Kumeyaay Tribal Members: Tipis at Lake Cuyamaca Campground Are Cultural Appropriation and Need to Be Removed

by on September 22, 2022 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, History, San Diego

Members of local Kumeyaay tribes are understandably upset that the operators of the Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District have recently added tipis as rental options in their campground.

The tipis are replicas of the traditional dwellings of Indigenous Plains communities and not of local native peoples, the Kumeyaay.

Emily Burgueno, a member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the tipis are out of place, that using them as rentals is cultural appropriation of Native American heritage, and they needed to be removed. She said of the Park District:

“They’re not trying to educate with these structures, they are profiting off these structures.”

Olivia Chilcote, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University and a member of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians, echoed those sentiments.

It’s inappropriate when members of one ethnic community adopt or profit from the practices or customs of another, especially one that has been historically marginalized, Chilcote said. One common example of this is seen at Halloween with the donning of headdresses or costumes that mimic Native American regalia. She said:

“It is detrimental to Native communities because it erases the significance of different cultural items or cultural regalia, and it also reflects these other histories of colonization and conquest.”

Bernice Paipa, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel chairwoman, Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Council chairwoman and Burgueno’s mother, educated the U-T reporter, Lauren Mapp, who wrote:

Traditionally known as Cuyamac — Kumeyaay for “the water behind the clouds” — the lake is a sacred place for the community, Bernice Paipa said.

“There’s many creation stories that go along with that area,” Paipa said. “There’s villages all over that area up there, and the people have been displaced from that area. It’s all private land now — or forestry or parks — and none of it is ours.”

Mapp reported:

Burgueno said she has tried to contact the district via phone and social media to share the history of her people. The district’s Instagram account manager told her they had passed the message onto the general manager who would in turn share it with the board of directors, but Burgueno has not heard back.

In late August, the district posted images of the tipis announcing they were available to rent on its Facebook and Instagram accounts. Comments criticizing them as being culturally appropriative were deleted, then new comments were blocked, and later, the Instagram post was removed.

Butch Paddock, general manager of the district, told Mapp:

“If those women approached me, I’d be happy to sit down and talk with them about it.”

Paddock said he was unaware that there was an issue with the tipis, and in fact, they were installed as a cheaper option to building new cabins.

“We’ve been watching the Internet and saw that they were very likable,” he said, adding that the district wanted “to rent them out as a novel thing that would be different from regular tent camping, RV camping, sleeping cabins and cabins.”

The district’s website says the three tipi campsites are available for $65-$75 per night. … Paddock said he heard comments were left on the Instagram and Facebook posts, but that no one had contacted him directly.

In the past, Paddock said, the district has worked with local Indigenous groups, allowing the harvest of bulrush at the lake used to build traditional Kumeyaay ‘ewaa home structures in the nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. He said anyone is welcome to comment about the tipis during the district’s next public meeting, on October 13 at 34560 Engineers Road in Julian.

Burgueno and two others spoke out against the tipis during a meeting earlier this month of the Helix Water District board of directors. The water district oversees water utility in parts of East County, but doesn’t have jurisdiction over Lake Cuyamaca or its campground. Still, they said they would address the concerns at their next meeting on Oct. 13.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page September 22, 2022 at 1:13 pm

I’m not a huge fan of all this political correctness, but this upset by the indigenous people of this area is absolutely justified. Tipis? It would have been much smarter and probably more interesting to tourists, to build traditional structures as authentically as possible. This owner may be a good person but they need to realize they made a mistake.


retired botanist September 22, 2022 at 6:20 pm

yep, Geoff, I concur. The PC may seem OTT, but we’re not wearing the shoes. Create a similar “rustic experience” if you must, with tents or cabins, or how about just bed rolls for historic authenticity? :) From their POV, its making a theme park from someone else’s way of life. I’m sure it wasn’t the owner’s intention to reappropriate, but in our diverse culture, we must be sensitive to these cultural signatures.


Frank Gormlie September 23, 2022 at 9:55 am

The “owner” works for us, the county and/ or the state. He erected the tipis in our name at Lake Cuyamaca campgrounds. This is NOT private property.


Geoff Page September 23, 2022 at 11:46 am

I had to educate myself on this because I always thought it was a state park. But, it is a bit confusing. The Helix Water District owns 12 square miles that includes the lake. It’s hard to find the actual borders of the Helix property but it looks like the campground is on that property on the lake side of the highway. Two state parks surround most of the lake except for piece on the north side south of Julian.

The Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District operates the facility. It gets confusing because the District is recognized by the county.

According to https://www.sdlafco.org/home/showpublisheddocument/2544/636914605826030000

“The Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District Act (Chapter 1654 of Statutes of 1961) established a five member District Board of Directors appointed by the Board of Supervisors.”

I’m guessing the District has some kind of concession agreement with a vendor who put up the tipis. Or, they did it themselves?


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