By Michele E. Buttelman
With traditional homelands stretching from the redwood forests in the northern reaches of the state to the desert along the Mexican border, California’s Native American lands are as diverse as the state’s more than 100 federally recognized tribes.
Visiting these historic tribal lands is a unique way to see California through the eyes of its indigenous people.
Today California has the largest Native American population of any state and, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, approximately 1.4 million Californians identify as full or partially American Indian and Alaskan Native.
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
In the heart of Palm Springs, the tribe is building a new cultural plaza with design details and architecture inspired by basketry, pottery and desert landscapes. The plaza features a 48,000-square-foot museum, an interpretive trail, an “Oasis Trail” that mimics nearby Indian Canyons and The Spa at Se’c-he, a 40,000-square-foot facility.
The spa is at the site of the healing hot springs the tribe has used for thousands of years. This hot mineral springs is the tribe’s most sacred site.
The cultural center is expected to complete construction by summer of 2023, said a spokesperson for the tribe.
For more information visit www.aguacaliente.org.
In the Coachella Valley you can visit natural desert oases and a sacred canyon on Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians land. Experience secluded groves of California fan palms towering above shaded pools with sites used by native peoples centuries ago.
For information on the three canyons visit www.indian-canyons.com/indian_canyons.
At Tahquitz Canyon, hikes and guided outings begin from the visitor center and lead to a 60-foot waterfall.
Purchase your day-hike tickets, $15 for adults, $7 for children, at the trail head at Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, 500 W. Mesquite Ave., Palm Springs, CA 92264.
You may also purchase tickets at the Agua Caliente Visitor’s Counter at the Palm Springs Visitor Center, 2901 N. Palm Canyon, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
For information visit www.tahquitzcanyon.com/canyon.
Cahuilla Indian Reservation
Outside the Inland Empire town of Banning, the Malki Museum, 11795 Malki Road, Banning, CA 92220, opened in 1965 and was the first California museum founded by Native Americans. Housed in an adobe building on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, it exhibits baskets and pottery and has an ethnobotanical garden with 50 native plants used by the Cahuilla.
For information visit http://malkimuseum.org.
To the south of Palm Springs, in San Diego County, the award-winning Barona Cultural Center & Museum, 1095 Barona Road, Lakeside, CA 92040, looks at the history and living traditions of the region’s Kumeyaay/Diegueño people.
The museum’s extensive collection of artifacts dates back 10,000 years. Buy authentic shell jewelry and baskets made by local native artisans at the museum store.
For information visit www.baronamuseum.com.
Chumash, Tongva, Kitanemuk, Serrano, and Tataviam
Several tribes curate cultural centers on historic tribal lands now managed as part of national parks and forests. Los Angeles has the largest indigenous population of any U.S. city, and in an old Angeles National Forest fire station northeast of downtown in the San Gabriel Mountains, the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center, Angeles Crest Highway and Mt. Wilson Red Box Road, Azusa, CA 91101, tells the story of five regional tribes, the Chumash, Tongva, Kitanemuk, Serrano and Tataviam.
For information visit http://haramokngna.org.
Tongva and Chumash
The Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles is part of the homeland for both the Tongva and Chumash peoples, and in the range’s western end at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center, Sycamore Canyon Trailhead, Newbury Park, CA 91320, you can see the replica of a traditional Chumash dwelling known as an ‘ap, and learn about the culture from tribal guest hosts. From the center, the 1.5-mile Satwiwa Loop Trail explores an area considered sacred by the Chumash.
For information visit www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/satwiwa-native-american-indian-culture-center.htm.
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park
The park, 14881 Pine Grove Volcano Road, Pine Grove, CA 95665, was created in 1968 and preserves a great outcropping of marbleized limestone with some 1,185 mortar holes, the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America.
As a regional Indian museum, the collection at Chaw’se includes Northern, Central and Southern Miwok, Maidu, Konkow, Monache, Nisenan, Tubatulabal, Washo and Foothill Yokuts. Examples of basketry, feather regalia, jewelry, arrowpoints and other tools are on display.
The park’s name derives from “Chaw’se” the Miwok word for “grinding rock.” Upon this large rock formation, they ground acorns and other seeds into meal, slowly forming the cup-shaped depressions in the stone, which can still be seen today.
For information visit https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=553.
Official California State Prehistoric Artifact: Chipped Stone Bear
In 1985, an artifact made from volcanic rock was unearthed at an archaeological dig in Carlsbad, in San Diego County.
Archaeologists found a 2.5″ long by 1.5″ piece of meta-volcanic rock that looked like a bear. It was fashioned by California Indians around 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.
The unique shape gave speculation that the item might have had some religious connotations to the local members of the Luiseño and Juaneño Indian Tribes.
This prehistoric artifact is called the “Chipped Stone Bear” and is the Official California State Prehistoric Artifact. It is one of the earliest examples of representational art recovered in the Western United States.
The artifact can be viewed at the California Museum, 1020 O St., Sacramento, CA 95814.
For information visit www.californiamuseum.org/california-indians-0.