NewsCelebrating Community


Celebrating Community: Kumeyaay People of San Diego

Posted at 10:02 PM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-21 12:20:25-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- At the Sycuan Visitors Center in El Cajon, you'll find pieces of history on display. Tools, clothing, baskets, even instruments, all tracing their origin to the Kumeyaay people.

"We were very important in shaping this landscape, so we developed the landscape and the landscape developed us," said Ethan Banegas, who teaches Kumeyaay history and is Kumeyaay himself.

The Kumeyaay people live on 12 reservations in southern California and six in Mexico. Their history is rooted deeply in the San Diego area.

"We have old village sites all over. Old Town, where the first mission was, was an old village called Kasoy, " Banegas explained.

According to Banegas, at one point, the Kumeyaay people lived from the desert to the mountains to the ocean and numbered between 30 and 50 thousand.

RELATED: Native American tribes join to celebrate life and heritage at San Diego powwow

By the late 1800s, historians estimate the Kumeyaay population had dwindled to as low as 1000. Even as numbers started to rebound, the language and music continued to fade.

Banegas says at one point traditional singers had all but disappeared. However, there was a resurgence in the 1960s that continues today.

"We have a whole generation learning these songs that were basically gone."

As for the language, there are only about a dozen speakers left in the U.S. and a few dozen more in Mexico. But there's an effort underway to teach young people and keep it alive.

Banegas says a turning point for many tribes was gaming, which provided an economic solution to the severe poverty many people experienced on the reservations.

Today Banegas and others are using education to keep their culture alive and hope that during this Native American heritage month, San Diegans take time to remember the people who've called this land home for thousands of years.