Kitanemuk (people of the east)

Tejon Serrano

Who Are They?
The Kitanemuk are a mountain people who occupied the northern San Gabriel mountains, the Tehachapi mountains, and the western edge of the Antelope Valley. The Chumash were their neighbors to the west and southwest, and the Yuhaviatam and Tataviam were their neighbors to the south. The most well-known Kitanemuk settlement was at Tejon Creek just southwest of the Tehachapi valley, which was first visited by the Spanish in 1776 who recorded the Kitanemuk population to be between 500 and 1000.

What Were Their Villages Like?
Like other groups on the mountain margins of the Mojave Desert, the Kitanemuk lived in permanent winter villages of 50 to 80 people or more. These people dispersed into smaller mobile gathering groups during the late spring, summer, and fall months. The smaller groups made use of temporary camps for relatively short times, moving from place to place as the important food-producing plants in each area became ready to harvest.

Where Did They Come From?
Like other Takic-speaking peoples such as the Yuhaviatam and the Tataviam, the Kitanemuk are believed to have arrived in southern California approximately 2,500 years ago. The word “Kitanemuk” means “people of the East.”

What Did They Eat?
The Kitanemuk were dependent on acorns from the abundant oak in the western portion of their range facing the San Joaquin Valley, and piñon pine nuts found on the slopes on the eastern side of the range, facing the desert. The acorns were abundant on the western slopes of the Tehachapis, facing the San Joaquin Valley, while the groves of piñon pine tended to be found on the eastern side of the range, facing the desert.

What Was Their Culture Like?
The culture and customs of the Kitanemuk were for the most part similar to other peoples living in the Antelope Valley and upper Mojave River areas to the east. The main god of the Kitanemuk are Canniqpa (The high Creator, also spelled Tsannixpa), who was venerated for creating the universe and the other gods, but is a distant and incorporeal spirit who is not personified in Kitanemuk myths. The other god was Tsuqqit, earth goddess and creator of the human race with the help of her five divine brothers. The Kitanemuk are believed to have buried and/or interred their dead, unlike their neighbors the Yuhaviatam who were known to cremate their dead. This demonstrates that although the Kitanemuk share many linguistic ties to the Yuhaviatam and other Takic-speaking peoples of southern California, their culture and customs more closely resembled those of their neighbors to the north and east.

How Did They Adapt To The Arrival Of Europeans?
The arrival of the Spanish mission system brought many of the same changes to Kitanemuk ways of life as it did for other indigenous groups in California. The majority of the Kitanemuk were assimilated into life at Mission San Fernando and Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in the Los Angeles area, while others stayed near the Tejon Creek area of their ancestors and became ranch hands at newly established Fort Tejon, calling themselves the Tejon Indian Tribe.

Who Are The Modern Kitanemuk?
In 1864 an entity known as the Tejon Agency created the Tule River reservation near Bakersfield, CA, and a small Kitanemuk community was relocated there that survives to this day. There are currently at least two groups of Kitanemuk who have remained close to their ancestral land at Tejon Creek. One is called the Tinoqui-Chalola Council of Kitanemuk and Yowlumne Tejon Indians, and the other group is known as the Tejon Indian Tribe. In 2012 the federal government officially recognized the Tejon Indian Tribe.