Back in 2009, a UC Riverside botanist discovered what was later to be identified as the third oldest living thing on the planet in the Jurupa Hills, just south of Fontana.
That scrub oak, a querus palmeri, started cloning itself from its roots 13,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, when there were mammoths and saber-toothed cats living here.
About 9,000 years ago, the Kizh Indians arrived in this area. (Kizh is pronounced "Keech.") They, like other California native cultures, consider oaks sacred. Since we have found Kizh petroglyphs and grinding stones in the Jurupa Hills, it is quite possible they ground the acorns from that very oak, as well as from many others that may also have existed in the area, at that time.
I should mention here that the word Jurupa is a mispronunciation of the Kizh word "Hurungna." It means "place of the sagebrush."
Our city's founding father, A.B. Miller, and his workers removed most of the sagebrush in our part of the valley, south of the Hurungna (Jurupa) Hills, in order to be able to plant vineyards and citrus groves, which is why sagebrush can no longer be found in the flat lands, here in Fontana.
Earlier this year, the Kizh were able to have that 13,000-year-old oak officially designated as the "Ancient Kizh Hurungna Oak" by the California Wildlife Federation. And an effort is currently underway to buy the land where that ancient tree resides. Besides protecting the oak, they hope to eventually construct an educational visitors' center there.
If that land were to be developed for housing or warehouses, the underground water source could be altered, causing the Hurungna Oak to die. And illegal fireworks could burn down the 75-foot wide ancient plant. So you can see how important it is to protect it.
The 13,000-year-old oak is in Riverside County, just south of the San Bernardino County Line. It is in the recently named community of Jurupa Valley.
The Kizh lived from just south of Santa Barbara, to San Diego County, east as far as Yucaipa, and on all four of the Southern California islands. "The Island of the Blue Dolphins," which many of us read in school, is based on a true story about a Kizh girl.
Construction is soon to begin on Pipimunga Pavillion in Ganesha Park, California. ("Pipimunga" means "hummingbird" in Kizh.) It will be a visitors' center displaying Kizh artifacts and information about their culture. And, interestingly, the architectural company in charge of the project is owned by Frank Lloyd Wright's grandson, Erik Lloyd Wright.
You can find lots of information about the "Jurupa Oak" or the Gabriellino Band of Mission Indians/Kizh Nation online. Also, there is a display and notebooks with information about the Kizh and the 13,000-year-old oak in the History Room, upstairs at the Lewis Library and Technology Center.
(Darlene Willis Scalf is a Fontana resident. She volunteers in the History Room at the Lewis Library.)