The crest of Hot Springs Mountain is not a place many people will ever stand. Its breathtaking view of northeastern San Diego County at more than 6,500 feet above sea level is only accessible through the remote Los Coyotes Indian Reservation — and even then it’s a slow-moving bumpy and narrow, six-mile ride that winds its way throughout the reservation’s mountainous terrain.
On a late afternoon in early spring, David Streamer, who graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in American Indian Studies in 2016 and will graduate from UCLA on June 15 with a master’s degree in the same field, is at the wheel of his family’s four-wheel-drive truck. His sister, Minda, a UCLA senior, and brother, Daniel, a UCLA sophomore, ride with him up front.
“I love going to the top of the mountain,” said Minda, who will earn her bachelor’s degree in American Indian Studies this week and begin a master’s in social work program at the University of Chicago in the fall. “We have a lot of memories up there. It’s just really beautiful, getting to see the entire reservation and beyond.”
As the truck jostles from side to side negotiating the turns on the rocky unlevel path, David quips that although this leg of the journey might feel jarring to someone who has never taken it, it’s about to get a whole lot rougher. David’s astute driving skills later guide the vehicle between two fallen tree trunks and around the large construction vehicle stuck in the middle of the path.
Obstacles and adversity have never stopped these three first-generation college students. They’ve only served to make the siblings stronger and the family prouder.
“I don’t like when people make excuses,” said David, who ultimately wants to work in the field of law. “If you want something you work and get it.”
Being accepted to UCLA is something the siblings worked hard for, with the support of their parents Davida and Jim. Native Americans, according to data, are currently the most underrepresented demographic in higher education, representing just 1 percent of total enrollment in colleges and universities. The Streamers are working to change that statistic and encouraging other Native American students to do the same.
“We need to encourage them and help them understand that it is possible to go to a school like UCLA, even if you grow up on a reservation in a rural area,” David said.
The siblings also look forward to returning home to Los Coyotes once they’ve completed their schooling to help build a more prosperous future for its residents, many of whom are family members.
“I’m just excited to start making moves on the rez,” Minda said. “I wish there were more job opportunities out there for our community members. I wish there was more development. I wish there was a program to help our people get sober and I hope that one day we could all work together to learn our language and learn our culture. There’s a lot of potential there, but at the end of the day we need to work together as a community.”
The first step to building a stronger Los Coyotes in the long term, they say, is getting the younger generation excited about learning and confident that their skills, education and ideas are needed. David said this encouragement needs to start early in a child’s life with parents, grandparents and other family members enthusiastically imparting the message.
About 30 percent of the people living on the reservation are younger than 18. Many of these children are Streamer cousins, who range in age from 6 months to 12 years.
“I can almost guarantee you that all my little cousins are going to go to some sort of college,” said David, noting that because he and his siblings have gone through the process they’re able to offer guidance.
As college students, the Streamers have also mentored Native American middle and high school students from other tribes, too — advising them on how to become competitive college applicants, encouraging them to apply to top schools and guiding them through how to finance their education and apply for scholarships.
They’ve also been a steady source of support for other Native American students at UCLA and have worked to building a stronger sense of community among Native American students, staff and faculty.
David is completing his term as treasurer of the American Indian Graduate Association and has worked for four years as a personal trainer at the Wooden Center for FITTED, a student organization that provides free fitness training and education to underrepresented students at UCLA. In addition, he has been involved with the annual UCLA Pow Wow since his freshman year and more recently has worked with the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden to create a special section of the garden dedicated to native California plants.
In his academic work, he has explored access to traditional foods for Native Americans living in Southern California.
“We have been largely cut off from traditional food sources, so my work looked at how that happened, why that happened and the implications that it has had on communities,” said David, who presented his research at last year’s Native American Indigenous Studies Conference in Vancouver. “The effects include high rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high rates of death, and how to turn that around to re-incorporate those foods to help fix these problems.”
Minda has served as a secretary for the American Indian Student Association, known as AISA, and as a peer counselor, wellness coordinator and retention coordinator for Retention of American Indians Now!, which helps ease the transition to college for students and make them feel welcome and included at UCLA by providing mentoring, peer counseling, and academic, cultural and wellness workshops. An overnight recruitment event she ran in 2016 for incoming freshmen resulted in eight out of the nine Native American participants enrolling at UCLA. She has also been involved with planning and volunteering at AISA’s annual campus Pow Wow and youth conference and basketball tournament.
As a social worker she hopes to serve the Native community as a culturally competent caseworker and help families cope with their problems and develop better conflict resolution and communication skills. She said she has witnessed a great deal of turmoil experienced by people in the Los Coyotes community, including crisis and loss in her own family.
“There are kids on the reservation who are hurting,” said Minda. “I want to build a community where the youth feel safe knowing that they can grow up, and most importantly, I want them to do what they want to and have all the opportunities they can because sometimes they get neglected due to broken families, drugs, violence and alcohol.”
Daniel served as secretary for AISA as a freshman and was co-president of the organization this year. He also worked as a site coordinator for the American Indian Recruitment project, where he volunteers at an after-school program in the San Fernando Valley, and was involved with staging the UCLA Pow Wow.
In addition, he organized a youth conference focusing on education, culture and wellness for Native American youth ages 12-18. The event, which was held at UCLA in March, attracted students from California, Arizona and Nevada.
Life on ‘the rez’
Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, located 75 miles east of San Diego, is the ancestral land of the Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians. Though it’s the largest reservation by land mass in Southern California at 25,000 acres, it’s currently home to fewer than 100 people.
“The landscape varies drastically depending on the elevation,” Minda said. “For example, where we live there are a lot of oak and manzanita trees, but the higher up you go, the trees become denser and are cedar and pine trees. And then toward the back of the reservation the landscape can be described as high desert, and is mostly shrubs. We also get all four seasons. It’s really beautiful when it snows and it blankets everything. It’s beautiful, quiet, peaceful.”
With no casino, there is very little employment on the reservation itself, with the exception of jobs in the tribal office. While electricity became available on parts of the reservation in 1993, other areas remain without power. Some residents, including their cousins, rely on solar power and generators for household energy.
The nearest off-reservation communities are Warner Springs, a community of just more than 1,300 people located about six miles away, and Julian, which is home to some 1,500 residents and located about 30 miles away. For shopping and entertainment, people typically make a trip to Temecula, which is more than 80 miles away.
“Growing up there was different from what I hear of other people’s experiences,” Daniel said. “We climbed trees, we climbed rocks, played tag, went hiking, rode our bikes. Our parents were always working, taking care of our orchards and the garden. We had animals — chickens, horses — and we learned to respect what we had and what was there, even though it wasn’t much.”
A parent perspective
For their mother, Davida, education was always paramount.
“Our mom just always pushed us to do well in school from a super young age,” David said. “She read to us every night and always made sure we did our homework.”
Family conflict forced Davida off the reservation and out of school when she was just 14. Her mother died a couple of years later. Not finishing high school is something she describes as being her “biggest heartache” and it became her mission to ensure that her children were at least high school graduates. Life on the reservation is hard enough, she said, adding that a high school diploma would improve her children’s chances for success and make life easier. When she eventually learned about what a college degree might mean for them, she encouraged her kids to set their sights higher.
Throughout their school years, Davida was her children’s biggest cheerleader, encouraging them to get involved in things they enjoyed, chaperoning school trips and college campus visits, attending school and intertribal league sports competitions and celebrating their successes.
Davida also spent countless hours learning how to help them apply to college, keeping track of deadlines, researching financial aid options and gaining a stronger sense of what they needed to do to be competitive applicants.
“I love them more than anything in the world. I just want the best for them. I’m very thankful and hopeful that they’ll be able to use their education to better their community, and really truly do it — to make a difference in their lives and hopefully in somebody else’s life,” Mom said.
“My mom is a really strong person,” Minda said. “Emotionally, physically, mentally she’s just a really great woman. And she’s also a selfless person. She puts everyone else before herself and she’s not somebody who lets people down. I hope that one day I can be even half the woman that she is.”
For their dad, Jim, who was already a father when he met Davida, the most important traits he wanted to model for his children were kindness, honesty, a strong work ethic and a desire to help others.
“That was my greatest desire, and I’m pretty sure they fulfilled it,” said Jim, adding that David, Minda and Daniel have always had a way of making people happy and encouraging them to be their best. “My wife’s greatest goal was to see them have a higher education, so the two desires worked in conjunction. Everything turned out really nice because of their effort. They’re the ones who really put the effort in making a life and living a life. I’m real proud of them.”
David describes his dad as someone who stops at nothing to provide the best he could for those he loves, and is acutely aware of the sacrifices his father made to help his family.
“My father is humble and doesn't say much, but he busted his back seven days a week for 25 years to make sure that we always had everything we needed and to ensure that my mom could stay home and be the amazing mother that she is.”
From Los Coyotes to Los Angeles
With the stability and support of his parents, David worked to be a strong example for all the children on the reservation, but especially his siblings.
“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of role models in the area, so my brother and sister are the only people that I really had, and I always felt that I was expected to do it. They held me to a higher expectation, which I’m thankful for,” said David, who plans to become an expert in tribal law and use his education to help his tribe protect its land and resources.
Minda said that when David was accepted to UCLA she realized that a school like UCLA was attainable for her as well.
“I remember when we took him to college for the first time and we were all there together in the living room and we shared a big group hug,” said Minda, her voice breaking. “It was a genuine moment and we were all so proud of him.”
The example David — and later Minda — set didn’t go unnoticed.
“I saw how my siblings treated their teachers, how they respected their teachers, how they respected their schoolwork, and that really played into how I did my schoolwork and how I treated my teachers,” Daniel said. “Their success in school really provided a standard for me to follow and even surpass.”
Renee White Eyes met David when he was a high school student and she was working at UCLA as an assistant director for admissions, a position she held for four years.
“My job was to go out into Indian Country and educate the people there about UCLA and find those academically competitive students that I felt would be strong enough to succeed here at UCLA,” she said. “I was looking for students who had not only a strong academic background but a strong cultural background as well.
“Hearing David’s story about wanting to bring his education back to his tribe and everything he did to make himself academically competitive in this rural area just astounded me, and that’s when I knew he needed to come to UCLA,” White Eyes said. “I knew he would do so well here and he has … When Minda got accepted I was like, ‘OK there’s one left. If I can get a triple that would be absolutely amazing.’”
White Eyes said she was so happy to see them grow and excel here at UCLA and is grateful for the way they’ve worked to encourage Native American students and help them succeed.
“It’s amazing what they’ve done with the opportunity they’ve been given once they came here,” she said. “They are definitely some of the best students I’ve recruited and I couldn’t be prouder.”