DINA GILIO-WHITAKER, professor of American Indian Studies, Cal State San Marcos, and REBECCA ROBLEES, Acjachemen tribal member
The San Juan Capistrano City Council’s backpedaling on the Putuidem Cultural Park project is troubling for many reasons, and they are all related to California’s unspeakably genocidal history toward American Indians. More to the point is how this history is still constructing the present and manifesting itself in the ugliest of ways in arguments to commercialize what remains of the open space. The idea to develop the last remaining undeveloped Native site in Orange County with a glamping operation or any other project to generate money, subjecting the Native community to another act of dispossession, is immoral and disgusting. It is an act of erasure of Acjachemen people and culture, and a subtle act of genocide.
Historians and scholars understand American society as “settler colonialism,” where the goal is the acquisition of indigenous lands through the elimination of indigenous peoples. This can occur via the outright killing of indigenous peoples, and this is certainly what characterizes early California history. But it also happens in other ways through a system of never-ending aggression.
California history is finally recognized as a site of overt genocide. Don’t believe it? Even Governor Newsom recently delivered a long-overdue apology for California’s genocide. That was part one of the American-sponsored genocide, but by no means did it end there.
Eighteen treaties made in California but never ratified constitute a history of the theft of seven million acres of land, which was concurrent with systematized indigenous slavery enabled and funded by the federal government. It lasted until the end of the 19th century, long after the African slave trade was abolished by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1865.
The open space near J. Serra Catholic High School is all that is left of Acjachemen people’s beloved village site in San Juan Capistrano. It was bad enough that we had to endure the destruction of the major portion of Putuidem for the building of a school named for the instigator of California’s systematized slavery system. This was a recent genocidal act of erasure that is continued now with the shrinkage of the Putuidem Cultural Park to one small acre. This new assault is intolerable beyond words.
For a change, SJC, do the right thing by indigenous peoples and stick to the plan for a complete cultural park unencumbered by some crass, greed-driven commercial development. This is your last chance to get it right.