Annual Cupa Days ‘a celebration of survival’

San Diego Union Tribune 5.1.10



When: Today and Sunday. Opening ceremony at 10 a.m.

Where: On a field next to the Cupa Cultural Center at 35008 Pala Temecula Road on the Pala reservation.

Information: The Cupa Cultural Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and weekends by appointment. (760) 891-3590;

PALA — “We are the People from Kupa,” proclaims the banner hanging at the entrance to the Cupa Cultural Center. The message is given in English and in the ancient language of the Cupeños.

Today and Sunday, the Cupa Cultural Center on the Pala Indian Reservation will host the 36th annual Cupa Days. Cultural entertainment, arts and crafts, and food booths will represent the Cupa and other American Indians.

The center was created in 1974 with the aim of protecting and preserving the community’s history. Public exhibits include examples of pottery, baskets and traditional musical instruments. Photographs and plaques describe reservation leaders and tribal elders from the past and present.

A special section is devoted to members of the Pala Band of Mission Indians who have served in the U.S. military.

Today’s Warner Springs was the ancestral home of the Cupeños, who had lived by the area’s bubbling hot springs for 800 to 1,000 years before the first Europeans arrived in the late 18th century.

The Cupeños had formed a self-supporting community based on farming and the operation of a hot-springs resort when California Gov. John G. Downey purchased Warner Springs Ranch and, in 1892, filed a complaint to have the Indians evicted. The legal battle went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Downey’s favor in 1901. Two years later, armed government agents evicted the Cupeños, forcing them to move to the Pala Indian Reservation, 40 miles away. At Pala, the Cupeños became part of the Luiseño community.

A written description and photographs of the removal are displayed at the center.

Cupa Days is a commemoration of the 1903 event but also marks a triumph.

“It’s a celebration of survival,” said Shasta Gaughen, acting director of the center. “We invite all kinds of tribes to celebrate their culture.”

Leroy Miranda, vice chairman of the Pala band, views the yearly event as “a day when we all come together as one to remember, but also to have a good time. You can’t change the past.”

Miranda noted that even while they were living in tents after they first arrived at Pala, the Cupeños were planning how to build the infrastructure of a new community.

The Cupa Cultural Center was a community project; its financing, materials and construction were accomplished by the volunteer efforts of community members. The tribal government did not initiate it, Miranda emphasized.

“We’re very community-oriented,” Miranda said, calling it a legacy from tribal elders such as his great-grandmother, Rosinda Nolasquez. Nolasquez lived through the 1903 removal as a child and gave a vivid account of it in a 1973 history of the Cupeños, “Mulu’wetam: The First People.”

Referring to the opening of the Pala Casino in 2001, Miranda said elements of the Cupa legacy made the Cupeños better prepared for that, as well. “We were already business-type people from the experience of running the hot springs.”

“We are reaping the benefits of what our ancestors did,” Miranda said. “They had a vision of a better life.”

Vincent Rossi is a freelance writer in Rancho Bernardo.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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