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Who are the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians?
The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians are the smallest tribal nation in the United States, consisting today of six family members who are all related to Tribal Chairperson Mary Ann Green, who is the owner the Augustine Casino. The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians is a band of Native Americans based in Coachella, California. The namesake for the Augustine Tribe and Reservation was Captain Vee-Vee Augustine who was born in the year 1820.
Official Tribal Name: Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians
Address: 84-481 Avenue 54, P.O. Box 846, Coachella, California 92236
Phone: (760) 398-4722
Fax: (760) 369-7161
Official Website: http://www.augustinetribe.org
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
Iviatim is their name in their language for themselves, and the name of their language is Ivia. Cahuilla is a name applied to the group by outsiders after mission secularization in the Ranchos of California.
Common Name: Cahuilla Indians, Mission Indians
Meaning of Common Name: The word Cahuilla is probably from the Ivia word kawi’a, meaning “master,” “the powerful one,” or “the one who rules.”
Alternate names: Formerly the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians of the Augustine Reservation
Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Name in other languages:
State(s) Today: California
The Cahuilla People are the first known inhabitants of the Coachella Valley in California. They have lived in the Coachella Valley and the surrounding mountains for over 3,000 years.
Reservation: Augustine Reservation
The Augustine Reservation was formally established by Congress on December 29, 1891.
Tribal Headquarters: Coachella, California
Time Zone: Pacific
Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians Executive Offices Photo by: Visitor 7 via Wikimedia Commons
Population at Contact:
In the late 1700’s, the Cahuilla population was estimated to number about 6,000. There are some Cahuilla who believe the number was actually closer to 15,000. In the mid 1800s, twenty two villages were recorded. In 1951, only 11 survivors were known. 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.
Registered Population Today:
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. Mary Ann and her descendants, along with the children of her two brothers comprise the official members of the Tribe today.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Name of Governing Body:
Number of Council members:
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:
Uto-Aztecan -> Northern Uto-Aztecan -> Takic -> Cupan -> Cahuilla–Cupeno -> Cahuilla
Anthropological and archeological evidence suggests that the ancestral homeland of the Uto-Aztecan peoples was in the present day state of Nevada. Like all of the desert Tribes, the Cabazon share a common ancestry to the Uto-Aztecan family, Cahuilla linguistic group.
Cahuilla is a member of the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Within Takic, it is most closely related to Cupeño, Juaneño, and Luiseño, and more distantly to Gabrielino, Kitanemuk, Serrano, and Tataviam. The other Uto-Aztecan languages of California are Tubatulabal and the Numic languages (Chemehuevi-Southern Paiute-Ute, Comanche, Kawaiisu, Mono, Northern Paiute, Panamint, and Shoshone).
Three Cahuilla dialects are known to have existed, referred to as Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla, and Pass Cahuilla. The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians spoke the Desert Cahuilla dialect.
Number of fluent Speakers:
A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers in an ethnic population of 800. Cahuilla is nearly extinct, since most speakers are middle-aged or older.
The Cahuilla language was traditionally spoken in the San Gorgonio Pass (around Banning), to the east in the Coachella Valley to the vicinity of the Salton Sea, and to the south on the western slopes of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains. In pre-contact times, there were around 2500 speakers of Cahuilla (Kroeber 1925). Today, there are half a dozen first-language speakers (Golla 2011).
Augustine Cahuilla Creation Story
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Cahuilla can be generally divided into three groups based on the geographical region in which they lived: Desert Cahuilla, Mountain Cahuilla and Western (San Gorgonio Pass) Cahuilla. All three spoke the Cahuilla language, had similar lifestyles and practiced the same traditions. The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians are Desert Cahuilla, and are one of a total of nine Cahuilla Indian nations living on ten indian reservations.
The Cahuilla People were divided into two moieties: Wildcat and Coyote.
Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians, Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians, Santa Rosa Band of Mission Indians and Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla Indians. There are also some Los Coyotes in the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians.
Ceremonies / Dances:
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Cahuilla Legends / Oral Stories
Art & Crafts:
The Cahuilla women were experts in making baskets called a “nèat.” The baskets were made of grass and were either twined or coiled. The colors that were chosen to decorate the baskets included dark yellow, rich red, white and black.
The particular designs included flowers, eagles, lightning and whirlwinds. In early times the baskets were put to multiple uses. They were used for storing, sifting and carrying food, carrying babies, roasting seeds and even cooking. Cahuilla women could weave a basket so tight it could be used to carry water. When used for cooking the baskets were filled with water and hot rocks were placed in the basket to bring the water to boil.
With the Europeans came metal. The Cahuilla People were soon exposed to such items as metal pots and pans, kettles, buckets and cans. There became less and less need for the Cahuilla basket and many women stopped making them. However, when more and more people started moving to the Coachella Valley, art collectors who valued the art and skill that went in to making a traditional Cahuilla basket, soon created a demand for them.
Historians and researchers who visited Cahuilla villages in the 1890’s and early 1900’s reported that many of these villages were established near dense forests of honey mesquite trees. In fact, this was true of Temal Wakhish, later to become the Augustine Reservation. It’s easy to understand why. One of the most important food plant for the Cahuilla was the mesquite tree. It played a very important role in the life of a Desert Cahuilla. Not only did the mesquite bean, “menyikish,” provide a very nutritious food source, but the tree itself provided valuable construction material and provided a habitat that attracted important Cahuilla game animals, especially rabbits.
Mesquite trees produced edible blossoms in June and seed pods in July and August. The blossoms were roasted and eaten, or sun dried and placed in water to produce a refreshing beverage. The pods could either be eaten fresh or mashed and mixed with water to make a creamy fresh juice especially enjoyed by Cahuilla children. This drink was referred to as “menyikish pishpakhatem.” After a hard day’s work of gathering, children were happy to hear their grandmother say: “Today we’re going to drink menyikish.” The honey mesquite beans could be dried and eaten immediately without any preparation, or ground into a flour to be stored for later consumption. The ground powder would be made into a cake and stored. This cake could be consumed as either a drink or porridge, or eaten dry. The Cahuilla would also store the mesquite honey beans in large storage baskets.
The honey mesquite bean was considered very sweet and palatable. From a nutritional standpoint it was also very nutritious. Experts have described them to be approximately 8% crude protein, 54% carbohydrate and a little more than 2% fat.
Plant foods, like the mesquite bean, provided the majority of the sustenance for the Cahuilla. In addition to food, plants also provided material necessary for shelter, clothing and tools. The Cahuilla women were the gatherers. Each village was designated its own gathering area in which exclusive gathering rights were held. Boundaries were determined by individual mesquite trees.
If certain trees had a bad year in terms of yield, neighbors would allow others to pick from their trees. However, if intruders were found trespassing in another’s gathering area without permission this could result in fights between the women.
Many animals were also hunted and trapped for food and other raw materials. Cahuilla men were the hunters. Hunting would take place on an as needed basis. The Desert Cahuilla would hunt big game animals such as deer and mountain sheep in the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the north-east and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the west.
Before a big game hunt men would spend time in a sweat house for sweat bath purification. Special herbs would be used to remove human scent. During the purification process ceremonial songs would be sung that described the movements of the deer and asking for good luck during the hunt.
Small game animals provided the bulk of the meat protein in the Cahuilla diet. Small game was hunted in the Valley floor. Rabbits were especially bountiful and were prized not only for their meat, but also for their fur that was used to make soft warm clothing.
Rabbits were hunted in a variety of ways. In preparation for a ceremony when a great deal of meat was needed, communal hunts would be organized and nets would be used. Other times rabbits would be hunted using bows and arrows and a special boomerang-like weapon called a vukiva’al (“rabbit stick”). In the hands of a skillful hunter, the vukiva’al was an effective weapon at a distance of up to fifty feet.
The Desert Cahuilla would make seasonal trips to the Santa Rosa Mountains to visit the Mountain Cahuilla. It was a Cahuilla custom never to visit someone empty-handed. Desert Cahuilla woman would take mesquite meal, powder and cakes. When the Mountain Cahuilla would visit the desert to attend ceremonies, they too would bring special gifts such as roasted agave and piñon nuts.
During these seasonal visits up the mountain the Desert Cahuilla would spend up to two weeks. While the women gathered plant foods, the men would take advantage of the time and hunt deer. When it was time to return home both the dried meat and gathered plant food would be carried down the mountain in large burden baskets.
The Desert Cahuilla were one of the few American Indian tribes to dig their own water wells. A few of these ancient wells still exist in the desert floor today. The Cahuilla called these wells “temakawomal” or “earth olla.”
These hand-dug wells descended in a series of stair-steps down into the earth. The wells were dug gradually as the water table lowered. Paths were dug deeper and deeper to maintain access to the water. This practice also provided animals with access to water to drink, assuring their continued presence.
The Tribal Government currently employs 8 people, has initiated a comprehensive economic development program designed to ensure the economic future of the Band for generations to come and the preservation and development of Cahuilla culture.
The initial steps in the implementation of this plan have thus far included an analysis of the economic development potential of the Reservation, the adoption of a Zoning Code to regulate land use on the Reservation, removing refuse dumped by trespassers on the Reservation, and, in 2002, the construction of a small casino on approximately 20 acres of the Reservation.
The casino has become the economic engine that will allow the Augustine Band to achieve its goal of cultural self-sufficiency.
The Casino is located adjacent to Indio and within minutes of many other Coachella Valley gaming & entertainment venues. Open 24 hours, the casino features slot machines, progressive jackpots, four and three card poker, single and Spanish 21, restaurants, live entertainment and many successful promotions.
Traditional Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
Famous Cahuilla Chiefs and Leaders
Like the history of many other California Indians, this strange but true story has it origins in the smallpox epidemics and massacres that were all too common in the early years of the Golden State. These maladies had reduced the Augustine Band to 11 members by 1951.
Recent history begins with Roberta Augustine who was born on September 21, 1937. Her daughter, MaryAnn Martin, the current Tribal Chairperson, was born in 1964, long after the Reservation had ceased to be occupied by members of the Augustine Band.
In 1986 the Tribe lost its sole remaining member when Roberta Augustine passed away that year. A few years after Roberta Augustine’s death, her granddaughter, Maryann Martin, who was raised by her African-American grandmother and previously unaware of her ancestry, found out about her Augustine heritage and decided to move back onto the reservation with her three children.
After her two brothers were killed by gang gunfire in Los Angeles, Martin acquired custody of their four children as well. The extended family currently comprises the entire Augustine Tribe.
It was Ms. Martin’s decision to embrace her Indian roots that marked a new beginning for the Augustine Band. Her exploration of this background eventually lead to her being elected Tribal Chairperson in 1988, re-establish a Tribal Government in 1994, and to resettle the Reservation in 1996.
In the News:
Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants
The Cahuilla Indians
Not For Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions Of A Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman
Handbook of the Indians of California, with 419 Illustrations and 40 Maps