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Documentary Chronicles History, Culture Of San Diego’s ‘First People’

Evening Edition

Above: For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay lived in a vast nation north and south of the border, from the desert to the coast.

Aired 5/20/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Kumeyaay Native speaker Stan Rodriguez, is a Kumeyaay bird singer from the Santa Ysabel reservation, he plays a can rattle and sings Ipai and Diegueño Yuman songs.

John Eagle Spirit Elliott is a member of the Manzanita Band of Kumeyaay Indians.


The image of the American Indian is usually on horseback, perhaps hunting buffalo on the Great Plains. The image of modern-day Native Americans in San Diego is often linked to the county's popular and profitable casinos.

"First People - Kumeyaay" airs May 20 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV.

But there's a central truth to the Native American culture in this part of the world that both stereotypes ignore: For thousands of years, the Kumeyaay lived in a vast nation north and south of the border, from the desert to the coast.

The documentary "First People - Kumeyaay," shows how San Diego's Native Americans are reclaiming their traditions.

Credit: First People, Kumeyaay

Traditional Kumeyaay territory stretches from San Diego's coast to the desert. Frank Salazar, a member of the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians said Kumeyaay territory had the most diverse geography of any other tribe in the United States.


Avatar for user 'abelonee'

abelonee | May 20, 2014 at 11:54 p.m. ― 3 months ago

I don't have a TV how can I watch this film another way? Will it air again, or is it possible to get a copy of the film?

Abel Macias
Chicano Studies
San Diego City College and SDSU

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Avatar for user 'hilljilly1'

hilljilly1 | May 22, 2014 at 10:05 a.m. ― 3 months ago

I too am interested in purchasing a few dvd's of this program if and when they are available, to put in our book store at the Campo Stone Store Museum.

Please let me know if they will be selling this.

Jill Coryell
Mountain Empire Historical Society

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 22, 2014 at 12:19 p.m. ― 3 months ago

I'm very happy to see Native Americans in San Diego reclaiming more of their traditions. That is wonderful, especially for future generations as those traditions grow stronger.

Abelonee without a TV,

Why did you label yourself "Chicano Studies" in reference to this story? What do Chicanos have to do with Native Americans?

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Avatar for user 'Griselda13'

Griselda13 | May 23, 2014 at 1:37 p.m. ― 3 months ago

One's ancestors can be Kumiai (Kumeyaay) born in Mexico and also identify as Chicano.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 23, 2014 at 2:27 p.m. ― 3 months ago


Chicano is an identifier used by some Mexican-Americans in the US.

They don't have anything to do with the native people of America or Mexico.

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Avatar for user 'Griselda13'

Griselda13 | May 23, 2014 at 4:35 p.m. ― 3 months ago

For many of us born in Mexico (country of many ethnicities/origin) who live in the United States and embrace a philosophical/political view of reclaiming our native roots, it can be both. Many Chicanos/Chicanas believe that the word's etymology is from the Nahuatl, Mexica (Meshico - Meshicano - Chicano) and use it rather than using the decidedly European word Hispanic. Chicano/as can and are Maya, Tarahumara, Yoeme, Seri, Purepecha, and Kumiai/Kumeyaay/Tipai, among many other original peoples.

See Lenape scholar Jack D. Forbes, Aztecas Del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlan and his "The Mestizo Concept: A Product of European Imperialism" at

"...there’s no doubt that the term “Chicana” has been around since at least the mid 16th-century, as the maps clearly demonstrate, and is of obvious indigenous origin."-

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 23, 2014 at 6:04 p.m. ― 3 months ago


Nahuatl speaking people were never in California. The Kumeyaay are part of the Yuman language family which is unrelated to the Aztecs and Mayans.

Most Hispanics, Latinos, or Chicanos (whatever the fashionable term is) have little native blood, if any, just the same as most Americans.

I have some Navajo blood. While I enjoy and celebrate Native American cultures, I would never dare pretend I am native. To me, that would be offensive. Just the same as I see most Hispanics pretending to be Aztec to be offensive.

If anything, Hispanics should celebrate their European Spanish lineage which has given them their language, food, music, religion, customs, dress, laws, and government. Nearly every facet of their culture is Spanish.

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Avatar for user 'player42082'

player42082 | May 24, 2014 at 12:53 a.m. ― 3 months ago

California Defender, I beg to differ. While most Mexicans are part Spaniard, or Mestizos, whatever u may call them. They are mixed with blood from the Americas and the European blood. The America's at one time contained different Native American tribes from Alaska to The southern tip of S. America. These are our brothers, one way or another. I am of Cahuilla/Cupeño/Chemehuevi/ and Mexica blood. And we mixed with everyone, if you can trace the lineage, and that only goes so far, but trust me, we are all mixed. My family tree has more than 400 tribal members from every tribe in So.Cal, and thats just the last 200 yrs I can trace. The Birdsongs teach us of history, of our migrations, as we traveled the land and encountered new terrain or people. What I simply state , is I know brothers, Mexica brothers, who I give mad props for being Native ,proud, and strong. The border is just a line in the ground, and Cahuilla, or Whatever tribe, is just a word. We were either Wildcat or Coyote clans, not this separation of people. If you have some Navajo blood, or Dine as its called, you should practice it. Your ancestors are always watching, and it doesnt matter, you NEVER let that die. Its not pretending if you know the blood is there. That sounds like denial. Who is that offensive too? and Why?

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Avatar for user 'DrPhD'

DrPhD | May 24, 2014 at 7:22 a.m. ― 3 months ago

Player42082, yes the 'tribes' mixed, because of a tradition of kicking out the about to be of age teen boys to go find a wife to live with. Am I wrong or right? (right)

The wandering didn't go too far, but over time there was a good mix up, and continues to this day with plenty of European blood along the way.

What is rarely mentioned is the first Spaniards that came over, a good portion of them were jewish. Take that as a lesson for the day. in 1492 someone sailed the oceans blue. Also back home the King decreed that all jewish people convert or get out, or else. So was that really a trip looking for a new home and not "a new route to the Indies"? "The Hidden History Of The Americas", good info in it.

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Avatar for user 'abelonee'

abelonee | May 25, 2014 at 1:19 p.m. ― 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Interesting comments that others have said. We could get into the anthropological, scientific, racial or other aspects of it, but regardless, no one else is going to tell me how to identify. I am a Chicano who is native, I don't expect a non-native to get it nor do I care. I know who I am and my concern is for Chicanas/os to know our history and to continue to build bridges and breakdown the colonial borders between indigenous people. If other people are willing to open their minds as well then they are welcome to build bridges and support this work as they should and vise versa. For more on this check out my blog at

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Avatar for user 'player42082'

player42082 | May 25, 2014 at 11:43 p.m. ― 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Dr. PHd, that is not entirely correct about natives being kicked out of the tribes, and taking a wife for them-self.The natives would do as some European countries, marrying off partners to secure alliances and security. Sometimes it was necessary to mix with other tribes because the blood line was too close, and that could be a problem. Also, in the times, we use to steal our women from other tribes, as a type of honor and respect thing. Of course the woman did not have to stay, but she could if she wanted too. And we did wander far, have you ever heard of the salt trail
there are many accounts of traveling far. The Mexicas would run vast distances on chia seeds and stored food. The Mexicas are the best account of long distance travel. There are many stories, and legends of shamans able to transform and travel far. Look into it. The Machu Picchu portal, Kokopelli, etc, there are many out there.

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Avatar for user 'player42082'

player42082 | May 25, 2014 at 11:54 p.m. ― 2 months, 4 weeks ago

@ Abolonee, mad props for the Mexica nation. I respect that, and respect your strength. Keep up the work. I am Mexica blood tambien, and I teach my kids to respect their Mexica blood, honoring by Mexica dancing and ceremony . Such a beautiful strong people, A'ho,
Umu Nemingkim, (all my relations) Taxliswetem/ Chaymukatem (Cahuilla/Cupeño nation) Pachawal Pa (Los Coyotes) all day !

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Avatar for user 'Griselda13'

Griselda13 | May 26, 2014 at 10:40 a.m. ― 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Auka Abelonee and Player42082.... appreciate your words and the links to the blog and to the Salt Trail PDF. I am a Chicana: Tipai on my mother's side (La Huerta/Ensenada, Baja Cali) and Yoeme (San Miguel de Horcasitos, Sonora) on my father's side -- and probably Mexica and a couple of other people's too as a result of the Yaqui diaspora. Player42082, I remember when I was young the custom of "robandose la novia" was still practiced so I understand your explanation of "stealing" women. Educating our young people (and sometimes old), respecting one another's traditions, and standing in circle with one another is the best way to honor our ancestors. Yey Ahan. Itom ta Achai - Noxtin Nomecayotzin -Uma Nemingkim - All My Relations.

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Avatar for user 'progressivebuthey'

progressivebuthey | May 26, 2014 at 10:52 a.m. ― 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Mexicans think mexico was stolen from them by the "whites". well, mexico was stolen by the Spaniards. they forget that part. the blend of Spaniards and natives made Mexicans. the real victims are not Mexicans but the native peoples who lived here first. and in mexico, the "whiter/Spanish" you are the more "class" you have along with benefits. still the same of crap.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 27, 2014 at 9:55 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

ABE LONE, I saw your "Chicano Studies" more as a simple identification of your major. I'v seen similar ones in the past on "leeters to the editor."

The fact is, "chicano" is a New Left (1968-1971) concoction and now pretty much an anachronism, save for a number of college and university campuses living in the past. I don't know why SDSU changed from Mexican-American Studies to "Chicano Studies" and now, (less we be called sexist) "Chicano/Chicana Studies." It would be diifficult to find anyone over 30 or would use that world today.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 27, 2014 at 10:18 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you for clearing up a few things there, in the earlier posts, GRISELDA AGE 13. As you can see, once again outgunned, CA OFFENDER left the conversation after a Googel Search! LOL

Writing in 1909, Mexican historian, sociologist and lawyer, Andres Molina Enriquez, reminded readers that the Mexian Indian, was NOT homongenous as most beleived, but rather, very heterogenous. Many do not realize that even today.

As far as the word "chicano," it is a New Left (1968-71) concoction as I reminded the other poster. Once, it was an identification of ethnic militantcy; today It is almost an anachronism in everyday use.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 27, 2014 at 10:35 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Regressivebooty, a little trash flowing through those veins?

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 28, 2014 at 4:35 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago


Outgunned by Griselda13? Sometimes you really make me laugh!

Her argument comes down to "no one else is going to tell me how to identify" which is a naive response, but expected from those who self-identify as chicano.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 28, 2014 at 5:02 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago


It isn't healthy or constructive to simply make up your history to fit whatever is fashionable at the moment.

The vast majority of Mexicans are closely related to Spaniards. While some do have a little native blood, it is no different from many Americans.

But unlike Americans, many Mexicans add insult to injury, as the descendants of the conquerors now pretend to be native. They use it as a social crutch or for selfish political and economic gain. While their ancestors stole physical resources, they now steal cultural resources.

Honor, but respect the indigenous people of Mexico. Don't pretend to be them.

And don't forget to honor your true Spaniard lineage. I'm sure your European ancestors wish to be remembered, too.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 28, 2014 at 5:42 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago


You say you have "Cahuilla/Cupeno/Chemehuevi/ and Mexica blood." Three of those are related from Southern California and one is from very far away in Central Mexico. They never met. The pre-Hispanic Cahuilla/Cupeño/Chemehuev did not know the Mexica even existed, nor the reverse.

Are you a true member of either the Cahuilla, Cupeno, or Chemehuevi? Being on the tribal roll is a very real thing that confers rights and responsibilities.

That is the distinction I am making. To me it is respectful to celebrate and honor native cultures, but not to claim to be one.

I am not on the Navajo tribal roll, thus I am not Navajo. But I cherish my ancestors who were.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 28, 2014 at 10:59 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

CA Off, then you should feel much similarity with the way she answered. lol

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Avatar for user 'John Decker'

John Decker, KPBS Staff | May 29, 2014 at 12:14 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you everyone for your comments on the film. Obviously this is a complex subject that deserves further exploration. For those of you wondering about the film itself, you can watch it online here: Additionally, we have plans to rebroadcast First People in September. As of now, the producer did not make DVDs for sale. If interest increases, that may change.

Thanks again.
John Decker
KPBS Director of Programming

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | May 29, 2014 at 2:42 p.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Good talking points here. There's not much to argue about, so I'm not sure why some are being confrontational. It's been the same story all over the planet: Conquerors/explorers bred with the natives and their progeny were mixed. The mixed progeny bred with conquerors/explorers, natives and mestizos. And so forth. The Spanish and French didn't repatriate the mestizos or natives to Europe, so there's plenty of original mestizo DNA in modern day Mexicans and Californians. The DNA has been diluted over the centuries, but it's still here.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 30, 2014 at 7:31 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago

At what level of dilution do you consider a specific genotype to be indistinguishable from the general population? It seems to make little sense to claim that since we all descended from African hominids we are all African even though it certainly has some truth to it, there is no utility in the label. At what point is some mixture of sets of traits a new set of traits in and of itself?

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | May 30, 2014 at 8:52 a.m. ― 2 months, 3 weeks ago


A "little" is still "some." I don't know the answer to your question. Humans continue evolving and we travel instinctively. The article's focus is on our region, which narrows the discussion to the Spanish, native tribes, and a few other groups. Did the Costanoans breed with their southern neighbors? Is there a geneticist in the house?

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Avatar for user 'TimSimpkins14'

TimSimpkins14 | June 3, 2014 at 5:43 a.m. ― 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Valid comments. Let's celebrate the many heritages we have, while recognizing the many marvels of the "melting pot" that has evolved.

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