Tribal members of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians are direct descendants of Chief Cabazon (pictured left), the leader of the Desert Cahuilla Indians from the 1830s until the 1870s.
When Anglo-Americans arrived in the 1840s, they referred to most of the native people in Southern California as Mission Indians. The name stuck, but the Cabazons were never really under the control of the Spanish mission system.
The Cabazons have a rich history that predates both the Spanish and Anglo arrivals in the region by thousands of years.
Our ancestors were primarily Cahuilla Indians. Cahuilla (pronounced Kah-we-ah) means "masters" or "powerful one," and 2,500 years ago these fiercely resourceful people learned to survive the blistering temperatures of the dry, unyielding land by digging wells. They devised creative methods for using local plant life such as acorns, mesquite and pinyon. And they built their homes (known as a kish) from reeds, branches and brush.
The Cahuilla were divided into two moieties or groups of clans: the Wildcat and Coyote. They were further divided into approximately a dozen patrilineal clans, each having its own name, territory and common ancestry.
In addition to the Cabazon Band, other Cahuilla tribes in Southern California are the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, the Augustine Band of Mission Indians near Coachella, the Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians and Ramona Band of Mission Indians near Anza, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Banning, the Santa Rosa Band of Mission Indians near Hemet, the Los Coyotes Indians near Warner Springs and the Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla near Thermal.
Cahuilla baskets evidence the artistry and love of beauty by these peace-loving people. Designs taken from nature, such as animals, birds, clouds and lightning were produced from varying shades of the rush. But perhaps the most common means of aesthetic expression was music. Tribal history was recorded in songs.
In the 1850s, the Cahuilla population began to dwindle. The Southern Pacific Railroad laid claim to local water rights, resulting in poor crops and forcing Cahuilla to move many times. Chief Cabazon's people were living near Indio, California, when President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order on May 15, 1876, creating the Cabazon Reservation.
After two years of research that included trips to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and oral interviews with tribal members, historian Robert Perez wrote "The History of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians 1776-1876." The book is available for purchase by calling the tribal administration office at (760) 342-2593.
There were 600 tribal members when the Cabazon Reservation was defined as three parcels of raw desert totaling 2,400 acres. Southern Pacific Railroad later claimed 700 acres to create a railroad and interstate right-of-way.
Today, there are fewer than 50 members of the Cabazon tribe, but owing to perseverance and a diversified economic base, our future is bright. The reservation covers 1,450 acres in parcels spread over 16 miles. The largest parcel contains the tribal administration office, Public Safety Department and several business enterprises, including entertainment venues: Fantasy Springs Casino* and Fantasy Lanes Family Bowling Center. Another parcel is dedicated to the Cabazon Resource Recovery Park, which includes the tribe's First Nation Recovery Incorporated tire-recycling operation.
Each March and November, the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians hosts the Indio Powwow to honor, help preserve and introduce others to Native American culture. And every day we protect our sovereign status as a federally recognized tribe.
*Note: In 1979 the Seminole tribe in Florida opened a high-stakes bingo operation on its reservation in Florida. The state attempted to close the operation down but was stopped in the courts. In the 1980s the case of California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians established the right of reservations to operate other forms of gambling operations. In 1988, the United States Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which recognized the right of Indian tribes to establish gambling and gaming facilities on their reservations as long as the states in which they are located have some form of legalized gambling.