The Morongo peoples and local tribes paved the way and set the standard for sustainability, led in part by support from a Supreme Court ruling that established gaming rights on tribal lands.
The Morongo Band of Mission Indians however, have a diversified portfolio of retail establishments beyond its flagship Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa.
During a Feb. 21 free lecture sponsored by the Morongo Cultural Heritage Department and hosted on the reservation in a Malki Museum classroom, a couple of presenters explained the history of the Morongo tribe, and highlighted the successes that have escalated through the decades.
The workshop focused on “Morongo History and Sovereignty,” beginning with explanations on sovereignty and its meaning politically and inherently: one meaning is based on human laws, and can be taken away; the other based on spiritual law and cannot be taken.
Cultural Heritage Assistant Maria Lorenzo explained to the nearly 20 guests the qualifications that enable a person to receive a “native” designation.
She talked about how tribal sovereignty trumps states’ jurisdiction within their lands.
Tribal board member and volunteer Aaron Saubel gave the audience a tour of Morongo’s history, through which Wanikik, Cahilla and Serrano Indians were taught agriculture around 1819, and that by 1840 many native people were employed by the Duff Weaver Ranch (near the modern-day Morongo Golf Club); native students were being educated at the San Timoteo Canyon Schoolhouse, and by 1851 many had moved into settlements such as the Ajenios Village near Banning, since they did not have legal entitlements to their own lands.
The Morongo reservation was established in 1865, and was one of nine reservations created by President Ulysses S. Grant by executive order.
The Malki Fruit Association was created out of a conglomeration of land mergers, and created large-scale agricultural crops, many of which were sold through the Hadley Fruit Orchards stand.
By the 1930s, the Seranno, Cahilla and Cupeño Indians evolved to participate in the cattle industry, which gave rise to the Cattlemen’s Association.
By 1964 the Malki Museum was established by June Penn and Katherine Siva Saubel to preserve native culture and language.
By 1969 the Fireman’s Association was established as Morongo’s then-volunteer Fire Department to engage in seasonal wildfires.
Today the department has 20 full-time employees, including 18 firefighters.
By the 1970s, as the tribe had no revenue-producing buildings and limited income from leasing lands for right-of-ways for utilities and highways, the Morongo planning committee understood a need for alternative means to become self-sustainable.
In 1986-87, Morongo joined the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in celebrating the Supreme Court ruling that confirmed tribal sovereignty and tribal gaming rights.
A year later the original Casino Morongo opened; by 2004 the 24-story, 44-acre Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa arose like a beacon in the desert, completed at a cost of approximately $250 million, according to Saubel.
Since then Morongo has expanded its portfolio of business ventures: in 1997 it added a Shell Gas station and Morongo Travel Center. A couple of years later the former A&W restaurant became the first tribal-owned Taco Bell location.
By 1999, Coco’s became a tribe-owned Ruby’s Diner.
That year they also acquired Hadley Fruit Orchards, which was at the time not on tribal land; it since has been moved a block away.
Morongo added the Arrowhead Bottling facility, Canyon Lanes Bowling, and the former East Valley Golf Club in Beaumont was purchased and became the Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon (tukwet is Cahilla for “cougar”).
In the few years Morongo has added In & Out in 2014, as well as Starbucks, Coldstone Creamery and Jersey Mike’s, and soon will open Haus of Poke.