New Addition to Old Town State Park Honors the First People Kumeyaay

by on November 3, 2021 · 0 comments

in History, San Diego

From SOHO Newsletter

In 2006, SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons wrote an impassioned, history-rich appeal to San Diegans to write and speak out against Caltrans’s plan to sell its surplus Old Town office property—a 2.5-acre site at the corner of Juan and Taylor Streets that it had already promised the Old Town Planning Group that it would go to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. For thousands of years this land had been a Kumeyaay settlement along the San Diego River.

SOHO contacted then-Assemblyman Juan Vargas, who, aided by the late Senator James Mill introduced a bill, with SOHO’s backing, for California to acquire the property to expand the park and interpret this “lost” corner to honor Kumeyaay heritage and culture and the connection to the river. SOHO continued to lead this charge for many years, and with significant cost—when Caltrans committed to sell the property to buyers and successfully litigated to cancel the sale.

Working with political leaders, then Senator Christine Kehoe, and now Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, took the leads, along with park supervisor Clay Phillips and Richard Dennison who worked rigorously in expanding public support, and advocating for a rare opportunity to reclaim a unique part of our heritage.

Now, 15 years later, this seminal vision is a reality. On October 26, 2021, Old Town San Diego Historic State Park celebrated its first expansion in more than a quarter century: a new outdoor public gathering area, Iipay ~ Tipai Kumeyaay Mut Niihepok (Land of the First People). Members of Kumeyaay Nation, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, guided the effort, working with parks staff, artists, historians, and other stakeholders.

Serving as a natural front entrance to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, this prominent corner now bears the fruits of a native garden and native knowledge. A large round mosaic represents the summer sky and Kumeyaay cosmology. Benches bear brilliant paintings of local animals and landscapes. Stone markers depict the animals with their Kumeyaay names. A dry riverbed evokes the former location of the San Diego river.

The eloquent Kumayaay response to this new sacred place: “We stand upon thousands of generations of Kumeyaay footsteps, in honor and respect to that history and the ancient values they passed down to us. We celebrate the dedication of this tranquil, welcoming space where our ancestors lived, loved, died, and wrote our history in the land,” said Johnny Eagle Spirit Elliott, Chairman of the Kumeyaay Diegueño Land Conservancy.

Land of the First People digital story map in Kumeyaay, Spanish, and English with 10 stops ()

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park has long been the most visited of the California state historic parks. SOHO congratulates the Kumeyaay Nation and the park on this meaningful first step in sharing Kumeyaay culture and heritage with a broader, most appreciative audience.

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