Long before Orange County came to be, several indigenous tribes inhabited the area, from the beach to the mountains.
Some descendants of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, also known as the Acjachemen Nation, still call Orange County home, and Irvine leaders seek to honor their culture by establishing a mock village within the city.
The mock village would resemble what the tribal members lived in and could showcase structures that the Acjachemen used as shelter. It could include a small amphitheater to display the history of the people, said Councilmember Kathleen Treseder, who pitched the idea.
City leaders are looking to the Putuidem Village in San Juan Capistrano as inspiration.
Opening in late 2021 — following years of planning and delays, partly due to the pandemic — the 1.5-acre San Juan Capistrano park was built on a portion of an original tribal village inhabited by the Acjachemen people, the city’s first residents. It includes an amphitheater area with boulders and log seats, a trail and various depictions of the Acjachemen way of life, including ramadas (a shade structure), kiichas (a thatch home) and manos (a ground stone tool).
“I imagine our village will be something like that,” said Treseder.
Calling a mock village a benefit for Irvine, Treseder added: “It will provide a space in our community for ceremonies, demonstrations, field trips and educational events as we honor, remember and continuously learn about our history and its people.”
Heidi Lucero, who chairs a faction known as Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation 84A, said the Putuidem Village is a great example of what a village in Irvine could look like.
The Putuidem Village is regularly used by the tribal community to hold various ceremonies as well as students who visit as part of their tour of Mission San Juan Capistrano, Lucero said.
“It should be a representation of a traditional village, more than just a place setting,” said Lucero. “Have it be a place for learning and education.”
City staff will work with Acjachemen Nation groups and Payómkawichum Kaámalam, a nonprofit organization that serves as a cultural resource manager for the Acjachemen people, to draw preliminary designs for the village and identify a possible site.
They will explore the tribe’s expectations, understand what the operations of that site would look like, identify the cost and determine the city’s role in establishing the village, city manager Oliver Chi said.
“This means that we’re finding our rightful place in history and being acknowledged that we are the original people of this land,” said Joyce Stanfield Perry, president of Payómkawichum Kaámalam and cultural resource director for the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation – Belardes faction. “Our goal is to have something in every city within our traditional tribal territory that will honor our people.”
There are several possible locations for a mock village in Irvine, likely in Portola Springs, according to a staff report.
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Last year, Irvine installed three panels throughout Portola Springs Community Park that detail the history of the Acjachemen who lived in the area, which was then called U∫rónvanga. The community center adjoining the park also features a Native American Wing with cultural displays.
The Acjachemen are considered the original inhabitants of Orange County, along with what are now parts of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside counties. Perry said the traditional tribal territory expands from Camp Pendleton to Cal State Long Beach, an expansive piece of land that includes all of Orange County.
Treseder said the city is willing to work with anyone interested in giving input on the village. She suggested the city also consider other indigenous nations and asked staff to reach out to the Tongva people whose ancestral homeland was also what is now Irvine.
Chi said staff will return in 90 days with an overall proposal to be considered by the City Council. If the council approves it, the city will have to identify a funding source for the village.