By Brian Park
For the first time in its history, the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians will be led by an all-woman council following the tribe’s election Saturday.
Teresa Romero was elected chair, defeating longtime tribal leader and incumbent Anthony Rivera. Jacque Nuñez will serve as vice chair, defeating Anthony Vaughn and the late Francine Yorba, who passed away in December but whose name was left on the ballot out of respect.
“The women of our tribe have been leaders for a long time now. It’s very exciting,” Romero said.
Kim Leone and Kristina Yorba, who both ran uncontested, are the new secretary and treasurer, respectively. Ruthie Stoffel and Heidi Perez were elected as the council’s two newest members-at-large, over a field of four others including Todd Ambo, Joseph Lopez, Cecelia Martinez and Shannon De La Torre.
“On this day our people were idle no more. Exercising our sovereignty, we came out by the hundreds to choose our new leadership for the next part of our journey,” Romero said in a statement. “We welcome the love and support of our sister tribes, as we continue our efforts for our inherent rights as the indigenous people of Orange County.”
Nuñez and Leone are both San Juan Capistrano residents. All the tribal council members have ties to San Juan Capistrano’s founding families.
“It’s kind of taking it back to how it used to be. All these folks have grown up here,” tribal member Nathan Banda said.
The new officers’ four-year terms officially began immediately after the final voters were tallied. They will be officially inaugurated at the tribe’s next general council meeting in mid-February.
With 1,941 current members, the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, of the Acjachemen Nation, are the original inhabitants of San Juan Capistrano, as well as parts of Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties.
The state-recognized tribe continues to work toward federal recognition after they were denied in 2011. “That’s always one of our primary goals,” Romero said.
Over the last several years, in-fighting between tribal members has led to the formation of Juaneño factions in San Juan Capistrano and throughout Orange County. Romero said bringing all factions back into the fold will be among the new council’s greatest challenges.
“We’ve been divided for a long time. There’ve been a number of different factions and splinter groups over the past 20 to 30 years. A lot of folks have been disenfranchised,” Romero said. “Unification will be our main goal and focus.”