The Luiseno Indians are a Native American tribe of California. Historically, they lived in an area spanning the California coast from Los Angeles to San Diego. The name Luiseno was given to the tribe by Spanish missionaries around the turn of the 19th century, because they lived close to the Mission San Luís Rey de Francia in present day Oceanside, California. The Luiseno Indians call themselves Payomkowishum, meaning "People of the West," or ‘Atàaxum, meaning simply "people."
The Luiseno Indians are one of many tribes comprising the Mission Indians, Native American tribes of California that were forcibly relocated onto Spanish Missions in the 18th and 19th centuries, where many died due to overwork, disease, and starvation. Indian Reservations were established in the late 19th century. Today, the Luiseno Indians are enrolled in many different bands, or tribal groups, in San Diego County, each with their own reservation: Pala Band, Pechanga Band, Pauma Band, Rincon Band, Soboba Band, and La Jolla Band. The Pala band includes members of the Cupeno tribe as well as the Luiseno Indians.
The Luiseno Indians manage casinos on four of their reservations: Pauma, Pechanga, Rincon, and Soboba. The La Jolla Band features a campground, open during the summer. The Pala band features a Cultural Center open to the public and holds an annual intertribal celebration called Cupa Days in May to commemorate the tragic removal of the Cupeno from their town of Cupa in 1903.
Traditionally, the lifestyle of the Luiseno Indians relied heavily on the natural environment, with an emphasis on hunting, gathering, and fishing in dugout canoes or reed boats. Luiseno Indians also used the natural toxins of the California Buckeye tree (Aesculus californica) to stun fish before collecting them for food. A staple of the traditional Luiseno diet is wìiwish, a porridge made of ground acorns. Traditional craft items include coiled baskets, rattles, clay jars, and sand painting. Families lived in small, dome-shaped huts with a floor dug into the ground, and a smoke hole on top to provide insulation.
Sadly, Mission culture took a heavy toll on both the native population and the traditional cultural practices of the area. The Luiseno language, a Uto-Aztecan language closely related to Cahuilla and Cupeno, is severely endangered, with less than 50 native speakers today. However, revitalization efforts are in effect, and language classes are available to Luiseno children. Future plans include a Luiseno language radio station.