Cahuilla Elder, Alvino Siva, Walks On
Life of Cahuilla elder to be celebrated
By Debra Gruszecki - July 10, 2009
AZ - Alvino Siva, a tribal elder of the Los Coyotes Reservation and a Cahuilla Indian cowboy, has died.
As ceremonial tradition has it, relatives refrain from celebratory songs at this time.
But Siva, who died at age 86 on June 26, would not have wanted the songs to stop for long.
A renown Cahuilla Indian bird singer, Siva dedicated his life to the preservation of the Cahuilla Indian language, its culture and its songs.
He made, polished and painted his own rattles. He taught language classes in schools and universities across the region since the 1980s and, more recently, agreed to be taped. He had also been collaborating with Chapman University associate professor Paul Apodaca on the book, "Wikikmal."
Its translation, Bird Song.
Siva was a "cultural giant,'' Apodaca said.
"He was one of the last fluent speakers of the Cahuilla language."
Siva's life will be celebrated Saturday at Malki Museum on the Morongo Indian Reservation.
Apodaca, who worked with Siva to document the bird songs and Cahuilla Indian folk life for 30 years, and described himself as a close personal friend, said Siva revitalized the love of bird singing in younger generations.
Together, they worked to record about 220 songs.
"I don't know if these songs would have been preserved if it weren't for him,'' Scott Reeder said of his wife's great uncle. "He learned the songs when he was 7 or 8 years old from Mariano Patencio. Other traditions were passed on by a friend and mentor Pedro Chino, the last Cahuilla Shaman.
"When he went into the military, he practiced the songs while he was gone," Reeder said. "When he came back from World War II, his world had changed. He saw that the Cahuilla people were vanishing, and it became his mission to preserve the culture as best he could."
Relatives tell how Siva, a 20-year Army veteran who served in Korea, also fought as a historical adviser to include a line on California State Historical Landmark No. 749 near Saahatpa that says: "Cahuilla tradition asserts that the U.S. government sent Army blankets that were contaminated with smallpox,'' killing many Native Americans in the winter of 1862-63.
Lowell Bean, author of "Mukat's People: The Cahuilla Indians of Southern California" that discusses the Cahuilla culture, said Siva's legacy was of a teacher and a scholarly consultant.
"He worked very hard with young people to teach the Cahuilla language, aspects of history and to sing the bird songs,'' Bean said.
Today, young professionals such as Sean Milanovich, of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, intertwine the Cahuilla language in their lives, tribal celebrations and their work. Milanovich, a former student of Siva, has a Cahuilla salutation recorded on his answering machine for callers.
"To me, that's the legacy that few people have been able to do, and the legacy that will carry on aspects of the Cahuilla generational culture for a generation or two - and maybe longer,'' Bean said.
Jerry Clarke, a cousin of Siva, said he marveled at more than the songs.
"The other aspect of his life that I admired was as an Indian cowboy,'' Clarke said, recalling images of the Siva cattle ranch, which was near the border of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and is a noted stomping ground for wild cattle.
Siva earned a reputation for roundups that snared rampant steer.
"He'd go back there, and rope and trap them and bring them in,'' he said. "My heroes were those old, Indian cowboys. He was the roughest, toughest of them all: he set the bar for all of us today."
WHAT THEY SAID
"He was one to look up to. If he said anything to you about a song, or a language or a tradition, you took it to heart."
Ernie Siva, a cousin who teaches language and culture and founded the Dorothy Ramone Learning Center
"One of the traditions is, if a close family member dies, you don't sing for a year. There are some of us that won't be singing next year, including me."
Paul Apodaca, Chapman University associate professor
The fight to keep the Cahuilla language alive
The missing past of the Cahuilla language
Visit site for photo & another video at: http://www.mydesert.com/article/20090710/NEWS06/907100304.
A celebration of Alvino Siva's life will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Malki Museum on the Morongo Indian Reservation. It's a potluck luncheon, and guests are asked to bring a side dish or dessert.