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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Descendants of the first people in what is now San Juan Capistrano held ceremonial rituals, smiled, and expressed elation during the long-awaited grand opening of Putuidem Village in the town’s Northwest Open Space along Camino Capistrano on Friday, Dec. 3.

The cultural area honors the region’s indigenous people through cultural markers and other amenities, and it had been in the works for years. After recent delays to the opening brought about by fiscal uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public can now walk through the area, which is largely still open space.

“I am so thrilled to be in this circle. I’m so thrilled because never again do I have to say to the children, ‘Close your eyes and imagine there are dwellings that that look like igloos that are made with grasses.’ Never again, because when they come here, they will see it,” said Jacque Tahuka-Nunez, of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians.

Tahuka-Nunez said the space is the same land her ancestors walked on, and was founded by a woman warrior chief. Tahuka-Nunez told other historical stories about the original inhabitants of the area and invited children in the audience to come up for a celebratory dance.

Los Rios Historic District resident Jerry Nieblas, whose grandparents and other ancestors are buried at the Old Mission Historic Cemetery along Ortega Highway, said it was an honor to stand at Putuidem Village—an occasion that left him emotional.

“This is my mother village—myself, my cousin, the Rios. This is our mother village,” Nieblas said. “This is the village of our ancestors. I feel their presence so deeply here today.”

Nieblas said they are now free to share the stories and experiences of their people, good and bad, without anyone looking over their shoulders anymore.

Jerry Nieblas’ cousin, Gigi Nieblas, was similarly pleased when attending the grand opening. She walked through the various parts of the village, as well as past a historic oak tree that represents their people and has survived through the ages while other surrounding parts of the environment have collapsed.

“It’s more beautiful than I even thought. It’s just so cool,” said Gigi Nieblas. “Everything’s fabulous. The rocks with all the writing and directions, they came out fabulous.”

City residents and officials also were at the ceremony, including City Councilmembers.

“Isn’t this a spectacular park? It is fantastic,” then-Mayor John Taylor said. “Thank you all for being here today. I want to acknowledge my colleagues on the City Council, Councilmember Sergio Farias and Councilmember Howard Hart. Sergio has been with this project a lot longer than I have. It’s so great to be here and see all the old families here, all the people we’ve seen and known for many, many years around town.”

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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comments (2)

  • Jerry Nieblas, President Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee, direct descendant of the Juaneno/Acjachemen and Early Californio Rancho Yorba/Rios Familia Reply

    *1776 The lives, traditions, culture, religion, lands, villages and the family units of our Juaneno/Acjachemen Ancestors comes to an abrupt and forceful ending as the result of the establishment of a “foreign” Spanish Mission! Absolutely nothing would survive or ever be the same for our people or for our Ancestral Village of Putuidem again…

    *2021 The great RESURGAM of a small portion of our most Ancient and Sacred Village of Putuidem occurs and
    becomes a reality! It’s unbelievable as we’ve waited for so long for this day. We celebrate Putuidem and all our Ancestors!

    Putuidem is the well documented Ancestral Village of my 6x great grandparents, Zodut and Zoget and my 5x great grandmother, Chigilia Maria Bernarda. They were forcibly removed from these lands shortly after the Mission and its new boundaries were established. THEIR lives would forever be changed and would NEVER again be the same — all forced upon them!

    Now we have, are able to celebrate and use a small area of Putuidem. It is called the Putuidem Village Cultural Site. I was very moved and humbled to stand on those sacred grounds and deliver a talk on the occasion of our Putuidem ceremonial opening. It was very emotional for me because I’m a direct descendant of those I’ve mentioned. They came to life that day and I felt their powerful presence. I wonder if they are as proud of me as I am of them. I was moved by all those in attendance. My direct line to this Sacred Village is unbroken and me and my cousin, Gigi, frequently visit this land to leave our tobacco bundles and sage offerings at our Great Grandmother Oak. She stands proud, powerful, deeply rooted in the land and truly represents the strength, determination and endurance of my/our Ancestors.

    A very special THANK YOU to Ben Siegel, Tom Toman, all involved city staff, Mayor John Taylor and the city council, Kerry Ferguson, Bob Cardoza(R.I.P.) and all the Putuidem Committee. It was almost 5 years of very hard work and challenging times, but we did it!! It is definitely a time of unity, renewal and celebration for our Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation! Always and forever to the memories of ALL our Ancestors!! Our great RESURGAM journey is just beginning…..

  • Hello Jerry Neiblas. Congratulations to all for this long-needed historical acknowledgement. Your name is very familiar to me, circa 1976 in SJC/Dana Pt. Along with others: Danny Lobos & family, cousin of Allan Priebs (who we knew from N.J.). Also the Browns: Doug, Linda, and their gracious mother. I’m pretty sure I met you a few times! My former husband was Michael A. and we had come out to CA in ’76 and experienced firsthand the deep warmth and caring love of the local Juaneno families, all whom helped us and embraced us like we were family. Just the best people ever, and I will never forget them. I would like to pay it forward. Will be in touch…

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