Former Viejas Tribal Chairman Anthony Pico said his wife, Diana Pico, who was laid to rest on June 19 was dedicated to propagating health on the Viejas reservation by reconnecting modern families with traditional wisdom.
Tombstones that were first erected on the reservation between 1946 and 2016 show the average age of tribal citizens at the time of death was 40.7 years, and Diana Pico, he said, recognized how short that lifespan was and worked until her last days to improve that mortality rate.
She passed away at 66, after her own long battle with cancer, but worked as a healer as long as she was able to do so, Anthony Pico said, often studying and reading late into the night to learn more about different cultural approaches to medicine.
Although she was employed in Western medicine as an oncology nurse, he said, she also believed that interpersonal connection has healing powers and worked on reservation with energy medicine learned from several indigenous cultures.
“Diana and I integrated the fire ceremonies of Peru, Mexico, and Kumeyaay into one ceremony,” Anthony Pico said.
The general concept behind the shared practices involves taking something that is no longer needed in one’s life and putting it into fire, removing it from one’s daily existence as a form of self-healing.
“Diana learned from the Huicholes and studied nightly on energy medicine, extracting toxic energy from people and putting it into the ground then replacing it with energy and light from the cosmos… She studied under the Caral tribe in Peru at 12,000 feet as well as the Yucatan peninsula,” Anthony Pico said.
Ironically, fire also figures into the challenge of rediscovering cultural traditions lost to time because ancient practices dictate burning everything from the deceased. What does exist can be found buried about 32 feet underground near Jacumba, Anthony Pico said, a result of sand shifting back and forth over 10,000 years.
“All we have is archaeological evidence because everything was burned after death. In fact, we still do a modified version of that burning three days after death,” Anthony Pico said.
Still, he said, Diana Pico pushed for families to learn about traditional cultural practices as a way to promote healthy families on the reservation.
“We’re trying to bring back older values where people can be together, learn from each other. We’ve revitalized our traditional music with people who range from 30 to 60 years old,” Anthony Pico said.
He believes Diana Pico’s legacy will live on in a place of gratitude, in prayers called out at the wailing wall.
“She really believed we could heal our people, that she was her brother and sister’s keeper, not in an intrusive way but to lend a hand whenever needed,” Anthony Pico said.