Descendants of Early Native Point Lomans Speak Out

by on September 23, 2014 · 6 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Pt Loma La Playa Indians Sept2014

L to R: Jaime Labrake, Steve Banegas, Ana Rodriguez, Stanley Rodriguez,and Paul Cuero.

Local Indians Called Point Loma “Mat Loan

By Charlie Best / Special to the OB Rag

Five elders of the Kumeyaay Nation spoke out in Point Loma on Tuesday, September 16th. At the invitation of La Playa Trail Association, they presented an hour-long program at the Point Loma Assembly, where roughly 60 people attending the event – with strong contingent coming from OB.

Campo chairman Paul Cuero kicked off the affair with an overview of the Kumeyaay Nation, which we learned is made up of 12 bands living in 13 reservations north of the Mexican border, and five communities spread throughout northern Baja California. Kumeyaay are responsible for the protection of a little over three million acres in San Diego County.

Paul added that many of the place names in San Diego County, heretofore thought to be Spanish, are in fact Kumeyaay. For instance La Jolla means “close to the ocean,” Jamul means “rainwater,” and Palomar means “arrow.” Kumeyaay, itself, means “those who face the water from a cliff,” a possible reference to Sunset Cliffs, La Jolla, and Torrey Pines.

Jaime Labrake of the Sycuan Band added that both the modern Kumeyaay and their distant ancestors have been coming to Mat Loan, -the Point Loma Peninsula -for at least the last 12,000 years. It was here that they gathered mussels, fished, and harvested a lucrative crop of abalone shells that they traded with the Arizona tribes.

Steve Benegas, of the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, noted that the Kumeyaay’s primary means of communication was via runners who effortlessly averaged 120 miles a day.

Paul Cuero interjected that on November 5, 1775, when a large confederation of local tribes burned the Mission San Diego, the Colorado River Indians were well aware of it the same day via runners.

Stanley Rodriguez of the San Isabel Band of the Ipai Nation stated that before close contact with the Europeans, many of the elders managed to live well over a century.

The night’s event had began auspiciously enough with the fortuitous appearance of a gargantuan rainbow spanning the northern sky from Torrey Pines to deep in the heart of the Mexican Sierras.

To this author, this was made all the more cogent by the fact that two years ago, in November of 2012, Rainbow, a north county hamlet, was saved by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, cousins of the Kumeyaay. The Pechanga Tribe purchased 354 acres of their sacred Pu’eska Mountain, near Temecula, from a northern California mining company who had planned to exploit the property. Now, thanks to the Indians, it’s forever wild.

In response to a question from the audience concerning the current re-incarnation of Cabrillo’s galleon, San Salvador, currently under construction in Spanish Landing Park, Ana Gloria Rodriguez of the Sycuan Cultural Department expressed a few reservations about the Kumeyaay’s supposed enthusiasm over the arrival of the Europeans.

The evening ended on an exceptionally upbeat note with a mutual desire for continued cultural interaction between the Europeans and the Indians. A video of the Kumeyaay has been made, of which they are very proud and would like to share. Additionally, Cabrillo National Monument is reported to be in the throes of making an additional video on the Kumeyaay.

Stunning displays of Indian artifacts by Kumeyaay archivist Carl Shipek, a gallery of historical photographs by Joanne Hickey, as well as a wine bar and groaning buffet table orchestrated by Dee Kettenburg lent a pleasant bit of counterpoint to the whole affair.

The annual La Playa Trail Lecture Series began in the spring of 2013 as fundraiser and means of promoting the importance of the history along the La Playa Trail, which dates from prehistoric times and boasts over 70 registered historic landmarks.

More info on the Kumeyaay can be obtained online at and the La Playa Trail Association at .

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Wireless Mike September 23, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I recall reading that Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Mission Bay and the San Diego River Delta were shared by the various bands of Kumeyaay people as a common hunting and fishing area, but not belonging to any one group. Can anyone confirm this?


Frank Gormlie September 23, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Richard Carrico made the point at the OBHS event that most Kumeyaay villages were seasonal, and in his book, he displays a map of many former village sites, including several around OB and the Point. But since there was no fresh water – outside from the River – nothing was permanent. Mike – he did not address that subject – but his book, Stolen Lands, is a good start.


Wireless Mike September 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Frank, I will check out that book, sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip.

When I was a kid, Carl Shipek Sr. was a leader in my Boy Scout troop. (His son David and I were in the same class.) Mr. Shipek taught us a lot about nature and Indian ways. He taught me respect for Native American culture. It was many years later that I learned about the work of his wife, Dr. Florence Shipek, with the Kumeyaay Nation. I give a nod of respect to the Shipek family.


Marc Snelling September 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm

The pre-contact Kumeyaay had ways of maximizing San Diego County fresh water resources. Building rock structures that collect the rainwater, especially on the desert side of the mountains. Seasonal living really makes a lot more sense. Who wouldn’t want to live in the desert in the winter, the beach in the spring and fall and the mountains in the summer if they could? Their presence in the area predates the border by 10,000 plus years. It is just one more injustice of the border that the Kumeyaay Nation is separated by it.


OB Mercy September 23, 2014 at 2:07 pm

As an archaeologist, my company worked on the OB Gateway project at W. Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs, a Kumeyaay site.


Byron September 23, 2014 at 10:45 pm

While serving on the SD City Council in 2000, I was able to fund OBCDC for the acquisition of the old Anthony’s Pizza site and removal of the billboard making way for the OB entryway. The project required an archaeologist review and the report confirmed to us significant layers of mussel shells from a few core samples taken at intersection of West Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs Blvd confirming the existence of a Kumeyaay site. Additionally, the alignment of West Point Loma parcels backed up to a channel at the edge of the mean high tide line before dredging filled in Robb Field and Dusty Rhodes Park which are California State Tidelands and technically a part of Mission Bay Park.


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