In his first sit-down interview since recently being elected as tribal chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Reid Milanovich spoke with Peter Daut about his goals for the tribe, the new cultural museum, and his late father's legacy.
"My focus really is day to day," Milanovich told Daut, adding that it's an exciting time for the tribe. After years of construction, the new cultural plaza and museum in downtown Palm Springs is expected to open in spring 2023. Visitors to the nearly six-acre complex will be exposed to the tribe's history, culture, and traditions. In addition, a state-of-the-art spa fed by the ancient Agua Caliente hot mineral spring will offer nearly two dozen private mineral soaking tubs, a salt cave, pools, and numerous other world-class amenities.
"That project will be in my opinion one of the most important projects this tribe has ever built," Milanovic said. "We're going to educate the public about who we are, and the most important part of that is it is told by us. It is not another organization, another museum talking about the Agua Caliente tribe. It is our own voices. The power of that is incredibly significant."
Something else significant: Milanovich himself. The 39-year-old was recently elected to his first term as tribal chairman, a role his father Richard held for nearly 30 years before passing away a decade ago. Richard Milanovich was considered a leader in local and national tribal affairs, including negotiations that expanded gaming opportunities for California tribes.
Standing at Richard Milanovich's portrait inside the tribal office, Daut asked Reid: "When you see your father's portrait, what goes through your mind?" Reid replied, "I'm happy. I'm happy whenever I walk into this building, and feel the presence of all our previous leaders."
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by Coachella Valley Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz to honor Richard Milanovich by naming the post office on North Sunrise Way in Palm Springs after him.
"I think it is an incredible honor to have a post office named after one of our tribal members," Milanovich said. "Do I think it's great that it was my dad? Sure. But the key to that is that an Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal member was being honored on the house floor."
Despite his father's long legacy, Milanovich said he did not develop an interest in the tribal council until after graduating from college and moving back to Palm Springs. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from California Baptist University.
After being named to the council in 2014, Milanovich later ran for vice chairman in 2019 and received the popular vote from the general tribal membership. This year, he became chairman, and replaced Jeff Grubbe who held the title for a decade and chose not to seek re-election.
"What do you think your father would say about you becoming tribal chairman?" Daut asked. Milanovich replied, "We're all one family here. He would be happy to see where we are at today."
Milanovich said the tribal council is very involved in the day-to-day operations of their sovereign government, including a variety of serious issues. For example, the tribe filed lawsuits against the Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency over rights to groundwater access.
"I can't speak much about the case right now because we are in a period of mediation, and it's something I think about every single day of trying to do the right thing," he said.
In the meantime, Milanovich said he is honored to be at the helm of the tribe, which has more than 500 members, and he believes the new cultural plaza and museum will be beneficial for the entire Coachella Valley.
"It is something I get chills just thinking about," Milanovich said. "As you know, in this area we get visitors from all over the world. So when they come here to Palm Springs, they're going to walk that site. And they're going to learn more about the Agua Caliente Tribe."