Task Force urges Irvine to recognize museum to honor Orange County’s original inhabitants

Many ancestral artifacts from the original peoples of Orange County are hidden in a warehouse, waiting to see the light of day.

Important cultural relics tell the story of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, whose sacred sites and traditional lands have been plundered, desecrated and devoured by development.

But a cohort of community and tribe members are struggling to find a home for the artifacts, urging the town of Irvine to establish a cultural and natural history museum in the Grand Parc.

Joyce Perry, a member of the Juaneño band of Indians at the mission and advisor to the museum’s task force, said in a phone interview this week that there was nothing in the county that really tells the whole story. of his tribe. She said there are thousands of “must come out” artifacts that are hidden in warehouses, universities, anthropological societies and other storage areas.

After years of delay, the village of Putuidem opened earlier this month in San Clemente. While the opening was seen as a major victory for the tribe, the 1.5 acre passive park does not provide a home for the Juaneño artifacts. Perry said the museum would have deep meaning for his tribe.

“We have things all over the world, but where do we put them? Perry said. “What better place than a museum and a museum that is in our homeland?”

Spiritual leader Juaneño Adelia Sandoval, center, leads guests in prayer at the park in the village of Putuidem.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The campaign for the museum began in 2015, when Mel Schantz Jr. said he started pushing for a site to honor the Native American community because it had no significant representation in Orange County.

“I had to start preparing something that honors the Native Americans who roamed this land before it became El Toro Air Base or the Grand Parc,” he said.

Descendants of the Acjachemen, whose history dates back thousands of years, the tribe became known as the Juaneños when Spanish colonialists built the San Juan Capistrano Mission in 1776. Today the tribe numbers around 1,900 members.

Schantz said he had started speaking with members of the Native American community to come up with his idea for a ceremonial site. With the help of Rebecca Robles, a member of the Juaneño tribe, and Cal State Los Angeles anthropology professor Pat Martz, they developed a plan for a natural and cultural history museum, and the museum was formed.

The group of volunteers worked hard to get city officials to embrace the museum’s vision as a central feature of the Grand Parc Cultural Terrace, part of the park’s 236 acres. The museum would also include fossils unearthed in Orange County.

“Since that time, administrations come and go, and the various board members I’ve spoken with, some of their eyes are glassy when I talk about indigenous issues,” Schantz said, noting that several current board members have supported the proposal.

Irvine mayor Farrah Khan said this week that she supports the museum as it will benefit the community. However, she is worried about how the museum will be funded. Khan said funding for the Grand Parc was running out, so there wouldn’t be enough funds from the city to get the museum fully off the ground.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t consider getting state or federal help for grants,” Khan said. “It could be a possibility, but full funding from city funds just won’t be available.”

Mayor Irvine Farrah Khan speaks at a press conference.

Mayor Irvine Farrah Khan speaks at a press conference.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The city council will make important decisions regarding the future of the Grand Parc in the new year. Over the past two months, Irvine has sought public input to update its park master plan, which fell short of its initial billing as the second coming to iconic Central Park from New York. Located on the site of the former Marine Corps airbase El Toro, the park today has a large sports complex, a football stadium, an amphitheater, an ice rink and a large orange ball.

Khan said city council members would review community feedback on the Grand Park and then make decisions about additions to the park.

The museum would not be the first that the city worked with the Acjachemen. Khan said they had established a community center in the Portola Springs neighborhood to showcase artifacts found in the area.

Perry said the city has a good working relationship with the tribe and understands the importance of honoring traditions and cultures.

“We made sure to bring in members of the Acjachemen tribe to help us not only create a room with the artifacts, but also provide the story,” Khan said. “So this is something very important, I think, not only for me, but for the rest of my colleagues.”

An aerial view of the Great Park in Irvine.

An aerial view of the Great Park in Irvine.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If plans move forward with the museum, Perry wants to make sure the tribe plays a central role in his plans.

“It’s part of my life’s work to see that happen, besides making sure that the tribal perspective is always a part of the story because we are often erased from history,” Perry said.

Schantz echoed the need for the tribe to dictate the direction of the museum.

“I do not speak on behalf of the tribe or its members, but in the shared belief that the indigenous history and culture is best told by the members of the tribe themselves, especially when it comes to anthropology and archeology, ”said Schantz. “Since there are qualified and accredited tribal members in this field, my vision is that they would be a mainstay of the museum when it comes to artifact collections, exhibits and public performances, as well as research. involved in the Museum of Culture and Natural History.

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