San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                                                                Guest Column           
                      Valuing the Juaneno Culture and Heritage
Councilmember Ferguson
        By SJC Councilmember Kerry Ferguson

As the Mayor’s liaison to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, I was invited to attend a profoundly significant event at Serra Chapel recently; a Juaneno Mass of Unification, led by the first Juaneno Priest, Father James Nieblas; “Father Jimmy.” All of our Juaneno families participated in a special mass that was both Catholic and Traditional. Father Jimmy began with a special message of the importance of unity for this family of Mission Indians of the Acjachamen people who have lived here for more than 10,000 years. He stressed the importance of keeping their traditions, teaching them to new generations and sharing them with others.

Jacque Nunez shares stories of the
Acjachamen Indian Tribe
Then, he made a remarkable announcement; Father Jimmy, who was born and raised in San Juan Capistrano, baptized in Serra Chapelo and the first Juaneno to become an ordained priest, has been selected and invited to attend the canonization of Father Serra on September 23rd in Washington, D.C. It was especially meaningful that he made the announcement in the only chapel in California where Father Serra celebrated mass.

I am also gratified that Acjachamen Cultural Heritage will be celebrated at our Northwest Open Space (“NWOS”). Last spring, I urged the City Council to revise the plan for the NWOS to simplify and maximize the natural atmosphere of this important San Juan asset. We also decided the Cultural Heritage area should be designed by the Juaneno Band of the Mission Indians Acjachamen Nation, with the approval of the Cultural Heritage Commission, the Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission and the City Council.
Now, an ad hoc committee put together by Cultural Heritage Commissioner Nathan Banda, Is working on the new design. Jerry Nieblas, Gigi Nieblas, Stephen Rios, Adelia Sandoval, Rebecca Robles, Joyce Perry and Matthias Belardes are among the members. As the original space was determined to be too small (about the size of a two-car garage, the new space will hopefully be more suitable as a ceremonial center for their people, and an educational center for our whole community. After all, they are an important part of the cultural heritage that makes San Juan Capistrano so special.

This will be great for the group, many of whom trace their ancestry back many years to the original village of Putuidem that was located on that spot. The Acjachamen had lived in this area for 10,000 years before the Spaniards came in 1776 and continued to gather there even into the 1950’s for traditional celebrations. When the area is complete, they hope to have partially built “kiichas”, or homes, as well as an amphitheater and commemorative plaques depicting their history and culture. 

They will restore the land with the same trees and other plantings that existed originally, before it was turned into an orchard. Especially beautiful will be a spread of sweet peas, which once blanketed the countryside in the spring with their fragrant blossoms. A picnic pavilion will offer a shaded area to share meals, and there will be an enhanced staging area for equestrians. A space will also be provided for a small museum at a later date. Their master storyteller, Jacque Nunez, has offered her special programs so that 3rd graders and other visitors can enjoy the living history of this valley.

Information was reprinted from Councilmember Ferguson’s free community newsletter. To be added to the newsletter email list, send your email to Councilmember Ferguson at: 

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