San Diego, CA–For thousands of years, members of the Kumeyaay Nation have cared for both the land and native wildlife in a large area encompassing much of Southern California and northern Mexico—including land that is now home to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
In celebration of their legacy and culture, tribal members of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, other San Diego community members, and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance team members marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day with an event to celebrate the Kumeyaay people.
“We are immensely happy to come together with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance for today’s important event,” said Johnny Bear Contreras, San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians tribal elder, cultural committee member, and artist. “We have been part of San Pasqual Valley since time immemorial, as San Pasqual is one of 18 bands in San Diego County that make up the Kumeyaay Nation. Our connection to the land and wildlife spans tens of thousands of years—and our stories of strength, perseverance, and history have been kept alive for generations, helping people from all backgrounds understand the connection between people, wildlife, and the land.”
The celebration was hosted by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
The event included various informative presentations that were kicked off with an opening ceremony, featuring remarks by tribal members, a traditional blessing ritual, and prayer songs.
“As the indigenous people of the region, the San Pasqual Band is a vital partner in the efforts to protect local wildlife and ecosystems. This Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration—the first of its kind at the Safari Park—represents an engaged community working together to protect the most biodiverse county in the contiguous United States,” said Paul Baribault, CEO and president of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts are only possible through collaborative partnerships, like the one being forged with the Kumeyaay tribes. As an example, the organization worked closely with tribal members in efforts to protect burrowing owls, a species at risk of local extinction. Tribal members participated in blessing ceremonies at each reintroduction site. Earlier this summer at the Safari Park, the San Pasqual Band named three critically endangered California condor chicks—the largest flying bird in North America and an important symbol in many Indigenous cultures.
“Conservation starts with people; and through better understanding our interconnectedness with nature, we can better protect wildlife,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Our efforts to safeguard wildlife, ecosystems, and people are stronger when we work together and honor the knowledge and expertise of those in our community, which includes indigenous peoples.”
Throughout the day, Safari Park guests had the opportunity to experience unique activities, including a wide array of Kumeyaay art, food, stories, and songs that shared the Kumeyaay culture and connected guests to wildlife. Guests also enjoyed special 2.5-mile hikes guided and narrated by tribal members as well as a closing ceremony.
“The Kumeyaay people used traditional knowledge to thrive on the land,” said Contreras. “It’s celebrated in our cultural expressions, like songs and stories, that are used to inspire, teach and help find meaning.”