Imperial Beach Powwow by the Sea to Celebrate Kumeyaay History, Culture

The IB Powwow by the Sea will not only provide two days of family fun, but will also serve as a reminder of what the area's inhabitants and their culture looked like centuries ago.

The will be held Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The free, family oriented, culturally enriching event will celebrate Native American arts, crafts and culture.

The Soaring Eagle Youth Group will return, and this year's theme will be "Honoring our Ancestors" and an emphasis will be placed on Kumeyaay heritage, said organizer at The BRIDGE.

While a number of residents and tourists from throughout the county may make the trip to IB this weekend, few know the rich cultural history behind the Powwow’s inception.

Lipay Nation of Santa Isabel Tribal Consultant and Native American Monitor Clint Linton said that until the 1800s, the Kumeyaay tribe made areas within and surrounding IB their home for at least 5,000 years.

“On the north side of the strand, right on that area of the north end of 13th Street there was a large occupation village,” Linton said.  

“They would have been living off of and utilizing the ocean and the water resources from the outlet that’s right there. Because of that, there is a good chance that there are human remains in that area, which is why we are being cautious with that excavation.”

The results of the excavation are expected to be released within a few months.

A second village, the Melijo village, was located near Border Field State Park in the . 

“The Melijo village was largely fused with the Tijuana estuary, which was arguably the best ever in the world at one time,” Linton said. 

The Kumeyaay lived in that area happily until about the 1890’s, said San Diego State University Department of American Indian Studies and Recuerdos Research Professor Richard L. Carrico, until they were marginalized and “pushed out of the area due to racism,” he said.

“When the trains were built and the land was subdivided, communities began being built down there and it was part of the American dream to not include Indian people in that,” Carrico said.

In his book, Strangers in a Stolen Land, Carrico describes how the tribes were cast aside and either pushed into the mountain areas or began working as cooks or farm hands.  He also speaks of a marked population decline within the culture due to the introduction of smallpox, measles and malaria by Spanish settlers and missionaries.

“Between 1769 and 1880 the population declined from about 20,000 to 3,000 due to disease,” he said.  “And of the population that was left, some traveled east and stayed in the hills while the others attached themselves to white or rich Mexican families in what was almost a type of feudalism or servitude.”

 Through the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the Kumeyaay were kept in a subservient role and were treated “much like African Americans were in the south,” he said.

“They weren’t allowed to go to white schools, so many of them pretended like they were Mexican because Mexicans were perceived to be white,” Carrico said.  “The unemployment rate within the community was high, and education levels were low.”

That began to change in the 1970s and 1980s.

“They built schools so the education rate went up. Kids began going to high school and those who graduated from high school went onto college,” he said.  “The unemployment rate dropped and medical care improved.”

Linton said that today there are 12 different and vibrant reservations located throughout the county. 

“They’re still mostly located in the mountains and surrounding areas in East County,” he said.  “The closest ones to IB would be in Jamul and Sycuan.”

Carricio said he has seen a marked revitalization of cultural perseverance within the Kumeyaay culture since he began teaching at SDSU in 1985.

“They are relearning their own language, which had almost been lost,” he said.  “And communities are glad to see that the population today is now back at to what it was in 1765.  There is a Renaissance going on within the culture and I think that’s a very positive thing. “


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