500 BC: Indians (*8) – Coronne clan, later known as Tongva Indians, lived at Aliso Creek and Laguna Lakes. They dubbed the area as “Lagonas,” the Indian word for lakes. They depended upon the fresh water, game, and marine life for survival. Remnants of these villages were seen by the early homesteaders.
Acjachemen (Ah-HAWSH-eh-men) village. * Illustration by Mary Leighton Thomson
A Thriving Nation 12,000 BC – 1542 AD
California has a rich Native American heritage. Hundreds of tribes call California home, more than any other state. The native inhabitants of San Juan Capistrano and all of Orange County belong to the Acjachemen Nation. For more than 10,000 years, the Acjachemen (A-ha-che-men, also called Acagchemem or Juaneño) occupied the pristine coastline, vast valleys, and majestic mountains which spanned from Long Beach to Oceanside, as far east as Lake Elsinore, and westward to Catalina and San Clemente Islands. The Acjachemen possessed an intricate social structure based on clans. Villages were governed by male and female clan chiefs called Nu and Coronne who oversaw hunting and gathering expeditions, migrations to seasonal settlements, tribal councils, and ceremonies. Villages contained populations of about 50 to 250 people each. Women and men wore grass skirts and animal skins with elaborate jewelry made of shells, seeds, and beads. Within the village, Acjachemen families lived in ki-chas, dome-shaped huts made of willow and tule, and ate wi-wish or acorn meal, fish and roasted deer or rabbit meat. Hunting was performed with bow and arrows, snares, and throwing sticks. Elaborate stone bowls, grinding stones, and tools were ingeniously made by the Acjachemen as well as intricately woven baskets. The Acjachemen were a deeply spiritual people who celebrated their religion in sacred ceremonies of dance and song.
An Inflicted Nation 1543-1834
Spanish exploration of Alta California began with the voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. This would be the first contact between Europeans and Native Californians. In 1769, Gaspar de Portola’s expedition of Spanish soldiers and Franciscan padres would be the first recorded contact in Orange County between the Acjachemen and Spanish. WIth the advent of Spanish occupation of California in 1769, the native peoples were integrated into the mission system. By 1776, Father Junipera Serra, charged with establishing missions in Alta California, founded the seventh mission known as the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The Acjachemen were forced to adapt to a new way of life and system of beliefs which were foreign to them. The newcomers also introduced diseases which inflicted a loss of over 60% of the Acjachemen population. The Mission San Juan Capistrano was established upon an Acjachemen sacred site and was the basis for a new identity for the Acjachemen who were then named San Juaneños by the padres.
A Transformed Nation 1835-1940
In 1821, Mexico achieved independence from Spain leading to the liberation of the Juaneños by Mexican Governor Figueroa in October 1833. With the Mexican occupation of Alta California, the Acjachemen/Juaneños became transformed into citizens of Mexico overnight and thus adopted Mexican culture, names, and a second language. The Mission San Juan Capistrano became dismantled, secularized, and abandoned. The Mission San Juan Capistrano was placed on public auction in 1845 by order of Mexican Governor Pio Pico. Don Juan Forster, and English settler, then purchased the Mission San Juan Capistrano for $710. By 1848, Mexican and American troops were at war over the western territory. Having defeated the Mexican army, American forces negotiated the surrender of California to the United States via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Thus, the Republic of California was established in 1850 and California became the 31st state in the American Union. This opened the flood gates to American immigrants into southern California. The Acjachemen were forced again to adopt another foreign culture and a third language — English. American Indian Agents sent Native children to far-away boarding schools, while their parents learned the new rancho occupations. Native Americans would remain foreigners to the United States until the passing of the Federal American Indian Citizenship Act of 1928. The California Mission Indian Federation was founded during the early 1900s to fight for California Indian Native rights and recognition. Acjachemen representation within the Federation was in the form of traditional clan leaders called Capitane.
A Sovereign Nation 1941 – Present
Clarence Lobo became the first Acjachemen leader to formalize a government to government exchange between the Acjachemen Nation and Washington, D.C. The Acjachemen were one of hundreds of tribes across North America to be overlooked as living tribes by Washington. And thus began the pursuit for Federal Recognition of the Acjachemen Nation. Clarence Lobo led this charge until is death in the 1980s. During the 1980s, formal governmental structure was established and elected Tribal Council was inaugurated. An official petition for Federal Recognition was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR) in August of 1982. All Federal requirements were finalized and submitted in September 1999. The Acjachemen Nation currently waits on a Ready for Active Consideration list for BAR’s attention and then finally Federal Recognition. The Acjachemen Nation today is an organized, democratic body comprised of a membership of over 2,300 members. Elected Tribal Council Members serve 4-year terms and direct the affairs of the Tribe. Various Tribal duties are delegated to Committees including Culture, Archaeology, Education, Community Events, Basketweavers, and others. The Acjachemen culture and language lives on in ceremony, traditional songs, and history. [from juaneno.com]