Here are the 12 Native American tribes in the Inland Empire recognized by the federal government

Before there was a Riverside, San Bernardino, Redlands or Rancho Cucamonga, the Inland Empire was home to native communities for thousands of years.

According to the crowd-sourced website, the Inland Empire was once home to the Tongva, who are believed to have inhabited Southern California for up to 3,500 years; the Payómkawichum (Luiseño); Kizh; Cahuilla, who say they arrived in the region 5,000 years ago; and the Yuhaviatam/Maarenga’yam (Serrano) tribes — all of which today survive under multiple names in multiple federally recognized tribes.

There may once have been 300 tribes in Southern California, according to Gerald Clarke, an ethnic studies professor at UC Riverside and a member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians. But “a lot of them have just been erased off the face of the Earth,” he said.

Many did not survive Spanish and American colonization, Clarke said, particularly following the huge waves of westward immigration in the 19th century, starting with the California gold rush and tens of thousands of Americans arriving in the northern part of the state in search of riches.

“That’s the complexity of the history of this nation,” Clarke said. “Had the Gold Rush happened in Southern California, I probably wouldn’t be here today … my tribe wouldn’t be here today.”

Those tribes that survived may or may not have federal recognition, which entitles tribes and their members to federal services and resources.

“There’s 110 federally recognized tribes” nationally, Clarke said.

But there are also many tribal communities the federal government doesn’t recognize. Federal recognition is a long and politically fraught process, and it can take decades for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a final decision on applications.

As a result, “there isn’t a comprehensive list” of Native American tribes in California, Clarke said.

Today, just a dozen tribes headquartered in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which Clarke says — at least in the case of the Inland Empire — is probably an accurate list of the tribes that have historically called the region home.

Below is the federal government’s list of recognized tribes headquartered in the Inland Empire:

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

There are more than 500 members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, with a tribal headquarters in Palm Springs. The tribe has a 31,000-acre reservation and 7,000 acres of off-reservation land, including a large portion of Palm Springs. Collectively, the tribe and its members are the largest landowners in the city. The tribe operates casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians

One of the smallest federally recognized tribes, there were only 12 members of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians in 2019. The tribe has a headquarters in Coachella, where it opened a casino in 2002. The tribe is also the majority owner of a casino game manufacturing company and, in 2008, opened a solar farm on its 1-square-mile reservation near Thermal.

Cabazon Band of Mission Indians

The roughly 800-member Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, with tribal headquarters in Indio, were the first tribe to establish high-stakes bingo in California. The state of California contended the bingo games violated state law and the matter eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Cabazon and Morongo bands won California v. Cabazon Band of Indians, and the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision strengthened tribal sovereignty across the United States and led to an explosion of tribal casinos across the country. Today, they own the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio. They also have a 1,706 acre reservation in Coachella.

Cahuilla Band of Indians

The Cahuilla Band of Indians, who have tribal headquarters in Anza, were thought to have about 10,000 members in the 17th century. By 2012, that number had dropped to about 150. They have a roughly 20,000-acre reservation near Anza and operate a casino and hotel on the reservation, although some tribal members continue to raise livestock on the reservation, as they did before tribal gaming was deemed legal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of Arizona, California and Nevada

The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of Arizona, California and Nevada has its tribal headquarters in Needles and an almost 42,000-acre reservation straddling California, Arizona and Nevada. The roughly 1,100-member tribe operates a pair of casinos on the reservation and leases much of the land out to farming companies.

Morongo Band of Mission Indians

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians have a roughly 35,000-acre reservation near Banning, where their tribal headquarters are located. Most of the nearly 1,000-member tribe lives on the reservation. Along with the Cabazon Band, its early 1980s bingo hall ran afoul of local government and the tribes’ joint legal battle ended up establishing the right of tribes to operate casinos in much of the United States. They operate the Morongo Casino near Cabazon.

Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians

The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, whose membership was not immediately available, own the 4,300-acre Pechanga Reservation. The tribe’s headquarters is in Temecula, where it operates a casino. The reservation is home to the Great Oak, a 1,000-year-old oak tree that continues to produce acorns. The tribe’s name also appears on a San Diego sports stadium.

Ramona Band of Cahuilla

The Ramona Band of Cahuilla own a 560-acre reservation near Anza, where its tribal headquarters is located. The tribe, whose total membership was not immediately available, does not own a casino and its goal is to have its reservation be completely “off-grid,” with wind turbines and solar arrays powering buildings on the reservation.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians‘ reservation of more than 1,100 acres overlooks Highland and San Bernardino. In addition to its casino — one of the largest employers in San Bernardino — the tribe owns or co-owns four hotels around the United States. The tribe, whose membership was not immediately available, is also a major philanthropic force in San Bernardino, helping finance educational, healthcare and cultural programs.

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

The 1,550 members of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians have a roughly 5,900-acre reservation near San Jacinto, where the tribal headquarters are located and where the tribe operates a casino. From 2009 through 2012, they held the Soboba Golf Classic at their country club.

Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians

The Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians live on a 24,000-acre reservation straddling Riverside and Imperial Counties and have a tribal headquarters in Thermal. The tribe’s membership was not immediately available. It operates the Red Earth Casino between Indio and Brawley. The tribe is the largest landowner in and around the Salton Sea.

Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians of California

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians of California have a tribal headquarters in Coachella. The tribe operates the Spotlight 29 Casino near Coachella and Tortoise Rock Casino near Twentynine Palms. The tribe, whose membership was not immediately available, has two reservations, one near Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County and a second one near Indio and Coachella in Riverside County.

In addition to local tribes, Southern California is home to many Native Americans whose ancestors lived elsewhere and were forced to move to urban areas by the federal government.

About 12% of the Native Americans in the United States live in California — making it the home of the second-largest native population in the country. And some tribes in Arizona and Nevada have reservations that cross over into the Inland Empire as well.