Our Creation Story
People of the Pines
High in the San Bernardino mountains at Yuhaaviat, an area of pine trees near present day Big Bear Lake, Kü̱ktac our Creator laid dying. When Kü̱ktac died, the people began to mourn and their grief turned into pine trees, which enriched the land with vegetation and animals, allowing for future generations to thrive.
The people who lived at Yuhaaviat were known as the Yuhaaviatam, or “People of the Pines”, and were a clan of Maara’yam (Serrano) people. Our people, now known as the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, are the Yuhaaviatam clan of Maara’yam (Serrano) and continue the tradition of holding sacred the land and everything it provides.
The Yuhaaviatam Clan of the Maara’yam (Serrano)
The first Spanish explorers of the area identified our ancestors as the “Serrano” people, the Spanish term for “highlander.” Many terms have been used in many languages to describe our people. We use the word Maara’yam, the People of Maara’, to describe all peoples known today as Serrano. The name Yuhaaviatam, or People of the Pines, refers to the Serrano clan of our progenitor, Santos Manuel.
As a result of colonization, our Tribe is modernly known as the “San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.” The name “San Manuel” comes from a Yuhaaviatam leader that was known by his Spanish name of “Santos Manuel”. The term “Mission Indians” originated from the 21 missions established by Spanish settlers along California’s coast between 1769 and 1823, from San Diego, CA to Sonoma, CA.
Contact and Post-Contact
- During the 1700s, the California Mission System was established, leading to the murder of thousands of California indigenous people. Those that survived long enough to be absorbed into the Missions themselves were forced to give up their traditions in favor of western ways of life.
Many of our people, the Maara’yam (Serrano), were taken from the Antelope Valley, Mojave River region, and even the Inland Empire and placed in the San Gabriel Mission, which was established in 1771. Mission records report contact with clans at the villages of Guachama and Yukaipa’t and the subsequent baptisms of those Maara’yam (Serrano) people at Mission San Gabriel in 1776.
In 1775, the Missions established new rancho outposts, or estancias, across the region, increasing their influence by creating a system or chain of structures that would become essential in their communities.
- An estancia in Redlands, modernly known as the Asistencia, was established in 1819. This outpost held many Maara’yam (Serrano) people, as well as other indigenous people from nearby regions, using them as labor for mission support. One notable feat was the building of the Mill Creek Zanja, which is a massive irrigation system that extends from the base of the San Bernardino Mountains through Mentone, Redlands, and Loma Linda. This feature supported the agriculture across the region, within which many indigenous people served as labor, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the notation that it was built by Serrano men.
In addition to the Mission system and agricultural industry, opportunities related to mining and the Gold Rush drastically changed California, bringing in new settlers who created ranches, farms, mines, and logging camps. Not only did these newcomers want to establish ownership over the land, but they also wanted to utilize it without obstruction. As a result, indigenous people who remained on their ancestral lands were viewed as a nuisance, and were often the victim of harsh treatment and violence.
- One such group of people was our clan, the Yuhaaviatam, or “People of the Pines”, of Maara’yam (Serrano) people who had remained in our homelands across the Big Bear Valley. In 1866, as anti-Native American sentiment ran high, a skirmish between settlers and non-Maara’yam (Serrano) Native Americans in the Summit Valley triggered a month-long killing spree of our peoples across the Big Bear area by a San Bernardino militia. Our Kiika’, or Tribal Leader, Santos Manuel, led the remaining Yuhaaviatam, only 20-30 people in number, away from our mountainous homelands into the San Bernardino Valley.
Over the next few decades, our people ventured through the valley along Warm Creek, running into unwelcome settlers who reacted harshly to our presence. We began near what is now known as the National Orange Show Event Center, then moved on to Meadowbrook Park, and finally made our way to the Harlem Springs area before being completely removed from the landscape and placed on the San Manuel Reservation in 1891.
The Act of Relief for Mission Indians was passed in 1891, which recognized the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians’ inherent rights to self-govern as a sovereign nation, as bestowed upon them by the Creator.
- Following the establishment of the Reservation, the federal government would continue to make decisions on our behalf, dictating what we could and could not do as an independent nation. Our Tribe fought to rebuild our community in a way that remained true to our culture and tradition, as well as honored the gift and responsibility bestowed upon us by our Creator.
In the 1960s and 70s, nationwide protests strengthened relations between Native Americans and the federal government. Following a message by President Richard Nixon recommending a policy of self-determination for Indian Tribes in 1970, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was signed into law in 1975 and allowed San Manuel, and all Federally-recognized Tribes, to finally exercise our retained inherent right to self-governance.
A more secure economy that followed the introduction of Tribal government gaming in the mid-1980s on the Reservation enabled our Tribe to rebuild its governance capacity. With our government-recognized independence intact and our future in mind, we began to explore opportunities for new businesses both on and off the Reservation.
- Our Tribal government oversees many governmental units, and focuses on building infrastructure, maintaining civil services, and promoting social, economic, and cultural development.
- Our Tribe operates San Manuel Casino® and is one of the largest employers in the Inland Empire area.
- We support neighboring communities and Indian County through financial contributions for education, health and wellness, economic development, and cultural projects.
Our people in the San Manuel Reservation are the indigenous people of the San Bernardino highlands, passes, valleys, and mountains. Our Maara’yam (Serrano) ancestral territory covers present day Antelope Valley on the west, southwest Mojave Desert to the north, portions of San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains in the center, Inland Empire north of the city of Riverside to the south, and the city of Twentynine Palms to the east.
As the the Yuhaaviatam clan of Maara’yam from Big Bear Valley, Krukat our Creator gave us the responsibility to steward all of Serrano ancestral territory.