For 12,000 years, the Acjachemen Nation lived and thrived on the land that is part of modern-day Southern California. Then the Spanish came.
Hundreds of years later, the Natives who today are known as the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians still cherish and hold ceremonies at their most sacred site, the village of Putuidem in Capistrano. In mid-June the city council approved a $3 million plan to turn the 1.3-acre spot of land into a park and education center for the tribe, essentially giving it back.
The tribe has had to watch over the years as their lands were first pillaged, then developed. Putuidem is the center of the tribe’s roots and culture, and that is what they are gaining control over, though the actual land will still be owned by the city. It is part of a plan that includes an entry road, a picnic area and a cultural center, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Not only will the center educate the public about the tribe, but four times a year the 1,900 tribal blood descendants will have exclusive use of the center for private prayer ceremonies—essentially a day during spring and fall equinoxes and summer and winter solstices,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Plus, they can stop paying hundreds of dollars for a permit each time they want to host a large gathering on the public property.”
In addition a statue will be erected of Coronne, the tribe's first female chief, who ruled from Putuidem.
The council's gesture goes beyond its significance to the tribe in that it also shows support, and acknowledgement, from the city.
"We've never had a piece of land dedicated to our sole use since the Spanish," said Juaneño band Chairwoman Teresa Romero to the Los Angeles Times. "We haven't had any land to conduct a ceremony. For the city to recognize that is tremendous. The fact that we can connect with our ancestors here is a great victory."