Steven Newcomb: Spanish statue on Kumeyaay Nation territory based on a lie

A statue of Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in Cabrillo National Monument in California. Photo by Nathan Rupert

A statue at the Cabrillo National Monument pays tribute to a European explorer who landed on Kumeyaay Nation territory in 1542. But why does an accompanying plaque claim he "took possession" of the lands on behalf of Spain? Steven Newcomb (Shawnee / Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute looks deeper into the story:
A statue is dedicated to the conquistador Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo stands at the Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma, California. On the ground nearby is a plaque the Navy of the country of Spain placed there a few years ago, with the approval of the U.S. Navy. The plaque states as a fact that in 1542 Cabrillo “took possession of these lands.” The Spanish Navy is part of the Spanish government, and the plaque is Spain’s way of claiming that Cabrillo “took possession” of the Kumeyaay Nation’s territory in what is now typically referred to as San Diego, California. In response to this unfounded claim by Spain, I have devised the following short fictional story in which my friend Paul Cuero, a traditional Kumeyaay leader and Vice-Chairman of Campo Kumeyaay Nation plays a role:

Once upon a time, Vice Chairman Paul Cuero of the Campo Kumeyaay Nation met a professor named Dr. Colón, who happened to be an expert in Spanish colonial history. As the two men began discussing the Cabrillo statue and the Spanish Navy’s plaque, Cuero asked Dr. Colón, “Is that true? Did Cabrillo really perform such a ceremony here claiming to ‘take possession’ of our Kumeyaay Nation territory?”

Dr. Colón became somewhat cautious. He realized that such probing questions from an astute Kumeyaay person such as Vice Chairman Cuero might pose something of an embarrassment for the Spanish government and its plaque, not to mention for the United States, which claims to be the political successor to Spain in this part of the North American continent.

“Well you see,” replied Dr. Colón, “that’s just how things were done in those days.”

Read More:
Steven Newcomb: Juan Cabrillo Never Conducted a Spanish Ceremony of Possession in Kumeyaay Territory (Indian Country Today 9/26)

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