Historical Women Who Rocked: Katherine Siva Saubel

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Katherine Siva Saubel was a member of the Cahuilla Indian tribe of California and one of the last speakers of the Cahuilla language.  As a child, Saubel attended a public school where she was told to speak only in English and saw other Native American children beaten for speaking their native language.  Though she witnessed the firsthand affects of not abandoning her background, she felt it was important to preserve the Cahuilla language and she spent a lifetime ensuring her culture was not erased from history.

In order to preserve Cahuilla culture when she was being taught to discard it, Saubel kept a journal full of things her mother, a medicine woman, taught her.  She also memorized sacred Cahuilla songs that were often only performed by men, which helped sustain her ability to speak the language.  Saubel co-wrote a Cahuilla dictionary, worked with linguists and anthropologists to produce accurate historical studies of the Cahuilla people, and also penned a memoir, A Dried Coyote’s Tail.

In 1964, Saubel helped found the Malki Museum, the first museum opened by Native Americans on a reservation.  She was the President of the Malki Museum from 1965 until she died in 2011.  For the important work she did for the Cahuilla people, Saubel was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

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