Near the Valle de Guadalupe

Northern Baja’s Indian Country

Heather Steinberger

A renaissance is taking place in Baja California’s border region. Driving from the oceanfront Hotel Coral in Ensenada into the nearby Valle de Guadalupe, you see acres upon acres of vineyards, gracious wine-tasting rooms, elegant restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts with strikingly contemporary architecture, and even a new wine museum.

This is Mexico’s increasingly famous Ruta del Vino. And with tourism flourishing, it’s easy to forget that this is part of Indian country.

When you near the far end of the valley, keep going past the Doña Lupe winery, and when you see the “Ecoturismo Kumiai” sign, turn down the dirt road to your right. (If you pass the L.A. Cetto winery, you’ve gone too far.) In just two kilometers, you’ll find yourself in San Antonio Necua, one of Baja California’s four Kumeyaay communities. Approximately 200 people live here, and they welcome the public to visit their museum, gift shop, restaurant, outdoor amphitheater and recreation space, which also includes a replica of a traditional Kumeyaay shelter.


Indigenous arts and dances were presented at the Traditional Arts Festival in Baja, California (WilderUtopia.com)

San Antonio Necua is a must-stop on a visit to northern Baja. Not only is it easily accessible, it’s in one of the last natural, undeveloped areas of the valley. It’s also a vivid reminder that the peninsula’s original indigenous inhabitants are not relics of the past; they’re still here, and they’re looking toward their future.

Challenges in Northern Baja’s Indian Communities

While the indigenous peoples of Baja California Sur — the Guaycura and Pericú — were completely wiped out in the centuries following Spanish contact, those in northern Baja were able to hold on. Barely. According to the Seminario de Historia de Baja California and the Instituto de Culturas Nativas de Baja California (also known as CUNA), there are roughly 2,000 members of the Pai-Pai, Kumeyaay, Cucapá and Kiliwa tribes remaining in northern Baja.

The four tribes belong to the Yuman linguistic family, whose ancestors likely migrated to the Baja peninsula thousands of years ago. The 2000 Census determined that the native languages were in significant danger of disappearing — at that time, there were 193 native Pai-Pai speakers, 159 Kumeyaay, 82 Cucapá, and 46 Kiliwa.

But there is hope, said María Martha Lozano Jíminez, CUNA administrator.


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