has
provided tribal governments revenues to take care of their lands and
people for the first time in 300 years, and to look to the future as
participants in the region's economy, and as self-sufficient and contributing
members of the community. The Kumeyaay face the dawn of the new millennium
with a vision of healing the crippling effects of poverty and racism,
and the opportunity for a cultural and economic renaissance.
Anthony R. Pico is tribal chairman of the Viejas Band
of Kumeyaay Indians.