OCDE, Vanguard University partner with Acjachemen community for history, cultural tours

Often referred to as the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, the Acjachemen Nation prospered for thousands of years on lands that ultimately became the county of Orange and parts of San Diego, Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

The Acjachemen lived in distinct villages, ranging from 35 to 300 members who embraced their interconnectedness to the natural environment. Following the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 1700s, they would largely be displaced from the region — but not before providing the labor force behind some of Orange County’s earliest and most iconic landmarks, including Mission San Juan Capistrano. More than two centuries later, Acjachemen descendants continue to live and thrive in Orange County and throughout the United States.

This year, the Orange County Department of Education has partnered with leaders of the Acjachemen community and Vanguard University to offer local educators a deep dive on Orange County’s first peoples with a half-day history lesson and cultural tour. Three tours have been held so far, each offered at no cost.

“This is a truly unique collaboration that allows teachers and administrators at all levels of the K-12 system the chance to better understand our county’s history, including the culture and traditions of its original inhabitants, with content that is aligned with California’s state standards,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said. “We encourage educators throughout Orange County to avail themselves of this opportunity, and to take what they’ve learned back to their classrooms.” 

A deeper understanding

OCDE’s Educational Services division and its partners hosted the first Acjachemen/Juaneño History and Cultural Tour on Feb. 5 in San Juan Capistrano, offering the session at no cost to educators who registered in advance. Tours were presented again on March 19 and April 9, with a fourth tour scheduled for May 14. Additional sessions are expected to be offered in the fall. 

At each Saturday session, participants gather at 8 a.m. with Acjachemen community leaders and representatives from OCDE and Vanguard at the Blas Aguilar Adobe Museum and Acjachemen Cultural Center. Located next to Historic Town Center Park, Blas Aguilar dates back to 1794 and is one of 10 original adobe structures still standing in San Juan Capistrano. 

“This program represents an opportunity to promote a deeper understanding of the history of San Juan Capistrano and Orange County,” said Domingo Belardes, curator of the Blas Aguilar museum. “It is especially meaningful to be able to share these lessons with educators on land that was once home to three major Acjachemen villages, with a 228-year-old adobe as our stage.”  

The tours then make their way to the Old Mission Historic Cemetery and Putuidem Village, a new tribal park honoring the Acjachemen, for immersive lessons. Participants return to Blas Aguilar at 11 a.m. for refreshments and a debrief that allows for questions.

Reaching future generations

“By sharing our culture, our history and our traditions with the education community, we are taking steps to ensure our story is passed on to future generations,” said Jerry Nieblas, a direct descendant of the Acjachemen and a San Juan Capistrano historian. “Participants in this program get to take a one-of-a-kind cultural journey that starts at the historic Blas Aguilar Adobe, takes them back in time to Putuidem Village, and continues to the Old Mission Historic Cemetery, which becomes a deeply personal experience for visitors.”

Through its staff of professional educators and trainers, the Orange County Department of Education has long sought to highlight the county’s history with programs for teachers, students and families.

The Acjachemen/Juaneño History and Cultural Tour furthers that objective by equipping educators with primary-source knowledge and authentic stories of the Acjachemen that can be shared in K-12 classrooms. OCDE’s educational leaders have also curated a library of accompanying resources, including lessons that are directly tied to the California State Standards for each grade level.

“Orange County has an incredibly rich history dating back to its earliest days and its very first inhabitants,” said Jeff Hittenberger, professor of education at Vanguard University. “We are grateful to have dedicated local spaces that connect us to our past, including Blas Aguilar, Putuidem village and the Old Mission Historic Cemetery. Even more so, we are thankful to Jerry Nieblas and Domingo Belardes for graciously sharing their narratives, cultures and traditions.”

For more information, or to register for a future tour, contact Dr. Marika Manos, coordinator of history, social science and civics in OCDE’s Educational Services division, at mmanos@ocde.us.


Source: OCDE Newsroom