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San Bernardino County Museum Honors the Serrano with a Historic Land Acknowledgement

San Manuel Bird Singers
Megan Jamerson
James Ramos Jr., California Assemblymember James Ramos, and San Manuel Chairman Ken Ramirez sang traditional Cahuilla and Serrano songs with the San Manuel Bird Singers during Wednesday's ceremony at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands.

The San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands publicly honored the region’s first peoples with a permanent installation Wednesday. The historic acknowledgment in the museum's entryway, recognizes that the building sits on the ancestral territory of the Maara’yam or Serrano people.

“This is a big day for us," said San Manuel Chairman Ken Ramirez.

The display is in the Serrano language and paired with a recording. It is the first time this language has a place of prominence in the county alongside English and Spanish translations. The Serrano language, like many other Native American languages, was nearly lost after a dark period in American history when the government supported attempts to wipe out Native American cultures.

Today, the Serrano are federally recognized as two tribes—the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians north of Highland and the Morongo in Banning. Ramirez explains their people once roamed 7.4 million acres with villages all over the high desert. “Now we are down to one square mile on the reservation on San Manuel. Just to be acknowledged as part of the community, this is great," said Ramirez. "We don’t hang onto resentments. It does us no good. But to live in today’s world, evolving to where we’re going, we have to get there together.”

In celebration of the partnership between local tribal governments and the county of San Bernardino, the Bird Singers of San Manuel shared Cahuilla and Serrano songs.

They were led by California State Assemblymember James Ramos of Highland, the first and only California Indian elected to the state legislature. The partnership serves as a model for other counties in the state to offer a more complete understanding of California's history and "to reach out to the local tribes to acknowledge the contributions that have been given by the Indian people here in the state of California," said Ramos.