April 11, 2014

Augustine Indian Reservation

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The Augustine Reservation is home to  a federally recognized Cahuilla band of Native Americans based in Coachella, California called the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. They are one of the smallest tribal nations in the United States, consisting of only eight members, only one of whom is an adult.

The namesake for the Augustine Tribe and Reservation was Captain Vee-Vee Augustine who was born in the year 1820. Notes from early explorers indicated that the Cahuilla People were flourishing in the area at this time with 22 villages. In 1856 surveyors with the United States Land Office noted on their maps an important Cahuilla Village that would later be designated as the Augustine Reservation.

At the time this village-site was known as “Temal Wakhish.” In the Cahuilla language “temal” means “earth,” and “wakhish” means “dry.” The name Temal Wakhish, or “dry earth,” described the harsh desert landscape in which the Cahuilla People lived. Later Temal Wakhish was commonly referred to by the Spanish name “La Mesa.”

According to interviews with Augustine Elders in the winter of 1924-1925, the tribe is of the Nanxaiyem clan of Pass Cahuilla Indians. Francisco Nombre, a Desert Cahuilla ceremonial leader and keeper of traditional clan genealogy, stated that the Nanxaiyem migrated to the Coachella Valley around 1860 and their survivors settled at La Mesa, the flat land east of La Quinta, California.

In the 1890’s and early 1900’s historians and field researchers who visited Temal Wakhish recorded the site as being an area surrounded with dense mesquite trees, with flourishing water wells, and nearby Indian trails leading to and from the village. They also noted that it had its own ceremonial house and ceremonial leader, in the Cahuilla language referred to as a “kishumnawat” and “net,” respectively.

There are over a dozen Pass Cahuilla clans, traditionally following patrilineal descent, which are divided into the Wildcat and Coyote moieties. The majority of the lineages that lived in Temal Wakhish were of the Wildcat moiety. Cahuilla elders recall calling people who lived on the Augustine Reservation the “Wildcat Bunch.”

In the Cahuilla culture members of one moiety were not allowed to marry a member of the same moiety. This helped to build strong social and economic alliances. Moieties were comprised of subgroups known as Sibs. Membership in a Sib was determined according to relationship, or common descent, to the patriarch of the family (patrilineality). Up to 2,000 people could be members of the same Sib. They usually lived near one another in clusters of villages. Each Sib had their own territory.

 In the Cahuilla culture members of one moiety were not allowed to marry a member of the same moiety. This helped to build strong social and economic alliances. Moieties were comprised of subgroups known as Sibs. Membership in a Sib was determined according to relationship, or common descent, to the patriarch of the family (patrilineality). Up to 2,000 people could be members of the same Sib. They usually lived near one another in clusters of villages. Each Sib had their own territory.

The Augustine Reservation was formally established by Congress on December 29, 1891. Diseases introduced by the Europeans took their toll on the Cahuilla People. Many died. By the year 1951 the Augustine Tribe had only 11 surviving members. One such member was a thirteen year old girl by the name of Roberta Augustine, the great-granddaughter of Captain Vee-Vee Augustine. She was born in the year 1937.

By 1972 Roberta Augustine was the last surviving adult member of the Augustine Tribe. Roberta had three children, Mary Ann, Herbert and Gregory. Roberta passed away in 1987.

The children of Roberta Augustine went on to form the Tribal Government of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. Mary Ann, the great-great-granddaughter of Captain Vee-Vee Augustine, was elected Tribal Chairperson, a position she continues to hold to this very day. Along with Mary Ann and her descendants, the children of her two brothers comprise the official members of the Tribe today.

The reservation of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians is a one-square-mile tract of land, located in Riverside County, California. The tribal government was established in 1994 and currently employs 8 people.

The tribe has developed plans for both cultural revival and economic sustainability.

Improvements to reservation lands include adopting a zoning code and removing illegally dumped garbage. During the 50 years the land was vacant, trash, commercial wastes, carcasses, and thousands of tires were dumped on the land.

The monumental cleanup task started in 1994, when the tribe partnered with the US Environmental Service, the California Conservation Corps, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Augustine CasinoIn December, 2008, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians made history and established itself as a leader in Indian Country in the area of renewable energy. The Tribe was the first tribe in Southern California to develop a major solar energy project approved by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Tribe installed a 1.1 megawatt photovoltaic plant on its reservation.

The tribe owns the Augustine Casino on 20 acres of the reservation in Coachella, California.

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