Reclaiming cultural sovereignty: Tribal environmental programs at Cahuilla and Twenty-Nine Palms (California)

Anthony Louis Madrigal
Dept. of History, University of California, Riverside
July, 2005


This paper examines the building of contemporary tribal environmental programs at the Indian reservations of the Cahuilla Band of Indians and the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Indians in Riverside, County, California. The paper reviews the history of each tribes' long relationship with their lands, waters and environment through oral histories, songs and stories. This history discloses tribal customs and traditions and a fund of traditional knowledge with regard to the environment, lands, plants and animals. The paper then examines the role that this history, customs and traditional knowledge play in the building of contemporary tribal environmental programs.
The paper also reviews these tribal environmental programs development and achievements with respect to implementing protective measures for natural and cultural resources and the process of working cooperatively with non-Indian groups and agencies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The paper concludes that these tribal customs, traditional knowledge and land tenure practices are a foundation for developing effective tribal programs and institutions that will successfully protect the reservation environment. The building of these tribal programs is an exercise of 'cultural sovereignty' in that these contemporary programs are built on a foundation of history and tradition and express a contemporary tribal vision with respect to how the people relate to their environment. This serves as a guide for fashioning contemporary tribal programs and policies for protection of the environment.