Driving across Southern California, the signs and billboards that display different languages always catch my eye. It is a unique part of living here in southern California that we as Californians openly share our diversity and uniqueness with one another.
Over the last year or so, a seemingly new language has appeared on signs visible to many drivers: Yaamava’. It stands out as something hard to place in its origin. I can picture drivers mouthing the word and saying, “what?”
The word Yaamava’ represents so much more than the marketing of a resort and casino. It means that despite all that has occurred throughout history, an Indigenous culture and language remain indelibly part of this region.
The word, “Yaamava,” is far from new. It is a Serrano word meaning the season of spring and has been the name for the spring season for the Serrano since their creation. Today, it is how much of the wider world recognizes us, the Yuhaaviatam Clan of Marra’yam (Serrano) or the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians whose ancestral lands encompass most of this region. To us this word describes the season of rebirth and renewal for our people.
Changing the name of our first and most prominent economic development, San Manuel Casino to Yaamava’ Resort & Casino, put our native language and our culture front and center. While it may have challenged many with its unique spelling and meaning, our intent is clear: we want to share who we are.
Like other nations and peoples, we have a distinct language, a connection to the land, and a culture that grew out of the local environment. Culture is shared history, language, religion, and spirituality – a way of life. Our Yuhaaviatam culture is rooted in the native plants of Southern California, which provide the gifts of life. On our reservation, we will celebrate these plants at our Yaamava’ celebration each spring.
From the headwaters of the Santa Ana River near our reservation to the San Bernardino valleys and mountains, we begin the cycle again of harvesting plants for food, gathering grasses and reeds for basket weaving, and carefully picking the sources of our traditional medicine. The ability to freely move across our 7.4-million-acre ancestral territory is the essential way of life that sustained us since our creation before the mission and reservation system attempted to end our culture.
For more than 100 years, you would only hear the Serrano word for the spring season on reservations, until a level of successful economic development allowed us to begin to experience a sense of renewal and rebirth for our community. This period of Yaamava’ for our people is a chance to establish ourselves on our own terms with the Serrano language and culture as our foundation.
We are moving past that period of being historically identified with the mission system applied by outsiders whose idyllic imaginings of the period do not match our living history of destruction and pain. We demonstrate our enduring connection to our culture by partnering with non-profits and local governments on projects that benefit communities and the environment within our ancestral territory.
More than a fleeting advertisement, Yaamava’ reminds us that we remain Yuhaaviatam through all times and seasons.
(Laurena Bolden is a member of the San Manuel Tribal Council, the Education Board, and a co-lead with the Culture Pillar of the tribal government.)