San Manuel Indians Claim
Tribal Connection To Skeletal Remains

Brilliant maneuver could be to stymie
Barstow's proposed casino.

Posted:  January 21, 2012

    In late August 2011, a human skull and a bone were discovered adjacent the Mojave River in Newberry Springs.  The skeletal pieces were examined by the San Bernardino County Coroner's office and determined to be the old remains of an American Indian.

    When such remains are discovered, a question arises as to which tribe they belong.  Under a state law, the coroner notified the California Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) which in turn notified certain entities, such as surrounding tribes that might be possible descendants.  The NAHC then makes a "Most Likely Descendant" (MLD) determination for the release and deposition of the remains.

    The bones were discovered along an ancient trade route that followed the Mojave River, a unique river that stretches across a portion of the massive Mojave Desert.  The river served an adjacent trail that connected tribes of coastal Southern California with tribes along the Colorado River and the tribal nations of the Southwest.

    The trading route was used by many tribes both regional and distant.  Pacific Ocean sea shells and products are known to have been traded and retraded as far away as Saint Louis.  Other trade items from the Great Basin and elsewhere were transported along this river route to the coast.

    The river also served the Vanyume Indians who had settlements along much of the river.  The adjacent trail was also used by the Chemehuevi tribe and small hunting parties and acorn gathering groups from tribes accessing the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains from outlying regions.  Acorns could be gathered, stored, and later ground into a porridge.

    Upon notice of the bones being of Indian descent, the NAHC quickly designated the San Manuel tribe as the Most Likely Descendant despite no evidence of a direct tribal connection to the San Manuel tribe.

Indian Seal representing the Indigenous people of California.

    According to San Manuel spokesman, Jacob Coin, "The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians are Serrano people whose ancestors inhabited the Newberry Springs area.  It is on that basis that the California Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC), a state government agency, has designated San Manuel as the Most Likely Descendant (MLD) for the purposes of recommending disposition of human remains that were discovered in the Newberry Springs area."

    Some liberties appear to have been taken in the statement and analysis.  "Serrano" means "mountainous" and refers to a language and people that lived basically in the San Bernardino and the San Garbriel mountain areas.

    The Serrano people in the San Bernardino mountain area would travel north for the winter into the Lucerne and Apple Valleys.

    The Vanyume were desert Indians who lived along the Mojave River from about Victorville northward.  The Vanyume spoke Vanyume, a related dialect of Serrano; but the Vanyume were not mountainous inhabitants and they were not of the San Manuel people.

    It is highly doubtful that the discovered skeletal remains have any ancestral connection to the San Manuel tribe since many tribes used the water route over centuries and it was the Vanyume that actually lived there.

    The San Manuel tribe is believed be a descendant branch of the Cahuilla people who are believed to have first settled in the Coachella Valley.  The San Manuel people settled into the San Bernardino mountains that had plentiful water, good hunting and vegetation without a need to forage with questionable survival in the High Desert near the Vanyume villages in the Newberry Springs area.

    So why did the California Native American Heritage Commission quickly designate the San Manuel tribe as the Most Likely Descendant?  There isn't any scientific evidence!  There isn't even any knowledge that the decedent spoke Serrano.

James Ramos

    The answer may lie within the NAHC itself in Sacramento.  The chairperson is James Ramos who was appointed in 2007 by Governor Arnold Schwarenegger.  Chairman Ramos is also a member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and is a member of the San Bernardino Community College District Board of Trustees.  He is a candidate for the San Bernardino County's Third District supervisor seat currently held by Neil Derry; and, he previously served as Chairman of the San Manuel Gaming Commission.

    The connection may be with the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians desire to build a casino in Barstow that would compete with the San Manuel casino.  To win casino approval, the Los Coyotes Band has claimed a historical tie to the Barstow region, claiming that its early tribal members used the area to hunt and forage.

    The San Manuel tribe has countered that, "The (San Manuel) tribe is of the mind that this is an encroachment on their ancestral lands."

    The San Manuel tribe, whose ancestral lands separate the Los Coyotes Band from the High Desert, claim that the area was used by their tribe and not by those of the Los Coyotes.  Jacob Coin, the tribal spokesman for San Manuel, has been earlier quoted as saying, "the San Manuels have long opposed the (Barstow casino) project and would continue to make their opposition known."

    At last report, the remains are still with the county coroner's office; but the word of repatriation has been leaked from the San Manuel tribe to the Community Alliance.

    Should the San Manuel Indians give honored repatriation tribal status to the remains, it could be the prelude to an evidentiary claim that it was their tribe that used the Barstow area and that the area further contains sacred burial grounds; another claim to help block the Los Coyotes Band from building a competing casino in Barstow.


    Note:  An e-mail inquiry sent to the California Native American Heritage Commission 3-days before this posting seeking additional information has not been responded to as of this posting date.