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Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs
Friday, March 5, 2004
 

The Press Enterprise 3-5-04

Real-life history lesson for Cal State San Marcos students
Joe Vargo

 

Armed with cameras and videocassette recorders, notebooks and plenty of enthusiasm, a group of Cal State San Marcos students is helping preserve the culture and history of the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.

Anthropology and visual arts students have conducted oral histories of tribal elders, documented crafts such as basket-weaving, tool and arrow-making, researched religious and spiritual ceremonies and planted a native garden.

It's a project that began in 2001 and will continue indefinitely, said Bonnie Bade, an assistant professor of medical anthropology at San Marcos. Bade believes the project marks one of the most extensive collaborations between a university and band of Indians in California.

"A lot of the knowledge we learned about was sacred," Bade said. "We worked with the band on a weekly basis as we developed our course syllabus. We didn't want to violate any taboos."

Mark Mojado, the San Luis Rey band's spiritual adviser, said the work will be passed down to future generations to keep them in touch with their heritage.

Today, about 350 San Luis Rey descendants live in Oceanside, Vista, Poway, San Marcos and Escondido, Mojado said. The San Luis Rey band has no reservation and is not recognized by the federal government, making members ineligible for funds for housing, education and health care.

Mojado spends much of his time compiling family genealogies and birth, marriage and death records to submit to authorities in Washington. Mojado said Cal State students' research augments his own efforts to win recognition.

Many bands struggle to gain recognition, said Phil Klasky, director of the Storyscape Project, a San Francisco-based effort to preserve the songs, languages and histories of native peoples. Klasky said many Indians cannot provide the necessary paperwork to federal authorities because their traditions are mostly oral, not written. Some bands were nomads and roamed over vast tracts, moving with the seasons. Indian tribes historically have been reluctant to discuss the exact location of ancestral lands for fear they would be stolen, Klasky said. The arrival of the railroads and Gold Rush prospectors in California put those interests at odds with Indians, who often lost out.

Bands also struggle to comply with the criteria necessary to obtain recognition, which invariably change with each new presidential administration.

Mojado said some bands received recognition following a 1929 census. But the San Luis Rey band lacked sufficient numbers to win federal recognition.

An exhibit documenting the students' three-year cooperative effort with the Indians opened Wednesday at the university's new library. The exhibit, which includes photographs, posters, baskets, tools and medicinal herbs, runs through May.

Students Alyssa Jones and Anne Geisler said they've learned a great deal about Luiseño culture and have acquired a deep respect for a people who thrived for centuries.

"North (San Diego) County is so full of development that it's easy to forget that Indians have ever lived here," said Geisler, 47, a senior from Encinitas. "But they're still living their culture and still carrying on some of their traditions. To learn about them firsthand, see their treasured artifacts, hear their stories, is real exciting stuff. Much more so than reading about it in a textbook."

Ongoing commitment

Cal State professors Bade and Deborah Small said the relationship between the San Luis Rey band and the college represents a unique alliance. Some bands of Indians and colleges work together on certain projects. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians is working with UC Riverside and Palomar College to preserve its language. UC San Diego works with several tribes in Southern California and San Francisco State University cooperates with Bay Area tribes.

During the course of their field work, Cal State San Marcos students put down their notebooks and cameras to participate in harvesting juncas, the plant used to make baskets, and then made some rudimentary examples. They ground acorn into a paste that provided a diet staple, baked and ate it. They took part in a traditional prayer ceremony to ward off rattlesnakes and poison oak before planting the native garden at a site known as Indian Rock in Vista.

"The students have learned an attitude of respect and an attitude of gratitude," said Small, a visual and performing arts instructor.

She said the student-Indian project has had a profound effect on some students and staff.

"It's transformed the way you think about an entire region," Small said.

Long history

The San Luis Rey band settled in northern San Diego County 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, said Mojado, the spiritual adviser.

They gathered acorns, buckwheat, chia, wild cucumber and other plants, fished for scallops, snails and clams and hunted geese, quail, antelope and deer. They crafted baskets so sturdy they could hold boiling water. Ritual ceremonies took place at a boulder in Vista known as Indian Rock, which still bears pictographs hundreds of years old.

The Indians developed elaborate creation stories, marriage and coming-of-age-rituals that were passed down mostly by word-of-mouth, Mojado said.

Stories included references to the "avengers," animals that included the bear and black widow spider. When the Spanish arrived in the 18th century, Mission San Luis Rey became an important part of the mission system, providing olive oil, leather, wool, soap and lard.

Mojado called the ongoing collaboration "incredibly important" in both documenting Indian culture and heritage and in teaching students and the entire community about their contributions. He hopes greater education and awareness will reduce the vandalism that plagues many sacred sites, including Indian Rock."It gives us a door to open to the community," Mojado, 43, said of the San Marcos project. "We don't want to see our artifacts destroyed. We want to show people the importance of our heritage so maybe they won't destroy it."