In Loving Memory: Katherine Siva Saubel

By Staci Wilson, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
November 21, 2011 

UC Riverside mourns the death of ethnobotanist, Katherine Siva Saubel, who passed away Tuesday, November 1, at the age of ninety-one.

Mrs. Saubel was born March 7, 1920. She attended Palm Springs High School where she was the first Native American woman to graduate, and later went on to receive an honorary PhD in philosophy from La Sierra University. The daughter of a Cahuilla medicine woman, Mrs. Saubel grew up learning Cahuilla language and tradition. Once she began school, however, she realized that many of her friends did not share a similar knowledge. Inspired by her mother and threatened with the thought that her language and culture might be lost or forgotten one day, Mrs. Saubel dedicated her own life to preserving knowledge of Cahuilla language, culture, and history. Her books include “Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian knowledge and usage of plants” (which records information about herb and plant uses she learned from her mother) and “I’sniyatam Designs, a Cahuilla Word Book” (a kind of dictionary for Cahuilla words and phrases).

Mrs. Saubel served as County Historian of the Riverside County Historical Commission and was named “Elder of the Year” by the California State Indian Museum. She has contributed various testimonies on tribal affairs and Indian culture at both federal and state levels, in addition to being a consultant for several commissions and agencies. Her involvement as an activist garnered Mrs. Saubel several awards, including the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian Art and Culture Award and the Bridge to Peace Award. In 1965 she co-founded both the Malki Museum and the Malki Press with the intention of, “promoting scholarship and cultural awareness,”¹ particularly by preserving California Indian knowledge and traditions for future generations. Mrs. Saubel’s dedication to scholarship continued through her direct involvement with various universities, including UC Riverside, UCLA, and even Hachinohe University in Japan, where she lectured on Cahuilla culture, literature, and history.

In 2002 Mrs. Saubel was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal at UC Riverside, the highest honor the university is able to bestow. She was highly involved on campus, not only through her efforts with the Chancellor’s Native American Advisory Committee and contributions to the annual Medicine Ways Conference, but through direct work with students and faculty who were interested in the vast knowledge she had to share. In his reflections on their friendship, professor of history Clifford Trafzer describes not only Mrs. Saubel’s invaluable support of his research, but also a woman with a rich range of experiences -- a woman who fell deeply in love with her husband, Mariano Saubel, shortly after their first meeting, a woman who was used to hard work after a childhood in the desert, who was enthralled by the wisdom of her elders and sought to pass that knowledge onward as they had. Professor Trafzer goes on to describe a time when his vocal cords were injured and Mrs. Saubel directed him to a Cahuilla tea to help heal them. “After three doses of the tea,” he says, “I could speak clearly for the first time in months. Katherine had detailed knowledge of Cahuilla medicine ways, and carefully and selectively shared information about this sensitive and sacred topic.”

UC Riverside will miss not only an accomplished mentor and lecturer, but also a great friend who so generously gave of her time and knowledge for many years.


¹ Quote taken from the Malki Museum, Press, and Cultural Center website at http://www.malkimuseum.org/

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