Kumeyaay Struggle To Preserve History As San Diego Marks 250 Years
KPBS Midday Edition / April 25, 2019
Ethan Banegas of the Barona Band of Mission Indians shares the history of the Kumeyaay.
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Speaker 1: 00:00 As San Diego celebrates 250 years since its establishment. We are telling the story of the people who were living here and thriving here in the region for thousands of years before Europeans arrived and decided this is where California begins. San Diego was already home to the Kumi I, their history is embedded in much of the county centered around America's finest city. Joining me to tell the story of the Kumeyaay is Ethan Benegas, a member of the Berona Band of mission Indians and instructor of Kumi I history at the Kumiai community college. Ethan, welcome. Thank you. Thanks for having me. So what was life like for the [inaudible] before 1542 when Juan Cabrio first made contact with the Kamiak people?
Speaker 2: 00:42 Physically, we were very healthy. We had a wonderful ecosystem that we were very, very aware of how to manipulate the environment, manage our resources. We would go from the desert to the ocean to the mountains and gather a very large variety of berries, strawberries from types of fish. We ate lobster, shrimp, a seaweed, but we had this, you know, the main staple to was acorns, but it wasn't all we ate. We had a very, a very, very large variety of foods. And A, we also walked a lot. We had a very, um, active lifestyle. So, you know, if you, if you compare that with today, things are very different than today and most people don't realize how, I guess healthy. We were prior to the Spanish and the American, uh, uh, incursion and changing of our lifestyles. We also had a very active and vibrant religion. So we had a, an eagle ceremony, a corrupt ceremony. We had a fire ceremony. So we had a very rich, a ceremonial life and a religious life. So we had a lot prior to Spanish, uh, encouraging that was basically a very holistic, beautiful life. And it was very, a communal oriented, um, wasn't a capitalistic society. So we, we took care of each other in a, in a much different way than many people realize today.
Speaker 1: 02:18 How were Europeans received by the [inaudible]? When they showed up on land?
Speaker 2: 02:22 We, we greeted the and actually saved the lives of the, of the early Spanish and they were basically starving. They didn't have water, they were had scurvy and we took them to our watering hole and cause soy in old town. So there was a, you know, I kind of call it a Thanksgiving in a way for our people. And the fact that there was this mutual reception, maybe it wasn't mutual, but we were very giving initially, which kind of goes on, you know, gives evidence to who we were to our own people and to strangers.
Speaker 1: 02:55 Tell me about the ancestral land the Kumeyaay were forced off of and what that land is today.
Speaker 2: 03:01 Uh, we had this vast environment that was really a healthy environment for us physically, emotionally, spiritually. So how's our land taken away? Slowly but surely we will lose these vibrant food sources in there were only available in specific areas. So it was very, um, I basically took away who we were as a people. As you take away our pieces of land, cause the land made us, so as you take away that land, you could take away our very identity, our, our diet and so on and so forth.
Speaker 1: 03:33 And you know, the [inaudible] were known as some of the best and earliest environmental managers in North America. Um, even many of the agricultural and land management techniques like controlled burns, uh, were something the Kumi I were doing. Tell me about some of the contributions handed down, uh, over the years we knew exactly when and where and how to burn. So you wouldn't have it,
Speaker 2: 03:55 cedar and a which fire, we would control the animal population by controlled burns. So when you burn the, um, the environment, the small grass, it start to grow afterwards and then that would create more deer and more animals to hunt. So it was a way to also manipulate like an animal husbandry in a way. And the other thing was obviously for, for safety and also to manipulate the, the certain plants and like pine trees would only grow if they were burned. So it was, uh, a lot of reasons to, to burn.
Speaker 1: 04:28 And what's such a rich history and so many contributions to San Diego. Do you think Columbia history is taught enough and included in school books that are used to teach about San Diego's history?
Speaker 2: 04:40 So a little thing about our history is you have to understand, first of all, we did not have a written history tell the sixties or seventies, meaning that nearly all of our knowledges and our elders and an oral history. So unfortunately no one aside from a couple people Florencia peck and rigid Kericho, um, very few of our, our cooling I people have actually done this work. So it's very, um, it's very sparse in a way. So what we're trying to do right now is to compile a database and source material so you can actually have a Kumi I history class. So it's almost impossible with the sources we have. So we need to, as a, as a nation, create the data and the source material for [inaudible] history
Speaker 1: 05:30 as we celebrate a milestone of 250 years of San Diego. What is the biggest concern for the Cuny I people that you have?
Speaker 2: 05:38 Just my personal opinion about the 250 years is it's kind of a non issue for us. It kinda doesn't really, no one, no one talks about it in our community because it doesn't really matter to us. It's almost apathetic about it. No, you know, are ambivalent. We don't know. We don't care either way, good or bad. And I think a lot of that is because we have our own issues, our own urgent issues. Like what I'm saying. Um, so along with this is our language. So there's only 38 speakers left. So within our generation we're going to have maybe a single digit speakers, uh, in the same generation or history is going to almost be gone. So these are our issues right now. And then the other thing would be to, I would, I would see as our religion. So our religion is not in a growing state either. These, these three issues supersede those other ones. I would say. I've been speaking with Ethan Banagg as member of the Borana Band of mission Indians and instructor of [inaudible] history at the Kumiai community college. Ethan, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.
Speaker 3: 06:47 Yeah.