Inside the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

See the exhibits that tell the story of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians from creation and migration to self-determination and modern day.

June 27, 2024
The contemporary architecture is paramount to communicating and celebrating the Tribe’s progress.
PHOTO BY LANCE GERBER

The recent opening of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum marks a momentous milestone in the history of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Through the Museum — and the entire Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza — the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians welcomes visitors into its expansive history.

Past, present, and future unfold in six distinctive galleries in the 48,000-square-foot Museum, which tells the story of the Agua Caliente people through their own voices, images, and artifacts. In sharing these stories, the Tribe hopes to ensure the Agua Caliente are remembered and understood for generations to come.“The Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza provides an incredible opportunity for us to share and celebrate our history, culture, and traditions with this community and visitors from around the world,” Tribal Chairman Reid D. Milanovich says. “For us, it’s a dream come true that has been in the making for more than three decades. When we share our culture, it helps preserve our culture.”

Visitors follow a prescribed route through the exhibition galleries, beginning with the ancestral Cahuilla territory:

Elements of the Museum’s design, from the curve of the walls to the graphic emblem on the floor, reflect slices of Agua Caliente culture.
PHOTO BY LANCE GERBER

Our Home, an introduction to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the eight other tribes of Cahuilla Indians.

Creation and Migration, a 12-minute, 360-degree theater experience that tells the Agua Caliente creation and migration stories through digital animation.

Our Land, a collection of scaled replicas of the Indian Canyons and Séc-he, the Tribe’s sacred Hot Mineral Spring that bubbles up beneath the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza.

Change, Adaptation, Self-Determination, a look at how the Tribe adapted to survive more recent historical events as non-Native settlers arrived.

Into the Future, an archeological exhibit that highlights the artifacts recovered during excavation for the Plaza site.

Changing Gallery, a rotating exhibition of traditional and contemporary Native American art.

The multichannel video theater brings the Tribe’s story into the present.
PHOTO BY ETHAN KAMINSKY

Throughout the galleries, immersive sensory details — including benches that echo thunderstorms — transport visitors to early Cahuilla life. As visitors continue through the galleries, they’ll also hear from today’s Tribal members as they share what it means to be Agua Caliente and what they hope the future will bring.

As the first tribal museum designated as a Smithsonian Affiliate, and in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum also nurtures cultural exchange and engagement. One such example is For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw, which showcases visual history through the photography of the Kiowa tribe member. The exhibition is on loan from the Smithsonian through December 2024.

Ongoing programming offers hands-on learning, including watercolor painting, children’s activity books, and a “Coloring in Cahuilla” experience featuring coloring sheets with Cahuilla words. Drop-in experiences also offer up-close looks at Cahuilla artifacts and crafts such as traditional ollas (clay vessels) and baskets and native plants.

The Museum store showcases Native-made goods from across the nation.
PHOTO BY ETHAN KAMINSKY

The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum Store showcases handcrafted goods by Native artists from across the nation. Visitors will find artisanal items like hand-beaded crafts, tufa cast silver jewelry, woven tapestries, and even Navajo brim hats made entirely of reclaimed materials — all advancing the museum’s mission to support Native artists and communities, ensuring the rich traditions of tribes across the country are shared and, more importantly, celebrated.

To learn more and plan your experience at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, visit accmuseum.org