Thanks to the Thatcher Faculty Professional Development Grant, I had the unique opportunity this summer to head out west and visit Native American sites in San Diego and Arizona. I had no idea just how much history I was about to discover (or maybe uncover). These visits allowed me the chance to visit and speak with Native Americans and find out history from their perspective. This is Part 2 of the travelogue of my experiences and will explore the Native American sites I visited in California.
As I began my journey onto Native American land, it hit me that as much as I love to teach history this would be a rare opportunity to explore history outside of my classroom. I was becoming the student and needed to focus my attention on being that student and soaking up as much knowledge as I could.
San Diego County has more Native American reservations than any other county in the United States. The reservations are very small, with total land holdings of just over 124,000 acres, or about 193 square miles of the 4,205 square miles in San Diego County. Twenty thousand Native Americans make up the four tribal groups that live in San Diego County, but only a small percentage live on reservation land.
One of the advantages of visiting a newly opened Cultural Center at 10 a.m. is being the only person there. The Sycuan (pronounced Sa Quan) Cultural Center opened in the fall of 2016. The Cultural Center is located on Kumeyaay (pronounced Q Me Yi - the i is long) Nation land just north of the city of San Diego.The Sycuan Band is one of several bands in the Kumeyaay Nation.
A huge benefit of being the only person in the Cultural Center was my uninterrupted access to the curator, Steven Newcomb, for a one-person tour. A history lesson from someone whose family has lived that history is a lesson worth learning. Firsthand knowledge is more powerful than any amount of history you get from a textbook. In fact, this whole journey out West was a complete living history lesson because everything I learned was firsthand from the people who live it every day.
I have never really spent a lot of time thinking about my heritage - where my ancestors came from, how they got here and how they lived once they landed. My time at the Sycuan Cultural Center certainly allowed me to see how that looks when a people spend their life focused on their heritage. I left the Center thinking how much stronger each of us would be if we actually looked at our past and our present and tried to imagine what our future would like.
For the Kumeyaay people, and as I discovered for every Native American I encountered along this trip, water is the starting point - for everything! It is the starting point of their life and all that exists around them. They respect and use their water resources wisely. As much as I discovered about the passion for their heritage, the attitude of gratitude and thankfulness the Native American people possess runs deep and true. They are truly thankful for the land, the sea, and the air. They do not take it for granted.
Having taught history in Rome for the past seven years, I was obviously aware pf the Trail of Tears thanks to the Ridge Museum and the story of Major Ridge. So, I had an inkling of just how unfair the Native Americans in this area had been treated.
It is hard to sometimes just let go of the teacher in me and be in awe of history! Listening to Mr. Newcomb in the Cultural Center share the story of the Kumeyaay people was completely eye-opening. The advantage of allowing yourself to discover history from places outside the textbook is hearing the viewpoint from one who has actually lived it. It is the difference between hearing the exact same story from a docent in a museum who gives you the facts and hearing the life story of someone who has lived that life, but this time you get the all the passion and the heartache that comes from the person's soul.
There is just so much to the Kumeyaay story that it would take a host of blogs to share the information. It isn't so unlike the story of the Native Americans in our part of the country. Sharing the passion and the heart of Mr. Newcomb is just not something I can do effectively. I hope you will take the time to explore their story in the pictures I have posted here. There are several artifacts that I want you to examine, but it is the mural of the Kumeyaay story that I want you to take the time to read and to digest.
I tried to put them in order based on the timeline on the mural. The story of the Kumeyaay, and the stories of the the other Native Americans I talked to, is one that I not heard from my history books. It is story of domination, removal and, to quote Mr. Newcomb, "dehumanization."
The story on the mural covers every period in Kumeyaay history: Original Free Nation, Spanish Period, Mexican Period, American Period and Modern Period. I know you will find lots of information on each of these sections of the mural, but I ask that you please take the time to zoom in and really read about the history of these people as told by these people. Now, I do realize that everything has two sides and that the story of history has two sides; all I ask is that you take the time to read and study their side of history.
As I end this blog, I will ask you that when you have finished reading their story, their side of history, that you decide how you feel about what you have read. Your takeaway may not be what mine has been, and that is ok if it is not, but it has definitely impacted me in ways I wasn't expecting. It is also making me stop and think about what I was taught and what I need to teach in the future. And after all, isn't that what history - this concept of looking back - is supposed to do?
Click here to read Part 1 of Steve McConnell's blog series about his professional development journey this summer.