Until gaming on the tribal lands in the 1990s, tribes, like the Rincon Band, located outside the prime agricultural or fishing areas and isolated from the mainstream commercial and retail areas, were unable to generate the revenues needed to advance economically or meet modern government obligations.
California Indians did not have land settlements, known as treaties, nor were they granted rights of citizenship when California became a state in 1850. They suffered great loss, hardship and potential extinction, following the Mexican-American War. It wasn’t until 1875, by executive order of the President of the United States that a small piece of federal land was put into trust for the Rincon people as compensation for their lost homelands.
It was from this piece of land – The Rincon Reservation – that they would cling to hope for a better future, despite poverty and broken promises. Here they would struggle to preserve their culture and traditions; try to adapt to modern times; build a government; and pass along memories to their children of the days when they were free and self-governing.
Before the settlement of the Spanish Missionaries in 1769, the people of Rincon, also known as the Payomkawichum inhabited the mountains, the coastal plains and the river valleys of Northern San Diego County for 10,000 years. They lived lightly and respectfully on the land, moving from seashore to mountains as the seasons and food sources changed. They never took more than they needed. And they used all they took – fish bones as needles, animal skins for winter blankets, bird bones for whistles.
They lived in small family units with thatched huts for homes. Most of their lives were spent outdoors. Women gathered on large, flat rock areas to grind grains and nuts and to prepare and preserve food. Men hunted small and large animals, from rabbits to bears and deer. The people fished the rivers and dined on the many gifts from the sea – clams, abalone and mussels. They collected and grew wild wheat, greens, cactus and berry crops. A dietary staple, the acorn, was transformed into flour and prepared in a variety of ways.
The San Luis Rey River flowed with clear water, from the marshes came the reeds used to make baskets and red clay pottery. Plants and trees offered materials for bows and arrows, sandals and nets.
The people cleared meadows using controlled fires, increasing the wildlife habitat and forest health. They stored water in dams and carved canals to water crops. They had government and religious leaders. There were specialists, who studied the weather, the stars and land, as well as doctors and teachers. They forged trails to other villages through the mountains and deserts to meet and trade with other tribes. The very trails used as the first overland Pony Express and stage coach routes.
The Luiseño wrote and sang songs, made music, danced and held celebrations called Fiestas, within each band and often with others. They played games, including a betting sport, called Peon. And, they always delighted in entertaining and feeding their guests.
Much has changed positively for the Rincon people, as a result of tribal gaming. Today, the land has given them a gift, a chance to once again stand proudly on their own two feet, take care of each other and to find progress as partners in America’s future.