Ernest Shiva is a Serrano and Cahuilla elder, a bird singer and a teacher.
He is also part of the stories.
Shiva, 84, was born and raised on the Morongo Indian reservation near Cabazón. He grew up in his grandfather’s house, where the Serrano language was spoken. His aunt, he said, was the last fluent speaker of the language.
Shiva and his wife, June, founded the non-profit Dorothy Ramon Learning Center in Banning in 2003, named after their aunt, to help preserve the Native American cultures of Southern California.
Morongo Aboriginal elder Ernest Siwa shares songs with photographer at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center in Banning @watcharaphotog And today I The first was about the doodlebug (antlion). Can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with us #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth coverage. pic.twitter.com/Tl4STDxAzp
— Jennifer Iyer (@Jen_Iyer) November 19, 2021
“The idea of saving and sharing is our motto at the Ramon Learning Center,” he said, “and it comes from our great-grandfather, Francisco Morongo, who died in 1906. He encourages young families to work hard and study. Were saying for. And learn a new way. ‘Our way is coming and ending, this is what you have to do to be successful.’
“In the end he said ‘Never forget your language. Never forget where you are from.'”
The center publishes scholarly work, and organizes flute classes, lectures, concerts, and family activities. During the coronavirus pandemic, the center has been active, offering digital programs through videos on its Facebook page and YouTube. Shiva hopes that individual events will resume soon.
Siva has served as tribal historian and cultural consultant for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and at Cal State San Bernardino, UCLA and other campuses, sharing local Indian cultures and languages.
He also works with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians near Highland to preserve the Serrano language and history.
He said those bird songs don’t just sing about birds. They are symbolic, although they refer to birds such as grasshoppers, pigeons and Canada geese.
“We came, like birds in the air,” he said, “we swam,” as my grandfather, Pete Ramon, said.
Songs also help unify.
While each family has different understandings of their “history, language, culture, it all fits together,” Shiva said. “Music: Songs were our books; they knew who we were, who we were and what was about to happen.”
He sees himself as the fulfillment of a need.
“People are searching,” he said. “I just answered what I knew about life and so on, and others were doing the same.”