The Kumeyaay Period in Mission Trails Regional Park

by Ruth Alter, Archaeologist

The Kumeyaay were the first people to extensively live within and make use of the lands that became part of Mission Trails Regional Park. There are more than 30 Kumeyaay sites in the Park, all overseen and protected by Park staff. As long as 1,000 years ago, the Kumeyaay began occupying the village they called "Senyaweche", a large portion of which is located beneath what is now the Carleton Oaks Golf Course and Santee housing tracts. Occupants of Senyaweche are believed to have been part of the labor force conscripted by the Mission padres to construct the Mission Dam. The village endured well into the historic period, with its inhabitants finally dispersing between 1900 and 1910, after the land was purchased by American ranchers and farmers. A few Kumeyaay remained even after this period, working as ranch or farm hands.

Today, tribal territorial jurisdiction for the area is claimed by the Viejas band of Kumeyaay. Traditional Kumeyaay villages were arranged in a dispersed pattern. Unlike European villages where houses were frequently clustered together, Kumeyaay families preferred living further apart. Often, brothers would establish houses near one another or their parents, although no set pattern was strictly followed. Some of the sites found in Mission Trails Regional Parks represent Kumeyaay living areas. To the Kumeyaay of the past and traditional Kumeyaay of today, the land itself and all its features and resources were and are powerful living entities. People were part of the natural world and in exchange for receiving the benefits that the land, plants, and animals provided, people had certain responsibilities toward them. The land had to be kept clean, which meant burning off the understory beneath the oaks each year; large game animals had to be killed respectfully which entailed following prescribed rituals, and in particular, water courses were specially cared for, with banks and river beds kept free of debris. The Kumeyaay were able to manipulate resources to suit their needs. They dammed rivers to create bathing pools for themselves and as places for turtles and fish to live. Their annual burning off of brush attracted deer to specific areas, and they knew how to grow plants from seed or transplant them to desired locations.

It is likely that the Park's natural landscape was altered in the past by Kumeyaay intervention. The Park and its surrounding areas would have provided a vast variety of materials for food, medicine, tools, clothing, and shelter. Acorns and grass seeds were gathered to be pounded into meal. Tule reeds, willow, and juncus found along the San Diego River became rafts or house thatching, bark skirts for women and girls, and coiled or twined baskets. Flat granite rocks became kitchen grinding surfaces, and quartz was fashioned into projectile points to tip arrows. Even the clay dug from along the banks of the river could have been fashioned into pottery storage jars, cooking pots, or bowls. Whatever resources present in the Park found their way into knowing Kumeyaay hands.

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