Maine, United States

The Land - No. 7 / DESERT

The Land - No. 7 / DESERT


This is the first post in a series, acknowledging the traditional lands and Indigenous people from where issues of Making are photographed. We're sharing this post here on our blog, but it will also live on our 'Lands' page along with future issues' acknowledgements. 

Each year we spend time in various locations photographing the different collections found in Making. With every destination comes a rich history, one full of biodiversity, landscape, craft, and the Indigenous people that first cared for the land and have done so for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.

A Land Acknowledgment is a formal statement that gives recognition and respect to the Indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of the land. 

We’ve also compiled a list of books, links, and other resources below that we’ve found helpful in our learning. We encourage you to explore these and learn more about the tribes, land, and history of where you live and travel.

No. 7 / DESERT

We photographed this issue in multiple locations within Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, California on the lands that several tribes throughout history have called home. For thousands of years the Pinto Culture lived in and around what is now known as Joshua Tree. Later on a tribe known as the Serrano settled the Oasis of Mara, a prominent region of Joshua Tree National Park, a veritable spring that allowed for life to flourish in the often harsh realities of the desert. The Serrano named it Mara, which translates from the native Serrano language to “the place of springs and much grass.” Twentynine Palms, the area where the oasis is located, is said to have been named such because of the 29 palm trees the Serrano planted in the first year they lived there, one for each boy that was born. The story goes that the Serrano came to the oasis because they were directed by a medicine man who told them of it’s beauty, good living conditions, and that they would have many boy babies, and that they were to plant a tree for each boy that was born.

In the late 1860’s the Chemehuevi tribe also settled at the Oasis of Mara, followed by a small band of Cahuilla, peacefully living alongside the Serrano for years. By the 1870’s the gold rush began to make it’s way to the desert, leading to the deforestation of trees, water loss, disease and eventual displacement of the Serrano, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla tribes. By 1913 no Indian families remained.

The Serrano

The Serrano people called themselves Yuhaviatam, which means “people of the pines”. They were later named Serrano by the Spanish settlers who created the Mission System in California with the motive to convert Native Indian tribes to Christianity and enslave them. The Serrano people endured a long history of devastation brought on by Europeans, including Spanish invasion, introduced disease and epidemics, massacres, and expulsion. In 1891 the United States established a reservation for the Serrano, named San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in honor of chief Santos Manuel.

The Serrano were hunter-gatherers and traders, known for their many traditions in material culture, including weaving and pottery.

The Cahuilla

The Cahuilla people called themselves lvilyuqaletem and resided in the far inlands of southern California. Because of their geographical location the Cahuilla people did not encounter Europeans until the 1770’s, doing their best to avoid the Europeans and providing security against the raids of the tribes from the desert and mountains. After an event known as the Temecula Massacare during the Mexican-American War, a treaty was signed ending the US’s war with Mexico, with the US promising to honor Mexican land grants and policies along with recognizing Native American rights to certain lands. Unfortunately after the annexation of California, invasion of Indian lands continued to increase. The Gold Rush brought an inpouring of miners, other white settlers, and the railroad, eventually leading to the government establishment of a reservation for the Cahuilla, leaving them with a much smaller region than their traditional territories. Today there are multiple groups that are part of the Cahuilla nation, including the Twentynine Palms Band, Agua Caliente Band, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and many others. These groups play an important role in local economy and infrastructure.

The Cahuilla were hunter-gatherers, with a strong history of weaving and pottery.

The Chemehuevi

The Chemehuevi have occupied the Mojave desert for time immemorial. They call themselves Nuwu, or “The People”. In 1853 the Federal government declared the traditional lands of the Chemehuevi public domain and the people became scattered until reuniting in the Chemehuevi Valley in 1885. Throughout the early to mid 1900’s the Chemehuevi were relocated to various areas by the federal government and their tribe status taken away. Finally after many years of struggle their tribal status was reinstated in 1970. Today there are multiple groups that are part of the Chemehuevi nation, including the Twentynine Palms Band, Agua Caliente Band, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and many others.

The Chemehuevi were hunter-gatherers, known for their weaving and powwows.

 These were the historical lands of the Serrano, Cahuilla, and Chemehuevi tribes prior to their involuntary expulsion. They continue to hold the stories of these tribes and their striving for survival and recognition. Making honors and respects the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to these lands where we have gathered and photographed

What we’ve shared here is just a fraction of the story of these tribes. There is a deep history here, one that should not go unnoticed as it first did for us. When we planned to photograph the issue DESERT we didn’t consider the history of the lands or people, which was a mistake. We realized that we need to do better and  have since done a great deal of research and reading, and we’re looking forward to the day we can return to Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms with a new perspective, one more well informed of the people and lands that were their’s long before the area became a trendy tourist destination.


A Chemehuevi Song by Clifford Trafzer 
Diversity and Dialogue  edited by James H. Nottage
Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants by Lowell John Bean and Katherine Siva Saubel

Links and Sources

Chemehuevis at Twentynine Palms 
San Manuel Tribe 
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians 
Twenty-Nine Palms Tribe 
Serrano Tribe 
Mojave Desert 
Oasis of Mara
Joshua Tree