photo by Kayla Salas

photo by Kayla Salas

On a dark, moonless night my father drove a rented truck along the unpaved dirt roads at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. My car sickness was exacerbated by my rapid heart rate as he told the story of the Cucuí—a monster I whole-heartedly believed lurked on these lands. When we arrived at my aunts’ humble wooden home, my father, sister and I carried plastic bags full of groceries as I watched my back for the monster. We approached the door and stepped into a room that had the dusty sand as its floor. We climbed up the short stairs, and I looked around at a home I had been to before, but had no memory of. My father’s sisters and their children huddled around a static-filled TV with bunny ears on top. My cousin Red Hawk threw a chunk of wood into the wood furnace hearth with stove pipes bringing heat to the whole house. I remember the stories my dad would tell of his poverty-stricken childhood living on the Cahuilla Reservation.

As I grew older, I went to the reservation every few years. It was not until my landscape photography class’ trip to Joshua Tree National Park last January that I began to feel reconnected with my native roots. In my research of the park—and according to the National Park Service website—the park’s treasured petroglyphs, were created by the ancient Serrano, Chemehuevi and Cahuilla tribes. The petroglyphs near the Barker Dam, the ones I saw myself, are in territory once occupied by the Serrano and Cahuilla. I discussed this with my professor, retired La Verne Magazine photography adviser Gary Colby, who suggested I document the petroglyphs as part of my senior project. Inspired by his suggestion and the trip, I prepared by attending local Native American events and by reaching out to tribes and chiefs through friends and family members.

Luckily enough, the next semester I was assigned to be the photographer for the article “Fighting History: Reclaiming the Past for a Better Future” (La Verne Magazine, Summer 2018). While working with the Kizh tribe for this article, the more evidence I saw and stories I listened to, the more I became angry. Angry because of the evil and wrong doings this tribe has faced. Angry with the identities and history stolen from them. And now, I am angry at the historical price of the recent government shut down.

I write this as the shutdown becomes the longest one in U.S. history. The destruction Joshua Tree has faced in the wake of losing its federal resources is unnerving. Motorists have created their own roads into the protected parts of land. Graffiti brandishes rock formations, and trash blows about, becoming caught in the Cholla cactus. Even Joshua Trees have been cut. And my biggest worry is the petroglyphs. Are they OK? Have they been vandalized? Will I ever get to photograph them? I hope to channel my angst for the mistreatment of our modern natives into my senior project, graduate school and my future career. ■

Natasha Brennan
Editor in Chief