The Kumeyaay were the original native inhabitants of San Diego County, and have lived in this region for more than 10,000 years. Historically, the Kumeyaay were horticulturists and hunters and gatherers. They were the first people who greeted the Spanish when they first sailed into San Diego Harbor with the Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo expedition of 1542.
Capitan Grande, about 35 miles east of San Diego, is the name of the canyon through which the San Diego River once ran. With abundant water, Kumeyaay Indians living there sustained themselves through farming.
In 1875, a presidential executive order withdrew lands from the federal domain, setting aside a number of small reservations, including the Capitan Grande Reservation from which the Viejas Band descended. Capitan Grande, patented in 1891, included portions of ancestral land of the Los Coñejos Band. In 1853, other Indians from Mission San Diego were given permission to locate on Capitan Grande by the federal Indian agent at the time. Over the years, other Indians were placed there, as well.
As the non-Indian population grew, demand for water increased. The city of San Diego built Lake Cuyamaca, laying its flume through the Capitan Grande Reservation and taking most of the San Diego River water originally used by the Kumeyaay. This left them only a small share from the city’s flume, resulting in crop losses on Indian farms. The city later decided to dam the river and take all of the water by creating El Capitan Reservoir. The Kumeyaay protested, but, at the wishes of land speculators and unknown to the Indians, Congress granted the city permission to purchase the heart of the Capitan Grande Reservation, where many Kumeyaay had built homes. From the proceeds of this forced “sale” of lands, some of the valley’s inhabitants, the Coapan Band, or Capitan Grande, bought Barona Valley and are now known as the Barona Band of Mission Indians.
A group of 28 families, including members of the Los Coñejos Band, purchased the Viejas Valley land (once a ranch owned by Baron Long) and incorporated the name Viejas. A few other families bought private individual property with their compensation. After the move, the Viejas and Barona Bands were denied their water rights and each valley became solely dependent on meager supplies of rainfall and groundwater until the issue was resolved by court action.
Today, membership in the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is determined by direct descent from the families forced from Capitan Grande who pooled their shares of dam-site purchase money to buy Viejas Valley. The Viejas band continues to share a joint-trust patent with the Barona Band for the 15,000 remaining acres of the Capitan Grande Reservation.
Today, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians works to maintain their culture and sovereignty, and owns and operates Viejas Casino & Resort, Viejas Outlets, and Ma-Tar-Awa Recreational Vehicle Park.