Native Americans, archaeologists, and Sierra Club conservation activists have joined forces in a united effort to save the last remaining Native American cultural heritage sites in Orange County. Over sixty community members attended a Sierra Club sponsored educational program in San Juan Capistrano on November 20th, entitled "History at Risk--Orange County's Archaeological Sites: Can They Be Saved?" to bring attention to the plight of cultural heritage sites endangered by development.
Moderated by Rebecca Robles, Chair of the Sierra Club's Orange County Native American Sacred Sites Task Force, the program featured a combination of traditional music by the Acjachemen singing group, The Tushmal Singers, and presentations by archaeologists and other speakers on the conservation campaign. A PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Steve Conkling, an Orange County paleontologist, outlined the historic and cultural significance of Putiidhem Village/CA-ORA-855, a rare and endangered archaeological site in San Juan Capistrano. Considered the mother village of the Acjachemen/Juaneno people, Putiidhem was the first village established in the San Juan Capistrano Valley by Native Americans of the late Prehistoric Era, approximately 600 years ago, around 1400 AD. The village was still occupied at the time of Spanish exploration into California. A Spanish priest, Father Boscana, documented the culture of the Native Americans known as the Acjachemen. Putiidhem is significant in terms of prehistoric and historic archaeology, Native American ethnic heritage, and California exploration and settlement. A 1998 study of the site by Koerper and Mason concluded "Putiidehm has a special quality that cannot be duplicated by any other Juaneno site." Guest panelist Dr. Patricia Martz, an archaeologist who founded the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA), said her organization has identified over a dozen highly significant archaeological sites in Orange County that are at risk and in need of preservation. Saving Putiidhem and Bolsa Chica from development are two of the organization's highest priorities. Dr. Martz announced that CCRPA is in the process of nominating the Putiidhem site to the National Register of Historic Places.
Guest speaker Dr. Laura Williams, the first California Indian woman to become a medical doctor and the director of the California Indian Health Service Clinics, spoke on the importance of saving sacred land and its connection to Native American spiritual wellness. Putiidhem has been listed on the California Native American Heritage Commission's registry of Sacred Sites since 1994 and is a known burial site. The historic site is currently threatened by the development plans of JSerra private high school. To find out more about other Orange County endangered archaeological sites or to check on the status of the draft environmental impact report for the JSerra development, log onto the Sierra Club's Orange County Open Space Campaign website athttp://angeles.sierraclub.org/ocosc/ and click on Sacred Sites. To sign up for the mailing list or to volunteer to help the campaign, please contact Rebecca Robles at Rebecca Robles.
Native American Sacred Sites Task Force