Land acknowledgement: San Diego Bay, California

I recently found myself staying in San Diego. It was a work trip related to oil spill response– one of the things we gotta do in the modern industrialized world: prepare for oil spills. Keeping with my new year’s resolution, here’s my land acknowledgement.


San Diego Bay may have changed over time, but the sky is probably much the same as always.

This was Kumeyaay country. Still is– only, like most Natives in southern California, they were moved off the expensive shoreline real estate to deserts and mountains inland. That’s still Kumeyaay country; for thousands of years, they occupied the San Diego area from the coast all the way to the Colorado River.

The Spanish arrived in the late 1700s. That’s pretty late by European conquest standards, especially since they had already been in Mexico for 250 years. California was hard to get to. Like an island, it was protected on the inland side by harsh deserts. On the ocean, Spanish vessels coming up from Mexico struggled against northwest headwinds. They finally made it in 1769. But who made it was a lunatic fringe, Father Junipero Serra. He set up a tyrannical mission system that was considered out of control by European visitors, Mexican authorities, and Catholic authorities in Rome. The Mexican authorities shut them down 57 years later.

The missions were devastating to the Natives. I could write books on conditions inside them– and many have. I’ll limit it to this: In 1790 the missionaries reported to Mexico City that there were 13,308 Indians living in the missions. They reported 4,780 had died so far that year. That’s 26%. There were still six more weeks left in the year.

The Mission San Diego de Alcalá was built in 1769. But the Kumeyaay did not accept enslavement easily. Six years later, over six hundred of them sacked the mission, burned it to the ground, and bludgeoned three Spaniards to death, including a priest.

Today the Kumeyaay live on 13 different reservations, as well as off reservations, and are associated with 11 different federally-recognized tribes. There are also five Kumeyaay communities in Baja California.


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