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WAN Conservancy
Preserving Everyone's Heritage for All Generations

Native American Off Shore Cultural Protection Project
Protection of submerged Native American archeological resources along the California coast

This is a pilot project, under the stewardship of the Western Alliance for Nature, a land conservancy, to develop a management program with the State Lands Commission, the Kumeyaay/Diegueno Nation, the Department of Fish & Game, other state and federal agencies, and the San Diego Baykeeper. This project will be designed to educate local swimmers and divers as to the significance of off- shore Native American cultural resources and to enforce a prohibition on the looting of artifacts and illegal disturbance of these sites. Illegal removal of artifacts from cultural and sacred sites has become an international problem. The pilot project will be the nation's first attempt to deal with this issue at submerged sites.


The Western Alliance for Nature is developing a unique first-of-its-kind pilot program to protect submerged Native American archaeological and cultural sites along the Southern California coastline. The Western Alliance for Nature's Native American Off-Shore Cultural Protection Project will initially focus on archaeological resources off San Diego County and develop a management plan to ensure their protection from looting and unauthorized disturbance. The proposed project will be conducted in partnership between the Western Alliance for Nature and the Kumeyaay/Diegueno Nation in San Diego.

The Kumeyaay/Diegueno people have inhabited the coastal and inland areas of San Diego for centuries. When Father Junipero Serra entered the San Diego area in 1769 to build the first California mission, he encountered a thriving population of peaceful and hospitable Native Americans living in the area. After conscripting these local Indians to build Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the Spanish, consistent with their habit of naming Indian groups after the mission whose jurisdiction they were under, called these 25,000 to 30,000 natives the Diegueño. The term Kumeyaay was coined in the 1970s and is all inclusive of Diegueño and Kamia, the Yuman-speaking Indians of Imperial County, east of San Diego County. Today, there are about 20,000 Kumeyaay descendants in San Diego County. The Kumeyaay feel strongly that they have ancestral ties to submerged sites along the San Diego coast.

Problem Statement

According to Patricia Masters of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 110 prehistoric artifact sites have been found along the Southern California coastline, from Point Conception south to the international border-- a density unparalleled anywhere else in North America.

Over the years, artifacts from the shallow sites have been disturbed and, in some case, completely removed. Scuba divers have discovered some of the sites located in deeper waters and artifacts from those sites have begun to disappear as well. Some individuals innocently remove the artifacts, unaware of their cultural value or the penalties for disturbing the sites; others are private collectors, aware of the penalties, who purposely loot the sites. While there are strict laws that make pillaging these sites a felony, there is no enforcement of offshore looting because of the difficulty of policing a large coastal area. Clearly, a plan to protect the sites is needed, or the Native Americans, as well all people of California, risk losing an important link to our cultural history.

Program Plan

The Western Alliance for Nature is developing a plan to ensure long-term protection of the cultural artifacts.

The objectives of our proposed Native American Off Shore Cultural Protection Project are: (1) Create a public education program to inform and inspire beach visitors, swimmers and divers on the critical significance of the submerged artifacts to the ancestral link of the Native Americans, to the historic heritage of all people of California and to scientific research and discovery of California's ancient human history. (2) Develop a strategic site management plan that mobilizes volunteers and public agencies to protect the sites from looters.

The program has already been cited by State of California Controller and new State Lands Commission Chair Steve Westly in a news conference February 5 in which he announced a comprehensive environmental agenda for 2004. Westly said he will work to establish an education program, along with rigorous enforcement standards, to prevent looting of submerged Native American artifacts on state lands. The State controls offshore resources to a distance of three nautical miles.

The Western Alliance for Nature will next create an advisory committee, inviting representatives from the Kumeyaay/Diegueno Nation, the U.S. Coast Guard, the State Lands Commission, researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California Department of Fish & Game, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the City of San Diego, San Diego Baykeeper and local scuba diving organizations to discuss options for protecting the sites.

Initial discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Fish & Game about possible site management plans, have centered on the creation of a volunteer monitoring team, which would mobilize and train local fishermen, scuba divers, boaters and members of the Kumeyaay Nation to monitor the sites and discourage interference with the artifacts.