Know the land, know the Native Americans

By Tom Stillwagon |Staff Writer|

James Ramos, Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, visited CSUSB last week to speak to a class of approximately 200 students about his work with the San Manuel tribe and addressing misconceptions Californians have about the Native American people.

The speech was given to Professor James Fenelon’s Race & Racism class on Jan. 26.

Ramos, a Serrano Indian, performed a pair of traditional songs, singing and playing a large rattle made out a gourd to open his speech. One of the songs was about native hunters searching for the big horned sheep.

“A lot of people think that all Indian tribes hunt the buffalo,” said Ramos. “Yet the buffalo is pretty much foreign to this area. The big mammal is the big horned sheep in this area. Still, there are herds up in the San Bernardino mountains, towards Lucerne Valley, on that side of the mountain.”

“To try to stereotype Indian people into that everybody hunted the buffalo and ate it, that’s false,” Ramos continued. “Although I guess buffalo would taste good and is good for tribes in the Midwest that just wasn’t the mammal here in this area. Here in this area it was the big horned sheep.”

In 1998, Ramos proposed legislation to recognize California Native American Day, and succeeded. It was important to Ramos that Californians “understand about the California Indian people, and to understand that Indian cultures differ.”

“It became the fourth Friday in September, celebrated in the state of California.” said Ramos, “and when I first introduced that piece of legislation people didn’t really want to hear about it.  Somehow in America we try to pan-Americanize all cultures into one that people can understand.”

“Here in California, the history of who we are wasn’t really getting into the mainstream of education,” said Ramos.

In addition to overseeing the operations of the tribal government on a day-to-day basis, Ramos is also the first Native American person appointed to the California State Board of Education, responsible for 6.5 million students in the state of California.

Ramos was introduced by CSUSB president Dr. Albert Karnig. Professor Fenelon, who is a member of the Lakota (Sioux Nation) tribe himself, introduced Dr. Karnig.

Ramos included a commercial for the Santos Manuel Casino during his speech, which explained how the tribe got their name through a dramatization. The video depicted Santos Manuel leading his tribe to safety after they had been evicted from their homeland.

After his speech, Ramos took questions from appreciative students. When asked about racism in modern times Ramos stated, “It happens in the world that we live in. We like to say it’s something of the past but there are still barriers that need to be broken.”

More information on the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians can be found at



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