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The Kumeyaay Nation and the Border Wall

A statement by Jacob Alvarado Waipuk, chair of tribal relations, tribal liaison, Division of Student Affairs & Campus Diversity, and assistant rofessor, SDSU American Indian Studies Department

SDSU Tribal Liaison, Jacob Alvarado Waipuk

Howka! You are on Kumeyaay Land.

My name is Jacob Alvarado Waipuk. I am Ipai Kumeyaay from the village of Ahmukatlatl, also known as San Pasqual Reservation, and my clan is Waipuk which means King Snake. I am also Lipan Apache and Sun Clan on my father’s side. I am the tribal liaison of San Diego State University and an assistant professor in American Indian Studies.

We want to educate non-Natives in San Diego County and government entities that do not know the history of our Kumeyaay people. It is time to unlearn and relearn with an open heart. We have been here for thousands of years since the beginning of our creation, and we were forcibly removed from our homelands and pushed onto reservations. It is my job and duty to serve the Indigenous populations, including my own, in San Diego County. Standing up for my Kumeyaay people is the only reason why I pursued higher education. My job is to build collaborative relationships with local tribes by creating educational pathways and opportunities for Indigenous students to higher education. I am a catalyst for change. I am bringing awareness and educating San Diego State University faculty, staff, and students about the Kumeyaay Nation’s history, and making SDSU a place for all Indigenous students to call home, so they feel welcomed when they first step foot on campus

San Diego County is the heart of 13 federally recognized Kumeyaay tribes and five that reside in Northern Baja California, Mexico. These numbers do not reflect state-recognized and unrecognized tribal groups who also live in the area today.

Map of the Kumeyaay Nation

The University Senate of San Diego State University passed a resolution in 2019 that officially acknowledges the land SDSU currently occupies as Kumeyaay land. Recognizing the land is a practice that honors and respects our connection to our lands since time immemorial. San Diego State University Senate Resolution to Establish Official Campus Policy to Fly the Kumeyaay Nations Flag on the SDSU Campus passed unanimously March 3, 2020. In 2006, our Kumeyaay Nation adopted a flag for all Kumeyaay bands in San Diego County, Imperial County, and Baja California. In the Kumeyaay spirit, we promote a balance of life and open our minds and hearts to the legacy of the red and black, the land of the Kumeyaay. We stand upon a ground that carries the footsteps of Kumeyaay for millennia.

On Sunday, July 5, the Kumeyaay Nation and its allies peacefully demonstrated at the San Diego Hall of Justice asserting that we are not going to allow the desecration of our Kumeyaay sites. We want our voices to be heard. My Kumeyaay people have taken a stand to protest the construction of a segment of the border wall that will destroy one of our ancestral sites. We are overwhelmingly tired of not being respected; our presence and voice matter. We demand respect for our Kumeyaay people and all Indigenous peoples. Enough is enough.

Martha Rodriguez, a tribal member from San Jose De La Zorra and SDSU student, emphasizes, “The great Kumeyaay Nation has faced four waves of genocide. We are still here strong as always on both sides of that imaginary border to us. Our roots are deep in; no wall will separate our families. We are not illegal in our homeland. The Kumeyaay are the original people of this land since time immemorial. The unratified treaty of Santa Ysabel is just one example of the non-Native government dishonesty. These are our homelands where our ancestors are. They deserve respect and protection. No more desecrations to our ancestors to Mother Earth. We’re not a conquered people, museum relic, or someone’s mascot.

Additionally, many Kumeyaay from different shamull (clans, family) have voiced their hearts and concerns regarding this matter. The following statements are from Kumeyaay tribal members who attended the demonstration.

We, the Kumeyaay Nation, want to be acknowledged, respected, treated, and honored as independent sovereign nations. The Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) No. 185—Relative to Native American Tribal Rights established in September 2000 reaffirms California’s recognition of federally recognized tribes as separate and independent sovereigns. The ACR No. 185 encourages all state agencies “when engaging in activities or developing policies affecting Native American tribal rights or trust resources to do so in a knowledgeable, sensitive manner that is respectful of tribal sovereignty.” Four years later, in 2004, a State Senate Bill 18 was signed into law to preserve and protect the cultural places of California Native Americans. This law requires local governments to consult with California Native American tribes, both federally and non-recognized Tribes, to aid in the protection of traditional tribal cultural places (cultural places) through local land use planning and extends to both public and private lands.

Communication from the government with the Kumeyaay Nation about the border wall project has been non-existent. The Kumeyaay Nation has not been consulted regarding this project as it should as required by law. Tribal Chairwoman Elliott-Santos from the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation states, “We sent a letter, and we knew we wanted Kumeyaay monitors; we reminded them they’re cutting through the middle of our territory our homeland, and now we jump forward to this point, and we start hearing about blasting the sites. The biggest disrespect that’s going on right now is those folks are saying they have a cultural monitor on-site, but it’s not a Kumeyaay person.”

The border wall project needs consultation with the Kumeyaay Nation, and for any sites, they want to blow up with explosives along the wall that needs Kumeyaay Nation approval. We want our Kumeyaay cultural monitors to be there, to make sure that our sacred sites, burial grounds, ceremonial, and village sites are not being destroyed. Having a Kumeyaay cultural monitor will prevent this and protect the beautiful history of our people. We have already lost many sacred sites to development in San Diego County, and we do not want to lose anymore.

We were here long before any concept of border existed. The border has divided our people; it cut a line right through our land and separated us. The Kumeyaay Nation extends from North County down into Baja California, where our brothers and sisters live. We do not ask for much, we are peaceful people, but a united people and will stand up for our rights and protect our sites because that is who we are. We are like a hornet’s nest, you disrespect our lands, our home, and you get the entire Kumeyaay Nation.

Chairwoman Pinto, a tribal leader from the Jamul Indian Village, states, “We are asking for respect and that seat at the table from the beginning, not when the shovels are going into the ground. Just respect us as governments, our artifacts, and respect our remains.” She is very proud of the youth for standing up for our sacred sites and the history of the Kumeyaay Nation. Pinto raves, “I’m so proud of these young women for organizing this.”

We have a lot of work to do, and the first step is to create a collaborative relationship. We are open to having a conversation about protecting our sacred sites. For too long, the land of the Kumeyaay Nation has been desecrated. If you are wondering where the Kumeyaay Land is, you are probably sleeping, eating, and creating memories on it. Before anyone was here, our people were here, and guess what, we are still here.

Please put yourself in our shoes, and right now imagine a foreign nation coming to your lands and taking everything by force, and forcibly trying to destroy your identity, culture, and traditions by converting your way of life through assimilation and the use of religious acts. Hundreds of years have passed, and we are still affected by the historical and intergenerational trauma of this tragic forced assimilation. We were stripped of almost everything, but no matter what we endure as people, the spirit of the Kumeyaay Nation is stronger than any tool of colonization. We continue to live the legacy of our ancestors.

Our ancestors sacrificed everything for us to be here today. We are our ancestor’s prayers answered. I want to paint a picture for you: imagine all the atrocities that were committed against the Kumeyaay Nation recorded live and seeing what we went through. How would you look at them? How would you feel? I believe everyone would be outraged, and just because it happened many years ago does not mean it’s forgotten. Imagine if most of your ancestors suffered that way, what would you do and how would you keep their memory alive, and years later, you continue to be disrespected by a government entity that wants to blow up your ancestral sacred lands.

Dr. Stan Rodriguez, a tribal member from Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, emphasizes, “We do not need to travel to Jerusalem to visit the holy land. We are already here. These people encroached on our land and are living a lie. They have been so blinded that they do not realize it, and many are resisting the truth. If they were open to it, then it would shatter all of that they have believed, and many can’t take that.”

We want a seat at the table to create a curriculum for the masses. Do you want to know the truth? Include the truth about American Indian history in the K-12th grade curriculum to teach children about how this country was built on bloodshed and the enslavement of people. How can we be a country if we do not acknowledge the wrongdoings we have done? Do you wonder why we’re upset? It’s called historical trauma and intergenerational trauma, a wound that has been passed down from one generation to the next. How can we move forward when our voices haven’t been heard, and we haven’t healed from past wounds?

I feel irate and frustrated that at this moment in time, we have to continue to fight for our rights. Right now, we’re in a time of creation, so let’s build a collaborative relationship and move forward in a positive direction so that we can create a foundation for our children, generations to come, and show them the path of resilience. We are all on this road together, let us help each other out, pick each other up, and together we will be stronger than ever imagined. Open your minds and hearts because we all come from somewhere. We are all important, and our voices matter, what we do in life echoes for the next generations. Only through our actions, we can be who we are as people. Today, it is a time of change, not just for us as people, but for our children. They are our future leaders of tomorrow. Stay safe, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and remember to look after your elders to make sure they are okay.

Eyay e’Hunn- My heart is good.

July 2020