Curatorial Projects > Califas (2013)

Joan Osato
Califas: Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe (Melissa M. Lawson), 2013
Digital C-print

As part of Califas, Osato has been documenting communities up and down the state, using portraiture, photography, and videography as storytelling devices. Starting in May of 2010 through September 2013, spanning over 10 different trips by truck and motorcycle, covering over 12,000 miles, crisscrossing California from the U.S./Mexico border at Calexico, she documented not only the environs from Mexicali to the Salton Sea, but the land, water, geology, archeological past, towns, and people that may forever change our perception of California. The portraiture seeks to make visible persons, places, history, and lives "unseen" and firmly place them on the map.

“In keeping a relationship with our Amma (creator) and ancestors, we must maintain our language, culture, customs and traditions. Whereas, we the people of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, through its government and power as a sovereign nation, value a clearly defined enrollment process, upholding the tribal constitution and laws to protect the tribe, people, land and resources; while increasing trial employment to achieve self-sufficiency where families may live and enjoy life.” – Vision Statement from the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla

The Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe were established by Executive Order on May 15, 1876. Their Reservation is situated in the lower Coachella Valley at the downstream end of the Salton Sea. Their tribal lands cover is 24,800 acres, and has a population of 140 Tribal members. Approximately 11,000 acres of the Reservation were flooded by the Colorado River when the Salton Sea was formed in 1905-1907 and are still submerged. The Tribal Offices are located in Thermal, CA. As the Native Californians, California Tribes were some of the most diverse and rich in terms of numbers of different tribes existing, languages spoken, and distinct cultures when the first Spanish arrived in 1769. It has been estimated that there were about 310,000 Native Californians living in California at the time. By 1900, their number had been reduced to less than 16,000. As elders of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe see the culture slowly fading, there is an effort by tribal members to revitalize the culture by learning and teaching the language of the Cahuilla people. Today, the culture is carried on as individuals learn songs, languages and other practices, such as preparing wakes, burials and dinners. The people of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe are proud, dedicated to the welfare of their community as a whole and Chem Te’ma Pit’chem max’win ‘lv’al’ (Empowering our Nation). Osato wishes to thank members of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla and the Tribal Council including Chairperson Mary Belardo, Monica Resvaloso, Juan Rodriguez, Amelia Rodriguez, Joshua Rodriguez, James Rodriguez, Teresa Chapparosa, Eric Chapparosa, Adrienne Lavergne-Dixon, Rachel Mirelez, Steven Mirelez, Micah Mirelez, Jessica Davlos, Jaime Herrera & Sophia Ezekiel, Melissa M. Lawson, Clarissa Mirelez, Isaiah Mirelez, Simon Mirelez, Antanella Mirelez, Frankie Mirelez, and LaVerne Franco.


October 2 – December 21, 2013
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA