The Mule Mountains: California’s Origins, Forgotten by Most, Face the Bulldozer

Originally Published in Native News Network

By Robert Lundahl

Blythe, CA, November 12, 2012 — La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle, a Native American cultural protection group, submitted comments recently on the Proposed Rio Mesa Gen-Tie project. And, what could have been a dry and technical public scoping meeting in late September following, was not, for two reasons. For one, the objections of Native Americans to the project were dramatically expressed, described by Reverend Ronald Van Fleet, a Mojave Elder and descendent of the last Traditional Mojave Chief, Peter Lambert.

The second is that Van Fleet, the embodiment of California’s “living history” has opened the door to a new, old vision of what it means to be a Californian. For the very beginnings of the state’s identity and history are here, in the place at the foot of the Mule Mountains, where Brightsource Energy has proposed development of two 250 megawatt (nominal) solar power plants (500 megawatts nominal combined) in California’s Riverside County.

According to Patricia Figueroa Robles, Chair of La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle Advisory Committee, K. Kaufman’s recent article in the Desert Sun catalogs obstacles to the successful completion of the project.

But the deeper vision spans generations and even centuries for a look back at a time before California was a state. Or even part of the country, as it exists today. California became the 31st state in 1850, but some of the families that were prominent at and before that time still walk with us, such as Van Fleet’s. Van Fleet explains that according to his Mojave oral history, the Creator, Mastumho, with his magic wand, stirred the contents of a three legged pot, or “Molcajete Bowl” and he threw the contents behind him, thus creating the Milky Way, the entire universe, water, and air. When he finished, he placed the empty pot upside down on the Earth, with the three legs up, crating the three peaks, known as “Hamock Avi” in Mojave language.

While The Mojave, of Hokan speaking peoples, trace the creation of the universe to this place, in the tradition of Uto-Aztecan peoples, the Mule Mountains display the image of a sleeping female giant, or Amazon, according to Chemehuevi Cultural Monitor and La Cuna Sacred Sites Protection Circle founder Alfredo Acosta Figueroa. Figueroa himself, a descendant of Early California Governor José Figueroa, Mexican territorial Governor of Alta California from 1832 to 1836, describes, “The Mule Mountains also represent the “Giant,” “Calafia,” with which the state name is associated. When looking West from the Palo Verde Valley, her image is seen as a profile in the shape of the Mountain ridges.”

The place names Calafia and California derive from “Calli,” meaning “House” in Nahuatl language. The name “California” for example derives from an amalgam of the words “Calli” and “Fornax”, meaning “Hot” and “House.” Nahuatl is spoken by a variety of peoples from the American Southwest to Mexico City. There are over 6 million Nahuatl speakers.

The history of the migrations of peoples across a borderless Southwest pre-1850, is recorded in “Book of the Hopi,” edited by Frank Waters and Oswald White-Bear Fredericks, in the place names and historic maps of the region, and in the Codexes, writing from original Aztec sources by conquering scribes, priests and generals of Spain in the retinue of Cortez. The Codexes are now located in museums around the world.

The Bureau of Land Management’s investigation has designated the Mule Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and is included in their maps because this area has an abundance of geoglyphs, petroglyphs, cremation/burials sites, major trails and many other indigenous ritual artifacts.