Kumeyaay Indians

The Kumeyaay, also known as Tipai-Ipai, formerly called Kamia or Diegueño, are Native American people of the extreme southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

Today, they live in the state of California in the US and Baja California in Mexico. In Spanish, the name is commonly spelled Kumiai.

The Kumeyaay consist of two related groups, the Ipai and Tipai. Homelands of the two groups were approximately separated by the San Diego River.

The Ipai lived in a territory extending from the San Diego River (approximately Interstate 8) north to Agua Hedionda Lagoon (approximately State Highway 78) and then eastward through Escondido to Lake Henshaw.

The Tipai lived south of the San Diego River into Baja south of Ensanada, and eastward to the Laguna Mountains and beyond Mount Tecate.

The eastern Tipai were also referred to as the Kamia.

Meaning of the various Kumeyaay names

After conscripting the local Indians to build Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the Spanish, consistent with their habit of naming Indian groups after the mission whose jurisdiction they were under, called these 25,000 to 30,000 natives the Diegueno.

The term Kumeyaay was coined by native people and F. Shipek in the 1970s and is all inclusive of Diegueño and Kamia, the Yuman-speaking Indians of Imperial County over the mountains east of San Diego County.

The term Kumeyaay means “those who face the water from a cliff.” Both “Ipai” and “Tipai” mean “people.” Some Kumeyaay in the southern areas also refer to themselves as MuttTipi, which means “people of the earth.”

Kumeyaay Pre-History

Settlement, in what is today considered Kumeyaay territory, may go back 12,000 years.

7000 BCE marked the emergence of two cultural traditions: the California Coast and Valley tradition and the Desert tradition.

The Kumeyaay had land extending from the Pacific Ocean to present Ensenada, Mexico, and then on east to the Colorado River and north to what is known as Oceanside.

The Cuyamaca complex, a late Holocene complex in San Diego County is related to the Kumeyaay peoples. The Kumeyaay tribe also used to inhabit what is now a popular state park, known as Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

One view holds that historic Tipai-Ipai emerged around 1000 years ago, though a “proto-Tipai-Ipai culture” had been established by about 5000 BCE.

Katherine Luomola suggests that the “nucleus of later Tipai-Ipai groups” came together around AD 1000.

The Kumeyaay themselves believe that they have lived in San Diego for 12,000 years.

Kumeyaay Pre-Contact Lifestyle

At the time of European contact, the Kumeyaay comprised several autonomous bands with 30 patrilineal clans.

The Kumeyaay were seasonal hunters and gatherers whose individual bands ranged along waterways from the San Diego coastal region, east through the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains to beyond the Salton Sea in the east, and south beyond current-day Ensenada in Mexico.

Bands spoke individual dialects and lived a loosely connected lifestyle with intermarrying among the various bands.

They fished in the bay, gathered grunion and mollusks on the beach, hunted small game like rabbits, picked wild fruits, berries and their staple acorns.

They also engaged in primitive horticultural activities away from coastal regions.

Each territorial band — with a population of between 200 and 1,000 persons — controlled approximately 20 miles of river drainage (depending upon the width and richness of the valley) from their winter home.

These bands are classified together as Kumeyaay because they are all of the Yuman language family, Hokan stock.

The Kumeyaay are sub-divided into the Ipai (the northern dialectical form) the Tipai (the southern dialectical form) and the Kamia (the eastern dialectical form).

The Kumeyaay were not aggressive people, but they did make a wooden club with a sharp carved handle to be used in battle if needed. They also made bow and arrows for hunting and protection.

Rabbit sticks were used for killing small animals and long digging sticks were used as shovels and other purposes.

Kumeyaay Culture

Kumeyaay homes were circular, domed structures woven from willow branches that still had the leaves attached, called ‘Ewaa”.

Mats or rabbit skins covered the doorways, and grasses were used to soften the floor.

Cooking was done outside in fire pits.

Kumeyaay men and women wore their hair long. The men bunched it on the crown of their heads or wore it loose, and the women wore bangs.

If a family member died, it was part of the mourning process to cut all family members hair short, a custom that continues to this day.

Women’s chins were tattooed, and sometimes their foreheads, cheeks, arms, and breasts as well. Men sometimes tattooed their legs.

Painting the face and body were also used for body decoration and ceremonial purpose.

Kumeyaay women wore willow bark skirts while the men usually wore no clothing, only a woven agave belts to hold tools for hunting and gathering.

They sometimes wore agave fiber sandals over rocky or thorny areas but usually went barefoot. In cold weather men and women wore a rabbit fur blanket.

Like most California Indians, the Kumeyaay were sophisticated basket makers weaving fine, tightly stitched baskets, which were worn as hats by both men and women.

In addition to protecting the head, they could be used as bowls for water or for carrying items. Larger baskets were traditionally used for processing foods, especially seeds and nuts, and for cooking.

Each band had a central village where the kwaaypaay (social leader) and the kuseyaay (shaman)) lived and managed the ceremonial center. The religious year was observed by solstice and equinox ceremonies, all managed by the shaman, who had great knowledge of herbal medicine and curing songs and ceremonies.

They were also astronomers, knowing the movements of the stars through the seasons and phases of the moon, which determined the timing of harvest and ceremonies such as naming, puberty rites and marriage.

First contact with the Kumeyaay

Spaniards entered Tipai-Ipai territory in the late 18th century, bringing with them non-native, invasive flora, and domestic animals, which brought about degradation to the local ecology.

When Father Junipero Serra entered the San Diego area in 1769 to build the first California mission, he encountered a thriving population of peaceful and hospitable Native Americans living in the area.

They are fine in stature and carriage, affable and gay. They brought fish and mollusks to us, going out in their canoes just to fish for our benefit. They have danced their native dances for our entertainment,” he wrote in his journal.

In spite of the efforts of Spanish missionaries to convert the San Diego-area Kumeyaay to Christianity and the use of presidio soldiers to subdue them, many bands resented the European intrusion and the Kumeyaay remained the most resistant of all California Indians to subjugation, revolting on several occassions.

In fact, during the night and early morning of November 4 and 5, 1775, a force of Kumeyaay surrounded Mission San Diego de Alcalá, set fire to its wooden structures and attacked a small contingent of Spaniards.

The padre and another Spaniard were killed (the only missionary killed by Indians in California) which prompted expeditions by Presidio soldiers into the mountains and deserts to the east, in search of the Indian leaders and new neophytes for the mission.

This tenuous relationship between the Kumeyaay and the Spanish continued until Mexican independence in 1821. Nonetheless, by the time of mission secularization, the Kumeyaay population had dwindled to about 3,000 due to disease, loss of ancestral lands and various other causes.

After Mexico took over the lands from Spain, they secularized the missions in 1834, and Ipai and Tipais lost their lands; band members had to choose between becoming serfs, trespassers, rebels, or fugitives.

Freed of mission control, most Kumeyaay fled to the mountains where they could not be forced to work for the Mexican settlers or the army, and the population started to rebuild.

From 1870 to 1910, American settlers seized lands, including arable and native gathering lands.

In 1875, President Ulysses Grant created reservations in the area, and additional lands were placed under trust patent status after the passage of the 1891 Act for the Relief of Mission Indians. The reservations tended to be small and lacked adequate water supplies.

Kumeyaay people supported themselves by farming and agricultural wage labor; however, a 20-year drought in the mid-20th century crippled the region’s dry farming economy.

Varying Population of the Kumeyaay people

When the U.S. wrested control of California from Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, most of the mountain Kumeyaay, especially those along the emigrant trails, were seriously affected by the entrance of American settlers. By the time gold was discovered in Julian in 1869, shortly after the Civil War, the Spanish, Mexican and American governments and settlers had changed the Kumeyaay’s way of life forever.

In 1875, the inland Kumeyaay were expelled from their ancestral homes and their land was expropriated.

Their plight was ignored until publicity generated by the Indian Rights Association and the Sequoia League forced the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to set aside lands of the Cuyamaca, La Posta, Manzanita and Laguna Mountains earlier in this century.

In 1925, Alfred L. Kroeber proposed that the population of the Kumeyaay in the San Diego region in 1770 had been about 3,000. More recently, Katharine Luomala points out that this estimate depended on calculations of rates of baptisms at the Mission, and as such “ignores the unbaptized.”

She suggests that the region could have supported 6,000-9,000 people. Florence C. Shipek goes further, estimating 16,000-19,000 inhabitants.

In the late eighteenth century, it is estimated that the Kumeyaay population was between 3,000 and 9,000. In 1828, 1,711 Kumeyaay were recorded by the missions. The 1860 federal census recorded 1,571 Kumeyaay living in 24 villages.

The Kumeyaay population finally began to revive after 1910. The Bureau of Indian Affairs recorded 1,322 Kumeyaay in 1968, with 435 living on reservations. By 1990, an estimated 1,200 lived on reservation lands, while 2,000 lived elsewhere.

Currently there are about 20,000 Kumeyaay descendants in San Deigo County, about 10% of whom live on its 18 reservations, more than in any other county in the United States.

Present Day Kemeyaay

In the last decade, the Sycuan, Barona and Viejas reservations have developed successful bingo and gaming operations.

The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is the owner and operator of a popular and lucrative casino along Interstate 8 in rural San Diego County.

The band is building a $30 million factory outlet mall, owns a bank, and supports an employee workforce of 1,600 people. It also engages in revenue sharing with 7 non-gaming tribes in San Diego County and promotes environmental protection programs.

At Cuyamaca State Park, on State Highway 79, 10 miles east of Julian, Kumeyaay artifacts and a reconstructed village can be seen by visitors. San Diego’s Museum of Man also has an extensive display on the Kumeyaay.

For their common welfare, several reservations formed the non-profit Kumeyaay, Inc.

Modern Day Kumeyaay tribes in the United States:

Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians of the Viejas Reservation

Campo Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of the Campo Indian Reservation – See Campo Kumeyaay Nation

Capitan Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of California

Cuyapaipe Community of Diegueño Mission Indians of the Cuaypaipe Reservation (Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians)

Inaja Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of the Inaja and Cosmit Reservation

Jamul Indian Villiage

La Posta Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of the La Posta Indian Reservation

Manzanita Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of the Manzanita Reservation

Mesa Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of the Mesa Grande Reservation

San Pasqual Band of Diegueno Mission Indians of California

Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueño Mission Indians of the Santa Ysabel Reservation (Iipay)

Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation

Viejas (Baron Long)Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians of the Viejas Reservation

Kumeyaay tribes in Mexico

There are five Kumeyaay communities in Baja California:

Juntas de Neji
La Huerta
San Antonio Necua
Santa Catarina
San José de la Zorra

Other California Indian Tribes