Founding & History

Malki Museum is the oldest museum founded by Natives on a reservation in California, and has been the inspiration for several other Indian museums.

The Museum began as the dream of a few hopeful women, and was passed down to Jane K. Penn, a Wanikik Cahuilla, who, with the help of others, translated this dream into a reality.

More than four decades ago, Mrs. Penn began to hear the dreams and suggestions of her aunt, the late Margaret Pablo, who wanted to leave the rich cultural heritage of her people in Mrs. Penn’s keeping, and who wanted to bring enrichment to the lives of Indians and non-Indians alike. Mrs. Pablo was the grandniece of Ygindio Gabriel, a chief of the Wanikik Cahuilla.

Ygindio had been chief during the tragic time when California was being heavily settled by the Melkish (white man) and had just become a state of the Union in 1850. It was he who signed the Treaty of Temecula, for his band, in 1852. This treaty was never ratified by the Melkish (white man), but it will be forever remembered by the Indian. More than 20 bands of Southern California Indians signed that paper.

Margaret Pablo, a remarkable old woman, saw beyond the treachery of the treaty to a greater understanding between the Indian and his new neighbors. She wanted to share the Indian culture with the newcomers, and also to help rekindle the spark of cultural pride and identity in the hearts of her Indian people, who had begun to leave the reservations and forget their traditions.

Mrs. Penn’s elderly cousin, Victoria Weirick, of Wanikik and Kawasic (Palm Springs) Cahuilla descent, felt the same. As Margaret Pablo had done, Mrs. Weirick left her precious artifacts to Jane Penn for safekeeping. Among these were mortreros, an herb cooking pot, and other precious materials to add to Margaret Pablo’s collection. Through Mrs. Weirick, Mrs. Penn received the herb cooking pots used by her own father, William Pablo, one of the last and greatest Cahuilla medicine men.

When Mrs. Penn received these items in 1958, she confided to friends that she wanted to display them in a museum. Among these friends was ethnographer Lowell Bean—then a graduate student who was to play a vital role in the realization of the Malki dream—and Mrs. Katherine Siva Saubel—a mountain Cahuilla of the Los Coyotes Reservation near Warner Springs. Mrs. Siva Saubel was related to Mrs. Penn by marriage, and Mrs. Penn asked her to become Malki’s first president because of her knowledge of Cahuilla language and culture. She has continued in that capacity to this day.

At that time, Mrs. Penn had in her home an outstanding collection of Cahuilla arts and crafts, which she informally showed to any who wanted to see. She conceived the idea of a museum to be known as “Malki,” which is the Cahuilla word for “dodging” and the original name of the Morongo Reservation. (Morongo is a word of Serrano origin, taken from John Morongo, a leader at the turn of the century when the Serrano people of the northern mountains and desert were forced into a coexistence with the Cahuilla at the then-called “Malki Reservation.” It was later renamed Morongo by the federal government.)

In February 1965, Malki officially opened its doors to the public, and was dedicated in a traditional ceremony where nearly 1,000 Native and non-Natives gathered.

Since then, much growth has occurred: the construction of a permanent adobe brick museum, a growing academic publishing company and the purchase of another well-established publishing house, the re-design of the Temalpakh Ethnobotanical Garden (which houses an array of the plants used by the Cahuilla for food, housing, and medicine), several educational projects and annual events, and the ability to provide limited scholarships to Southern California Indian students, among other things. Currently, a research library and lecture hall are in progress, and there is still more work to be done.

Through the years, Malki has remained dedicated to its goals of preservation and education. After Jane Penn’s death in 1982, Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel has continued the dream, and, at age 87, she is still actively filling her role as museum president. She persists in passing on her knowledge and understanding of Cahuilla culture, and has accomplished much in her lifetime.

Malki is still relatively young, and still struggling, but in a way it is as old as time itself—as an embodiment of the belief that man is really a brother to man, that all men are created equal, and that men today can learn from the past.

Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel

Cahuilla Elder and museum founder Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel is a remarkable woman who has lived through many changes and has worked tirelessly to link us to a rich and unique Cahuilla past.

Born on March 7, 1920 to Cahuilla speaking parents at Pachawal pa (the upper village of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation) Katherine spent the first years of her life in the mountains above Warner Springs, up where only Cahuilla was spoken. She had 11 siblings in her immediate family (6 boys and 5 girls), and she was the eighth.

At the time, the Los Coyotes Reservation was much more isolated than it is today. Undoubtedly this isolation is in part to thank for her superb command of her native tongue and for her profound understanding of Cahuilla culture. After over eighty years of having to survive in an increasingly English world, Katherine is still very much a dominant native speaker of her dialect of Cahuilla known as “Mountain Cahuilla,” and the Cahuilla culture is still very much alive in Katherine’s heart, if nowhere else.

On advice from a Cahuilla shaman, Mrs. Saubel’s father moved his family out of Los Coyotes to a warmer part of the Cahuilla territory. In 1923, when she was almost four years old, the entire family settled on the land of Pedro Chino (her mother’s uncle) at the Agua Caliente Reservation in Palm Springs. There another dialect of Cahuilla, known as “Pass Cahuilla” was spoken, and Katherine learned it as well, even though it is the dialect of Cahuilla most divergent from Mountain Cahuilla.

In 1925 or 1926, Mrs. Saubel’s maternal grandmother — a native speaker of the third and final dialect of Cahuilla known as “Desert Cahuilla”— came to live with her daughter’s family. From her maternal grandmother, Mrs. Saubel learned to understand the Desert Cahuilla dialect, which was not that different from her own native Mountain Cahuilla dialect.

It was also around this time that Katherine entered the segregated elementary school in Palm Springs, where she acquired English by the time honored sink-or-swim pedagogical method. She initially spoke not one word of English, but she learned by observing and figuring out what was being said. No one taught her; she was just put in the back of the classroom and ignored, but she still learned.

Katherine was a “tomboy,” often playing and rough housing with her brothers – running around, climbing trees, and sometimes making mischief. Her grandmother once made her some dolls to play with, and sat to play with her, but Katherine did not like it, and upset her grandmother by throwing the dolls up in a tree so she could climb up into it.

After she finished primary school, Katherine wanted to go to high school, but at the time there was not one in Palm Springs yet, so she had to take a bus with white students to Banning. She was athletic and enjoyed sports like softball and archery. She was the best archer in the all-male class. Halfway through high school, the Palm Springs high school was finished, so she transferred and was the first Native American or (Indian) woman to graduate from there.

As a very young woman Katherine began to realize the imminent loss of Native American culture and knowledge, which had been passed down through generations. During her high school years, she kept a notebook describing all of the familiar native plants and their uses as foods, tools, and medicines. Her family was able to survive well during the Great Depression of the 1920s by going back to their traditional ways of hunting and gathering. They never went hungry, and Katherine learned much from her mother, who was a great cook, gatherer, and medicine woman. Her mother instilled in her the idea that you must take care of the earth because it takes care of you, and if you destroy it you are destroying yourself.

Since childhood, Katherine has always had a fiery wit, an unwavering bluntness, and a strong sense of justice. She was never afraid to stand up for her people and their rights. During high school she had to wait at a bus stop on the reservation in front of a small restaurant that had a sign in the window saying “Whites Only.” When she noticed the sign, she marched into the restaurant and told the owner to take it down because his restaurant was on reservation land and he had no right to keep Indians out of a restaurant on their own land. The owner didn’t say a word when she told him this (she thinks he was shocked to have an Indian teenage girl telling him what for), but later when she walked by the restaurant the sign had been taken down.

Katherine’s father Juan encouraged her keen intelligence and modeled to her the importance of education. He had never attended school as a child, but enrolled in St. Boniface at the age of twenty and learned English, Spanish, and Latin in three years.  He did not have much formal education, but seemed to have a knack for picking up languages. He also spoke Cupeno, Luiseno, and bits of other Native languages along with his own Cahuilla language. Despite Katherine’s desire to continue her education after high school, funding for a much desired nursing career was not available for reservation Indians at the time.

Continue reading Katherine's story here.

Jane Penn
Wanikik Cauhilla

Jane Penn, a Wanikik (or Pass area) Cahuilla, was raised to learn the importance of her Native heritage and she lived and cherished it throughout her life. She was born on May 6, 1910. Her father, William Pablo, was one of the last and greatest medicine men. Her grandmother, who lived to be 120 years old, and an aunt, who lived to be 96, both told her stories as a child of their Wanikik Cahuilla heritage. Many of her nephews sang birdsongs and some were even Ceremonial House singers, knowing the songs of only a special few.

As a young girl in the early 1920s, Jane attended St. Boniface School in Banning. In those days, the land surrounding the town of Banning and the Malki Reservation (now called the Morongo Reservation) was thick with almond and apricot groves. As a teenager, Jane wanted to see more of the world and went to live with a sister in Los Angeles. Living in the larger city of Los Angeles, Jane’s experience and knowledge expanded to include the world outside of the reservation. This experience paved the road for her return to the Morongo Reservation at age 49 with an even stronger conviction to create a place where her culture could be preserved and taught for generations to come.  In Los Angeles, she worked in a factory during WWII that manufactured plane parts for the war, and she also met her husband Elmer there. He returned with her to live on the Morongo Reservation, where she had some family land left to her.

In 1952 Jane began working at the Banning shirt factory, making 60 cents an hour. There she joined forces with another young Cahuilla woman from the Los Coyotes reservation, living on the Morongo Reservation with her husband Mariano Saubel, who was Jane’s cousin. That woman was named Katherine Siva Saubel. Over time the two women realized they had similar visions and strengths and first exercised their personalities by forming a labor union within the shirt factory – the first union in Banning. At first only four women joined the union, but when the factory decided to raise their wages by $1.00 per hour (to a total of $1.60 per hour), it became a success and many joined.

Lowell Bean, a young ethnographer, discovered Jane and the Morongo Reservation in his quest to find educational materials for his anthropology degree. Jane offered to teach Lowell about her culture in exchange for his help, and he agreed. The first thing Jane had Lowell assist with was not the recording of cultural heritage he may have been hoping for. Instead, it was to gather and clean eggs in the mornings from her chicken ranch in exchange for cultural discussion in the afternoon. One of Lowell’s fond memories of Jane was that she was an excellent teacher, kind, but “she was not afraid to bawl you out if you needed it.” Jane introduced Katherine to Lowell Bean, and a great collaboration began which produced many books, events, and other opportunities.

When Jane’s elderly aunt Margaret Pablo and cousin Victoria Weirick passed away, they both left her their collection of artifacts, which she received in 1958. She wanted to preserve the traditions, culture, and language that were slowly slipping away as elders died and many left the reservations to seek jobs, so in 1964 she brought together a group of Native and non-Native friends she had known for years and set out to found the first non-profit Indian museum on a California reservation. Among these friends were Lowell Bean and Katherine Siva Saubel.

Jane asked Katherine to be the Museum Board President because of her knowledge of the Cahuilla culture and language, and Jane herself assumed the role of director and treasurer. Their vision for the museum expanded to include all of Southern California’s Native American tribes, not just their own Cahuilla people. Both Katherine’s husband Mariano and Jane’s husband Elmer helped to form the museum with their hearts, hands, and minds. Mariano would begin building fences and ramadas by himself and soon the community showed up one by one and began to help. Katherine had the better car so she began driving Jane, spending many hours together in the car discussing their ideas. Jane and Katherine’s partnership enabled the dream of a museum and cultural center to become a reality.

Jane Penn was co-founder and director of the Malki Museum on the Morongo Reservation, and her efforts toward protection of the Indian heritage won her honors from the Indian and white communities. She was a winner of the SCOPE (self help, citizenship, opportunity, principle, education) award of the Pacific Region of the Soroptimist Federation of the Americas. She was one of eight distinguished Native people named as an Honored Indian Historian by the American Indian Historical Society, and in 1977 was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the first Native American woman from Southern California to sit on the Native American Heritage Commission. She was a member of the State Inner-Tribal Council, a member of the Morongo Tribal council, and an honorary member of the Soroptimist International of Banning. Jane was one of two American Indians to attend the International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1977, one of the many forums at which she spoke out against the deprivation of the Indians of their lands and heritage.

When a visitor to the Malki Museum once asked if anyone would shoot him if he dug into the Indian graveyard, she replied, “Well, if nobody else does, I will. Why don’t you tell me where your relatives are buried and I’ll go dig them up?”

Jane died at age 69, on Saturday, March 22, 1980 at Loma Linda University Medical Center, following a lengthy illness. She had no children, but dedicated the last 20 years of her life to preserving her Native American heritage and culture.

Katherine later took Jane’s place on the Native American Heritage Commission, and has continued the work of preserving their culture in her capacity as President to this day. It is due to the extraordinary vision of these two strong women who fought to keep their heritage alive that we have the privilege of enjoying the Malki Museum today.