Reid Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, speaks about the benefits of a Visit California initiative Sept. 13 at the site of the tribe's new cultural center, The Spa at Séc-he, and Oasis Trail in downtown Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LORETTA VLACH
The story of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians may be known in California, but the rest of the world is about to discover the tribe’s thousands of years of history and desert attractions thanks to a new initiative by Visit California, which will showcase the state’s Native communities and cultural tourism experiences starting in 2023.
Funded by a federal grant awarded as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, $1 million has been earmarked to create and share stories of 109 federally recognized California tribes on the Visit California website. Visit Native California content will begin appearing on the website in March 2023, says Caroline Beteta, Visit California president and CEO, during a Sept. 13 press event in downtown Palm Springs where the Agua Caliente tribe expects to open its new cultural center, The Spa at Séc-he, and outdoor Oasis Trail in 2023.
“People want to come to California from all over the world, really not only the embarrassment of riches and the diversity, but it’s really our shared lifestyle and culture that people want to connect to,” says Beteta. “And it’s really our tribal people throughout the state that have shaped that culture and that lifestyle from time immemorial. Their deep-rooted history and influence is woven into the fabric of the Golden State. So this initiative will showcase California's native experiences while honoring our rich cultural heritage, lands, and tribes.”
The Visit California website attracts more than 20 million visitors annually.
“When you think about Visit California being the primary tourism arm in California, their reach, not just across the country, but worldwide, that gives us those extra eyes, those extra ears, more people seeing what we have to offer,” says Reid Milanovich, chairman of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. “And the more people that see and hear what we have, I think that will obviously grow much more interest, and from there it'll continue to grow.”
Beteta says the Visit California platform will feature blogs, podcasts, itineraries and more to showcase cultural centers, museums, parks, trails, festivals, and hotels, where travelers can experience the native past as well as the dynamic modern lives of native people.
“All these stories and experiences and rich, authentic heritage moments really are the foundation of the California Responsible Travel Code, which emphasizes the preservation of our state's cultural heritage and natural resources,” adds Beteta.
Milanovich, who was named chairman in April, told attendees that he thought it was appropriate the Visit California announcement was made at the site of the tribe’s first attraction, the hot mineral baths in the late 1800s before Palm Springs become a city. Just a few feet from where Milanovich stood to speak is where the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring bubbles as it has for centuries, discharging an average of 24 gallons of naturally heated water per minute.
The pandemic derailed the cultural center from opening earlier, but it was obvious by the emotion in Milanovich’s voice when he says it “will be one of the most important projects in my tribe's history.”
“This is a project that has been a goal, not just in my lifetime, but we're talking going back generations. Every time I'm walking through here, it gives me the chill, seeing this actually become a reality. Very powerful,” he says. “It gives my tribe the opportunity, the ability to share our culture, to celebrate our culture. It gives us the ability to educate the public about our history. Who we are as a people. This is us. This is us, and it's told by us. And I'm very, very proud of that.”