EL CAJON, Calif. (KGTV) -- In 1987, at the age of six, Cody Martinez moved from Pine Valley to the Sycuan Reservation to live with his grandmother.
"My dad is Kumeyaay and Hispanic that is my link to my maternal grandmother, who is a tribal member here at Sycuan," said Martinez, the Chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation. "Going from Pine Valley to Sycuan wasn't too difficult; both were pretty rural."
"San Diego County has the most Indian reservations within the county line in North America," he said. "There wasn't a lot of cultural events that I could recall. The first large cultural event that I could vividly remember was our first pow wow that we hosted in 1989. Today we have a full-blown cultural resource department and museum, and we have monthly cultural events."
As Martinez grew older, his interest and involvement in the community also grew.
"At a young age, I realized that we had our own community, that had its own authority," he said. "We had a tribal council, we made our own laws, and we had our own rules, and I just knew that that's something I wanted to be a part of."
In high school, Martinez said he volunteered in the tribal office and sat on different committees. As a young adult, he worked for Sycuan's gaming commission for a few years, then landed a seat in the tribal council as the tribal treasurer.
After taking some time off after losing reelection as tribal treasurer, he later took a role in the planning and development department.
Ultimately, Martinez would gain support from tribal families in 2014 and make his way into a leadership role, serving as the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation's Chairman.
He was reelected in 2018 and currently holds the position.
"Sometimes, with all the political craziness and COVID craziness, I find solitude and reassurance that we get to manage our own community," he said.
Martinez is thrilled to celebrate Native American Heritage Month again, hanging on to the rich history and keeping it alive by passing it all down to the next generations.
"The cultural exposure, I have two sons, 10 and 12, to their generation has definitely grown, their exposure and access to cultural enrichment. My sons were able to learn how to count in Kumeyaay and basic numbers and directions when they were very young," he said. "I make sure that I can get them to participate as much as possible; the Sycuan education center has a preschool and after school program, and there's cultural enrichment built into those programs."
The Sycuan Cultural Resource Center and Museum also launched in 2016 at 910 Willow Glen Drive, El Cajon, CA, 92019.