Santa Ysabel Memorial Day Ceremony

By Roy Cook (Gary Burrill photos)

The May 29, 2006 Memorial Day activity at the Santa Ysabel Tribal cemetery is a special event for us all. This is a day of respect for our fallen warriors everywhere. Indian events on Indian land together with traditional tribal hospitality and generosity are the best times. American Indian Warriors Association (AIWA) Honor Guard posted all our eight flags and was accompanied by our AIWA auxiliary for an outstanding showing of patriotism.
Tribal Chairperson John Hernandez and organizer Bonnie Salgado welcomed all to the event. John recognized WW II USN Veteran James ‘Sonny’ Ponchetti. Leroy Elliot, Manzanita Tribal Chairman and Ral Christman, Viejas Band and friends sang Honoring Tucuk Bird songs. Santa Ysabel fallen warriors were honored as USN Desert Storm veteran, Stan Rodriguez read their names A Navy ships bell was rung for each name by USN retired boatswains mate, Jerry Reed.

This Memorial Day as we drove through the turns and valleys of the mist and mountains to Santa Ysabel I am reminded of the historical significance of the location. It seems to me as I move forward that each turn of the road is as I can look back and see a page of the history of California. Further, it is not the miles or time that we travel on this journey into North county but the insight into the heritage of the State and the political basis of this Nation in the modern age.

Many Santa Ysabel members attending knew the boys I grew up with from Santa Ysabel. Most of us have served in some branch of the military. Many of us, in my generation, came through the experience of the Southeast Asia era. In that time, over there and over here: we each represented each other in our military roles. In that time, national attitudes coming back into the civilian world were not at all nice to returning veterans. It is still taking a goodly amount of time for many of us to see our way clear to accept the fact that we are alive and it is OK to be so.

There is a cathartic experience that occurs each and every time we get together. Thank you for allowing me this day, to a part of this band of brothers, a little bent, a little bruised but still willing to help each other out. These experiences are much as those we recall in active service with our military buddy on the line and at our side. What a great bunch of gals and guys- All Warriors.

I was asked to note down some of the historical and Western European impacts to our local tribal peoples: Santa Ysabel Asistencia of the San Diego Mission, established in 1818 by Father Fernando Martin. A brush hut thrown up in that year as a temporary chapel was replaced a few years later by a substantial adobe building. For years after the rest of the church had disappeared one of the mud walls remained and, in spring, was used to form one end of an improvised chapel of brush and reeds, where mass was said for the Indians. The mission bells, said to be the oldest in California, hung the year round on a wooden frame of logs, to call the faithful to worship at that one time. The bells have since been stolen. Following secularization, at Santa Ysabel the US of A. Kearny's command stopped the night before going into action at San Pasqual, December 6,1846. The church, then owned by an English rancher, gave the soldiers shelter from the rain. Some say that wine they were served here contributed to their defeat.

In San Diego, the Kumeyaay village of Cosoy, following the mistreatment of Indian women by Presidio soldiers and need for better agricultural resources, the first European mission was relocated six miles up river to the Kumeyaay village of Nipaguay. San Diego Presidio Comandante Francisco Maria Ruiz received the first land grant in San Diego county for "meritorious service." Like many other recipients of land grants, Ruiz used Los Penasquitos Rancho (Little Cliffs), a 8,484 acre tract, for cattle grazing. During the Mexican Republic period, between 1823 and 1846, governors gave friends or relatives thousands of acres for ranching, Spanish-Mexican military officers also received plots of land below Presidio Hill and built houses there, the beginning of Old Town San Diego.

In 1848 gold was discovered in northern California. By 1849 the first passenger ships began arriving in California with gold prospectors. This year San Diego was incorporated. A river ferry opened in the territory of the Quechan to ferry migrants over the Colorado River on their way to California. On April 23, 1850, the Quechan attacked the ferry and burned the structures. By December, U.S. soldiers had established Fort Yuma in the Quechan territory to secure the overland route into California.

The flood of Americans through the overland route drove out the Kumeyaay from the San Felipe Valley, the New River and Alamo Rivers. The Sh’mulqs from those areas fled to the Mohave, Quechan and to other Sh’mulqs of the Kumeyaay both north and south of the border. In 1850 California was granted U.S. statehood. This was also the year California passed the "Act for the Government and Protection of Indians". Under this Act Indians were to be regulated at the state level. This was a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1832, (Worcester vs. Georgia), which recognized the Federal Government as the authority for dealing with Indians. The Act also gave whites the right to take custody and control of any Indian children, prohibited using Indian testimony in convicting a White, prohibited setting fire to grasslands and other restrictions.

One of the worst provisions was the vagrancy provision that allowed unemployed Indians to be arrested and hired out to Whites for four-month increments. In many cases the Indian was immediately re-arrested at the end of the four months, creating a revolving door of forced servitude. In other cases, the four-month limit was simply ignored. In 1851, San Diego Sheriff Agoston Haraszthy decreed that Indians were obligated to pay local taxes. The failure to pay the tax resulted in confiscation of land and property of San Diego County Indians.

Mataguay, San Felipe and San José, only a few miles to the southwest, were Kumeyaay (Diegueño) villages. I am still working on these village histories.

Finally, we must always remember that our Indian Veterans of the Military who gave so much so that our people may enjoy the freedom to be ourselves. Our Indian land is forever Indian land. It matters little what others say or what paper labels nor what legalism defines or fences separate. It is all Indian land. The Grandfathers said so.

You need only to look across the tribal members faces assembled at the Santa Ysabel Memorial Day ceremony to see the true richness of the state reflected. I am referring to the true value inherited and not extracted from the natural resources. Songs, stories, family, culture and language are indeed the true richness of the golden state.
We extend our appreciation to The Santa Ysabel Band of Diegueno and those AIWA members and family who represented the organization in respectful attendance and service to our Indian veterans. It does not get better than that. There is a spiritual quality to the day that exceeds: Pow wows, parades, films fairs or the beach. Fallen Warriors of many conflicts are not forgotten in the hearts of their Tribal relatives. Mehan, Ipai.