Located at the Northwest corner of Washington and 111 in La Quinta, you will find a bronze sculpture of a family of Cahuilla Indians with clay pots at a fountain. It is said that a retail developer was excavating this site around the turn of this past millennium and found remains of Cahuilla Indians who had been living in the area more than 2000 years ago.
The developer got in touch with artist Felicia, who is known for her sculptures of Native American women and children, commissioned her and this sculpture was unveiled in 2002. Originally from NYC, but living in Colorado since the early eighties, this artist has “developed a deep and abiding love for the North American Indian culture, customs and people.” She states on her website, “All my models are real people, and I name the pieces after them. […] I’ve come to count it a privilege to use my art to pay tribute to the people who have themselves given so much art and so many ancient values to our society.”
The history of the Native Americans in the Coachella Valley is far reaching and fascinating. Coachella Valley and its surrounding areas have been home to the Cahuilla Indians since the dawn of time. They were hunter-gatherers and dug wells, finding hot mineral springs which they considered sacred.
As the desert landscape has always been seen as quite inhospitable, the Cahuilla had little to no contact with the outside world. Most Europeans and Anglo-Americans did not venture this side of the pass, so it was not until 1774 that Juan Bautista de Anza came through and the 1840’s when Anglo-American Daniel Sexton explored the region.
From the 1850’s white explorers, miners, ranchers and colonists began to migrate into the valley, as there was water here and it was before long that the tribe’s traditional territory was divvied up. The government divided the land into small one mile square parcels and gave the Cahuilla ownership of every other acre – a checkerboard of land. A train track was built between Los Angeles and Indio allowing commerce to grow among the farmers in the valley.
The Indians lost their autonomy, were kept from speaking their language, attending their schools, and practicing any of their culture’s rituals and traditions. They were increasingly unable to sustain themselves as hunter-gatherers, and were forced to work for the white settlers in order to provide for their families. However, as per the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians website they “also became entrepreneurs, starting our own orchards, raising horses and cattle, and leasing our lands and properties to others.”
The Cahuilla Indians are still adapting, by ‘reinventing their community’. “Change was forced upon us, causing us to create
new ways of relating to each other and the broader community. This path of integration was difficult and led to painful individual and collective struggles. The burning of the Ceremonial House in the 1950s reminds us even now of the complexity of that struggle […]As contributors to the local economy and active participants in state and federal matters, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is also an essential part of life in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. As neighbors, parents, business owners, and community leaders, we are part of a diverse and extended community across the region.” Felicia’s piece is a testament to her appreciation of the Native American culture. “I have been able to learn how their history stretches back to the earliest times. We have taken so much from them. I am trying to give just a little bit back.”
Pick up a free APP Art Map for a self guided tour in any of the city’s buildings, the La Quinta library and the La Quinta Museum or have a look online and click on Art Map for a downloadable PDF.