At California’s first State Constitutional Convention, those assembled voted to eliminate the Indians’ right to vote because they feared the potential power of an Indian vote. In 1850, “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians” was enacted by the first session of the California State Legislature. This law set the tone for Indian-White relations to come.
The act ensured that, “in no case shall a ‘white man’ be convicted of any offense upon the testimony of an Indian or Indians,” and whites “would be able to obtain control of Indian children.” This section would eventually be used to justify and provide for Indian slavery. Furthermore, if any Indian was convicted of a crime, any White person could come before the court and contract for the Indian’s services, and in return, would pay the Indian’s fine. This law was widely abused to use Indians as laborers. With passage of the Government and Protection Act of 1850, the State of California forcibly itself on the Indians, with the goal of exterminating the Indian nations and taking millions of acres of rich Indian lands and resources.
In 1875, after generations of terrible mistreatment of the Indians, the United States government, under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant, signed a Presidential Executive Order setting aside specific lands in San Diego County for the exclusive use and residence of the Kumeyaay. The current 640 acre—one square mile—Sycuan Indian Reservation in Dehesa Valley was included in Grant’s Executive Order.
True, the beautiful Kumeyaay ancestral lands secured for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation were remote, harsh, and not well suited for farming, but the Sycuan people—because of their endurance, resilience, and intelligence managed to survive. In 1891, with passage of the Act for the Relief of the Mission Indians, the United States recognized the sovereign status of the California Indians. Today, the people of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation stand proud, making the most of their relatively small reservation land base. Mindful of their rich ancestral past, the self-reliant members of Sycuan are planning and working diligently for the benefit of their future generations.
Expressed in Western European terms, for more than 12,000 years before Europeans arrived to this region of the world, the Kumeyaay people have inhabited their traditional territory, which is now commonly called “San Diego County” and “Imperial County.” It is astonishing to realize that the Kumeyaay people were living and thriving in their traditional territory long before the pyramids in Egypt were built.