Barona Cultural Center & Museum Commemorates 10th Anniversary

In 2000, the Barona Band of Mission Indians opened the doors to what was one of the first Native American museums on an Indian reservation in Southern California. The goal of the Barona Cultural Center & Museum was to preserve the Tribe’s culture for their own members and to share their history and traditions with everyone in San Diego.

A decade later, the Barona Tribe is proud to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the museum with the unveiling of a special new exhibit celebrating the many milestones of the Barona Cultural Center & Museum. Far exceeding its initial goals, the museum continues to enrich the community through cultural arts and education programming.

The retrospective, called “Shahuuk Matwam Nyuk Pekwilly — Ten Years Have Passed,” opens to the public on Friday, May 21 and runs through the end of 2011. It offers a pictorial and narrative look at the museum’s major milestones, accomplishments and diverse educational programming as well as spotlights its volunteers, donors and community partners.

“This is a time for us to look back and celebrate all our museum has accomplished over the past 10 years because it has played such an important role in preserving our history for our Tribal members and the San Diego community,” said Edwin “Thorpe” Romero, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians. “Today we are proud that Tribal members of all ages are attending culture and language classes and learning the customs and traditions that were almost forgotten.”

Known as an important educational resource for local universities and colleges, the Barona Museum has earned the respect of anthropological and Tribal leaders around the country and established partnerships with many local and national cultural and educational institutions, including the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Library of Congress, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, University of San Diego, UC San Diego and San Diego State University.

“The Barona Museum is an essential part of the cultural legacy of our region,” said Michael W. Hager, Ph.D., president and CEO of the San Diego Natural History Museum. “All people benefit from understanding and respecting our past and participating in creating our future generations. The results will be seen in the wisdom of future leaders.”

In addition to providing a variety of cultural classes on the reservation, the Museum focuses on providing educational outreach to schools throughout San Diego County.

“The partnerships we have with museums and educational institutions are a validation of the work we do,” said Cheryl Hinton, director of the highly acclaimed museum and co-curator along with Laurie Egan-Hedley of the anniversary exhibition. “But one of my biggest sources of pride is the hundreds of university and college students who use our museum as an educational resource and the Tribal members and local elementary school children who have taken part in our educational programs.”

Added Hinton, “The vision and insight of the Barona Tribe has allowed us to further our educational programming beyond our initial goals and elementary schools from all over San Diego County include a trip to the Barona Museum as part of their Native American history curriculum. The anniversary exhibit gives thanks to the people of Barona for their vision and we look to the future as we continue to offer enriching exhibits and programs.”

Through the years, the museum’s collection has grown to nearly 20,000 artifacts ranging from ancient clothing, tools and weapons used by indigenous peoples to more recent books and photographs that tell the past history and capture the modern spirit of today’s thriving tribes.

However, the original collection that helped move the museum from a dream to a reality was a gift to Barona by Don Speer, a friend and long-time advisor to the Barona Tribe. Hoping to help Barona preserve its history and culture for future generations, Speer purchased a priceless collection that included rare artifacts dating back as far as 10,000 years and gave the entire collection to the Tribe for use in a museum on the Barona reservation. Less than two years later, the Barona Cultural Center & Museum opened its doors and many of the artifacts from that first donation remain on display today as important symbols of the Barona Tribe and Native American history throughout San Diego County.

Additionally, the adobe-style museum has mounted scores of exhibitions and hosted hundreds of Native American leaders, writers, scholars, artists, dancers, and musicians, from 62 tribal nations who have entertained and enlightened more than 100,000 visitors from 48 different countries around the world.

According to Hinton, the museum stands today as a symbol of Southern California Native American history, vitality and contemporary relevance. “It has become a significant museum showcase and vibrant learning center.”

From its beginnings more than a decade ago, museum founders have long wanted it to be like no other around and resemble a “living, breathing place where visitors can learn about the past, present and future of the Barona Tribe.”

Interactive exhibits, listening alcoves and real life murals tell the ancient stories and tradition tales of the Native American culture to the thousands of curious schoolchildren and inquisitive adults who annually visit the state-of the-art cultural center and museum.

Among the high points are the addition of the renowned research library and extensive archives; captivating exhibit depicting the tragic 2003 wildfires; fifth anniversary celebration featuring keynote speaker W. Richard West of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.; and the introduction of the comprehensive 696-page Barona Inter-Tribal Dictionary featuring the endangered ‘Iipay Aa language — the original language of the Barona Tribe.

The museum also has hosted some memorable events that are captured in the enthralling new exhibit, such as the screening of the Omnimax film “Bears” that centers around the animal’s significance to Native American culture and the annual Barona Pow Wow that draws thousands of visitors and tribal members from across the United States for three-days of dancing, singing and other ceremonial festivities.

The Barona Cultural Center & Museum is located on the Barona Indian Reservation at 1095 Barona Road in Lakeside just one mile north of the Barona Resort & Casino. It is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed Sunday, Monday and certain holidays. Admission is free. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call 619-443-1003 ext. 2 or check out the website at

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