The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum shows legacy gifts in new exhibition

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country 5-09

Located in a charming plaza in downtown Palm Springs, this small gem of a museum inspires people to learn about the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and other Native cultures.

The tribe keeps the spirit alive through exhibitions, collections, research, and educational programs.

They also have ambitious plans to build a $65 million museum in the near future that will be 110,000 sq. ft. The new facility will make it possible to expand educational, community outreach, and other public programs especially for schoolchildren; increase Native and non-Native participation in Museum programs and activities; expand the Museum’s permanent exhibition; increase the number, size, and types of temporary and traveling exhibitions offered to the community and contribute to the economic development and cultural vitality of the Coachella Valley, attracting an estimated 150,000 visitors annually.

But for now, the smaller space houses collections of the Agua Caliente and gifts to the tribe from archaeological artifacts to contemporary arts that are representative of Indigenous cultures. Due to the generosity of donors committed to the Museum’s mission, these collections continue to grow in size and importance.

Creating a Legacy: Gifts to the Collections takes a look at the variety and breadth of the collections. It opened in March and runs through October 18, 2009. Creating a Legacy is the first changing exhibition installed in the expanded and enhanced exhibition space at the Museum.

It replaces the popular Dream of the Blue Frog (Wahaatukicnikic Tetayaw), which is now at Palm Springs City Hall, 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way.

The show includes works by RC Gorman, bronze sculpture, dolls, paintings, artifacts, photographs and a film on the history and culture of the tribe.

In recognition of its role as a regional and national resource, Agua Caliente Cultural Museum was the first Native museum welcomed into membership of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program. The association with Smithsonian Institution provides opportunities for a mutual sharing of resources in collections, scholarship, programming, and technical expertise, and entitles the Museum to bring world-acclaimed Smithsonian exhibitions to the Coachella Valley.

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum also hosts the Southern California Indian Storytelling Festival.


This year’s event will be held Saturday, May 16, 2009, at Mizell Senior Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs. This is a free event, and a celebration of the storytelling tradition based on Indigenous oral traditions and language. Daytime events include basket weaving circles, a children’s story time, and Native American vendors.

The cultural experience concludes with a special evening event – Story as Song.

The Agua Caliente and as Cahuilla people tell two stories of who they are. One is spiritual and born of their ancient relationship with the desert lands of the Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.

The other is the story of their struggle to retain lands and culture and shape their own destiny. Over the years these stories have intertwined to form who they are.

Today, the Cahuilla people span nine reservations across southern California, linked by a shared language yet distinguished by tribal identities forged by geography, culture, and law.

As Agua Caliente, their identity is rooted in Palm, Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz, and Chino Canyons and is inextricably linked to the hot mineral springs considered sacred by  ancestors.

It is in honor of these springs, called Se-khi (boiling water) in Cahuilla, that the tribe eventually became known by the Spanish term for hot water, Agua Caliente.

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