The Chemehuevi of the Twenty-Nine Palms tribe of Southern California stands as a testament to the power of perseverance. This small| nomadic band of Southern Paiute Indians has been repeatedly marginalized by European settlers| other Native groups| and| until now| historical narratives that have all too often overlooked them.
Having survived much of the past two centuries without rights to their homeland or any self-governing abilities| the Chemehuevi were a mostly “forgotten” people until the creation of the Twenty-Nine Palms Reservation in 1974. Since then| they have formed a tribal government that addresses many of the same challenges faced by other tribes| including preserving cultural identity and managing a thriving gaming industry.
A dedicated historian who worked closely with the Chemehuevi for more than a decade| Clifford Trafzer shows how this once-splintered tribe persevered using sacred songs and other cultural practices to maintain tribal identity during the long period when it lacked both a homeland and autonomy. The Chemehuevi believe that their history and their ancestors are always present| and Trafzer honors that belief through his emphasis on individual and family stories. In doing so| he not only sheds light on an overlooked tribe but also presents an important new model for tribal history scholarship.
A Chemehuevi Song strikes the difficult balance of placing a community-driven research agenda within the latest currents of indigenous studies scholarship. Chemehuevi voices| both past and present| are used to narrate the story of the tribe’s tireless efforts to gain recognition and autonomy. The end result is a song of resilience.