Our History

HISTORY

The Tribe now sets forth a history of the events that have led to the formal institution of its laws, in order to preserve for future generations the record of the exceptional determination and persistence of the Cupeño people.  We have endured the loss of our homeland, the forced relocation of our ancestors, attempts at tribal termination, the usurpation of our political power, and the denial of our heritage.  We remain, as we have always been, a people of remarkable kindness and generosity, endowed with a tenacious spirit, deeply connected with the land of our Creator, forever grateful and indebted to our ancestors.  We cannot separate who we are and what we value from the way in which we lead our lives, nor can we establish any laws without the evocation of that which we hold most dear.

The Cupeño Indians have existed since time immemorial, and maintained a long-standing relationship with the United States Government as evidenced by the Tribe’s participation in the signing of the TREATY WITH THE SAN LOUIS REY, ETC., 1852. January 5, 1852, [Unratified] by and through the Mark of JOSE NOCA, (Chan-gah-lang-ish) of Agua Caliente. The Cupeño Indians existence as a Tribe is further affirmed in multiple historical and federal census records.

The Cupeño Indians status as a federally-recognized Tribe was officially sanctioned by the United States in the establishment of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation by Executive Order of President Ulysses S. Grant on December 27, 1875, which states: “It is hereby ordered that the following-described lands in the county of San Diego, Cal., viz: San Bernardino base and meridian, …Agua Calienta[sic], ~ Township 10 south, range 3 east, southeast quarter of section 23, southwest quarter of 24, west half of 25, and east half of 26; … be, and the same are hereby, withdrawn from sale and set apart as reservations for the permanent use occupancy of the Mission Indians in Lower California.”

At the time of the creation of the Agua Caliente Reservation, the Tribe was in full occupancy and governing control of the Cupangawichum place of creation and traditional homeland of Agua Caliente, also known as Warner’s Hot Springs, Pal-a-tingval (Place of Hot Water). Throughout a protracted legal dispute over ownership and possession, the Tribe refused to surrender its homeland to the United States and continued to occupy those lands held as sacred and central to our existence. The United States, upon notice from the claimed property owners of Warner’s Hot Springs, cancelled the Tribe’s Agua Caliente Reservation, also known as Agua Caliente No. 1, by an Executive Order of President Rutherford B. Hayes dated January 17, 1880 stating: “It is hereby ordered that so much of the order of December 27, 1875, as relates to the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in California be, and the same is hereby canceled.” The Tribe continued to suffer trespass and other claims to its traditional homeland; and the United States Supreme Court held in Barker v. Harvey, 181 U.S. 481 (1901) that the right of occupancy by the Tribe to its traditional homeland was to be terminated.  As a result of this Supreme Court Order, on May 12, 1903, the Tribe was forcibly removed from its traditional homeland to lands surrounding and adjacent to the Pala Reservation, the home of the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of the Pala Reservation, California.

Though removed from its homeland, the Tribe continued to exercise its sovereign powers and right to self-governance through the practices of custom and tradition, and was equally eligible for and received services and goods from the U.S. Government including, but not limited to, farm equipment, allotted lands, food subsidies, domestic and irrigation water systems, education services and medical services, in the same manner as other federally-recognized tribes.

During this period, the Tribe, in accordance with custom and tradition, was governed by a Tribal Business Committee. In 1934, a Secretarial Election was held on the Pala Reservation to accept or reject governance under the Indian Reorganization Act. The Tribe and other Warner Ranch Evictees, San Felipe Village, the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) recognized Mexican Citizens, BIA-adopted Indians and Allotted non-Evictees voted to reject the terms of the Act because there was strong resistance among the various tribal groups on the Reservation to organize as a single band. This one-time vote, provided for under the Indian Reorganization Act, was the one and only legal and legitimate opportunity to organize the various tribal entities inhabiting the land of the Pala Reservation into a single band, and the Tribe and the other voters deemed eligible voted overwhelmingly to reject that opportunity.

In 1951, the Tribe, the Village of San Felipe, and the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians filed separate Claims under Docket 80, Docket 80-A and Docket 80-D. Specifically, the Cupeño Tribe filed a Docket 80-D Claim in hopes of reopening and establishing its legal claim to Agua Caliente (Warner Hot Springs). During this same time period the Tribe proposed to adopt a constitution, but action was delayed due to the announcement by Congress of an official federal policy of tribal termination and internal doubts about the continued existence of the Tribe. The California Rancheria Termination Act was passed in 1958, and 41 Tribes were terminated through the enactment and their tribal assets distributed. It was evident to the Tribe that the Federal Government was intent on terminating all tribes and dismantling the BIA.  In spite of the uncertainty of the Tribe’s future, the Tribal Business Committee sought to develop the resources of the Reservation by entering into a contractual agreement with an external business enterprise. The BIA, in exercising its authority as trustee for the Reservation, and determined to protect the individual property rights of the Allotted Indians, instructed the Tribe that an Association comprised of the various tribal entities and individual Indians associated with the lands purchased for the Warner Ranch Evictees must be formed in order to establish a government-to-government relationship with the United States and to provide for the equitable distribution of revenue generated by the business opportunity. This action from the BIA effectively prevented the Tribe from the development of a governing document that met its unique needs and requirements.

The Tribe recognized that this BIA merging of the various Indian entities into an association operated in direct contradiction of the vote by the Indians of the Pala Reservation to reject the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Tribe vehemently states that the Agency acted against the general welfare of the Tribe by forcing it into an Association in an attempt to administratively terminate and abrogate Federal Recognition of the Agua Caliente Tribe. The Agency also imposed the name of the Pala Band of Mission Indians on this Association of tribal entities, and erroneously identified this Pala Band of Mission Indians with the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of the Pala Reservation, California, causing great harm and detriment to the Agua Caliente Tribe for whom specific lands were set aside in accordance with a 1902 Act of Congress to compensate for the loss of their historic homeland.

In 1959 the United States advised the Tribe that unless the Tribe adopted the Articles of Association there would be no business contracts or per-capita distribution. The Tribe voted to adopt the Articles of Association to serve as the governing document for the association of tribes known as Pala Band of Mission Indians (the “PBMI”). Thus, the PBMI was created for the express purpose of revenue generation and distribution, but the Tribe continued to view itself as a separate people within an association of peoples. The Articles of Association also required that the Association known as PBMI establish a base roll of its members. The PBMIs primary membership roll was comprised of the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of the Pala Reservation, California, (allotted 1895), the Warner Ranch Evictees (allotted 1913), Mexican Citizens, (allotted 1913), BIA Adoptees (Adopted 1903-1935), non-Warner Ranch Evictees (allotted 1913), Citizen Indians, (allotted 1895 and 1913). The BIA retained control of the PBMI base roll and had final authority to determine who was and was not a member of PBMI. In 1978, in the landmark case of Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49 (1978), the United States Supreme Court unequivocally held that a tribe has the right of self-governance, and the exclusive right to determine its own membership.

After the Santa Clara Pueblo decision, the BIA failed to notify the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of the Pala Reservation, California, and Agua Caliente No. 1, the two federally-recognized tribes embodied within PBMI, of their right of self-governance and the right to determine membership of the tribe.  Instead, the BIA wrongfully exerted control over PBMI and continued to make final determinations in almost every action, agreement/contracts and membership without consideration of the Tribe’s rights established by the Supreme Court.

The PBMI sheltered and even fostered conflict between its member tribal groups and BIA-designated members of the PBMI. It was, and still is, a well-known fact that the members of Agua Caliente No. 1 and the Village of San Felipe, (a non-federally recognized Band of Diegueno Indians) are traditional enemies. Establishment of the PBMI under the BIA’s ushering forced the Agua Caliente No. 1 and the Village of San Felipe Indians into conflicts resulting in horrendous crimes and offenses against each other. The most significant crime of genocide began to emerge almost immediately upon the formation of the PBMI. From the very beginning of the establishment of the PBMI there was a dispute over the blood degrees of the Agua Caliente No. 1 Indians. Anonymous pen and ink changes regarding the blood degree of an Agua Caliente ancestor on the base roll of PBMI gave rise to a disagreement over the correct determination of who was and who was not a member of PBMI. The dispute prevented the appropriate enrollment of eligible Agua Caliente No. 1 descendants into the PBMI. In furtherance of those efforts to eliminate members of Agua Caliente No. 1, controlling members of PBMI’s governing body engaged in actions designed specifically to eliminate and bring about the final genocide of the Cupeño Tribe (Agua Caliente No. 1).

In 1993, the PBMI’s Executive Committee proposed changing the PBMI’s Articles of Association to a Constitution.  BIA staff in both Agency and Regional Offices recognized the potential harm that the proposed Constitution would have on individual rights of the members of PBMI.  In 1994, ignoring recommendations of the BIA, an election was held by PBMI in which voters were directed to vote to approve or disapprove the proposed Constitution. The vote was unsuccessful because it failed to garner the necessary 50% of eligible voters to vote in the election. A majority of those voting in the election did vote in favor of the Constitution, but less than 200 of the 700 eligible voters voted in the election. The vote was represented by only 29% of the eligible PBMI voters. This was 21% short of the necessary 50% of eligible voters to vote in an election for passage of the Constitution.

The election results were forwarded to the BIA and certified by PBMI as in favor of adoption of the Constitution. The BIA responded negatively to the adoption of the Constitution citing several conflicting issues including that each change to the Articles of Association would have to be voted upon as amendments and that the adoption of the Constitution in the form provided to the BIA violated the PBMI’s Articles of Association. The BIA further noted that any changes to the Articles of Association would require final approval by the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs. The BIA especially warned that the PBMI Constitution, in the adopted form, allowed for the consolidation and transfer of PBMI’s authority to the PBMI Executive Committee. The PBMI’s Executive Committee rejected the recommendations of the BIA and, in the year 2000, the BIA approved the PBMI Constitution as the governing document of PBMI.

As a result of the BIA’s approval of the PBMI Constitution, the situation became ripe for members of the San Felipe Village, members of the Pala Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of the Pala Reservation, California, and individual allotted Indians to act under the color of Constitutional authority to execute a 100-year-old plot to eliminate the Cupeño people of Agua Caliente No. 1.  There were repeated rejections of membership applications from Cupeño Indians into PBMI, thereby forcing a decline of Cupeño membership within PBMI and effecting a genocide of the Cupeño people.

In 2011, the PBMI Executive Committee was fully controlled by non-Cupeño members of PBMI.   Agua Caliente No. 1 no longer had representation or was deprived of representation within PBMI. Taking advantage of the situation, the PBMI Executive Committee took action to eliminate one-hundred-seventy (170) Cupeño Indians from the rolls of PBMI. In addition, the PBMI Executive Committee took action to change or alter the blood degree of an unknown number of Cupeño Indians believed to be in the hundreds.

Those actions by the PBMI Executive Committee forcibly placed the Cupeño Indians of Agua Caliente No. 1 on the doorstep of extinction. The BIA’s inaccurate interpretation of the Supreme Court decision of Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez and the right of tribes to determine their own membership further exacerbated the situation. PBMI is not a tribe, it is an association of tribes, and, therefore, PBMI could not affect the membership of Agua Caliente No. 1. The above-described circumstances and actions of the BIA and PBMI have caused members of Agua Caliente No. 1 to take necessary actions to prevent the extinction of the Tribe.