Kumeyaay - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Southern California Indians had a mixed economy: plant husbandry, agriculture, and collecting, combined with hunting and fishing. They tried all food, medicinal, and technological plants in every ecological niche from the Colorado River to the coast, increasing plant diversity to protect against famine during droughts. Techniques included planting seeds, vegetative cuttings, transplanting, various water guidance systems, and controlled burning in sequences of from one to fifteen years according to foods planted in an area. Staples were acorns, an extinct grain, and a small white bean, with maize and squash added in mountain and desert areas having summer rain or irrigation water. Game included deer, antelope, mountain sheep, rabbit, and fowl. European crops, fruits, and domestic animals expanded beyond the missions. When American armies and settlers entered, southern California Indians began commercial agriculture along immigration routes and near settlements. By 1870, settlers had taken their best land. In 1891, commercial farming and ranching started again on trust reservations, combined with wage labor. Crops included fruits, nuts, vegetables, chickens, sheep, and cattle. Then non-Indians diverted water from reservations and the Indians lost their orchards, crops, and animals. Labor for non-Indians increased to include skilled and professional positions. Now income comes from off-reservation employment, reservation economic development, Social Security, retirement pensions, and some government jobs and grants.

Industrial Arts. Finely coiled baskets designed in tans, red, and black ranged from a few inches to over two feet in diameter. Women from leadership families made ceremonial basket hats with small colored feathers woven in the design. Abalone pendants and elaborate shell necklaces were made. Other crafts included pottery, manufacture of stone beads, pendants, and arrowshaft straighteners.

Trade. Using shell money or barter, extensive intra- and intertribal trade existed between coastal and inland villages and the Southwest. The Spanish complained of the Indians' trading acumen.

Division of Labor. Women planted and harvested most crops, gathered shellfish, and caught small game. They prepared and cooked food, made clothes, basketry, pottery, nets, and the tools they used. Men made their own tools, nets, weapons, and sacred equipment, and hunted, fished at sea, participated in the harvest of grain, acorn, and pine nut crops, cleared fields, and managed controlled burning. Men were political, military, and religious leaders, healers, and economic (ecological) specialists; many women were also healing specialists. The missions and Mexicans demanded heavy labor from both men and women, such as pulling plows and making adobes. Now both men and women are in skilled and professional positions, and participate in tribal Government.

Land Tenure. National, band, family, and individual territory existed. National territory, open to all Kumeyaay, included trails between villages, sacred mountains, and certain mountain, desert, and coastal areas considered wild, except for tribal controlled burning. Each band had a primary village territory and specific mountain, desert, and coastal areas. Within the band territory, the band-owned land included trails, religious and band meeting areas, and harvest areas used and tended by the group under the chief's direction. Bands had sacred solstice and equinox mountains, sacred healing areas, and an eagle's nest. Each sib lineage owned land divided between families as strips extending from valley bottom to ridge top. Each family tended and harvested its own land. Specialists individually used and owned specific sacred or healing plants or other resources. Water sources and springs were owned at each level from individual to tribal. Some reservations were allotted when trust-patented, and each allottee received inheritable trust ownership of the allotment. Some had trust homesteads outside reservation Boundaries. The federal government is trustee of reservation land, allotted and unallotted, and homesteads. Few allotments have been taken out of trust or sold (a sole-survivor claimant took one reservation out of trust). Some have used wages to purchase and pay taxes on nontrust land.

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