In the final weekend of September, thousands gathered at the annual Ohana Festival in Dana Point. The opening ceremony took place on the main stage Friday, September 30th, signaling the kick-off of the weekend’s festivities. Going on its sixth year, the festival has united the joy of music with the knowledge of sustainability. Recognizing many local tribal groups, the festival opened with a cultural blessing. These indigenous groups inhabited and inherited the land the festival was held on–centuries before being suburbanized. Through traditional ceremonial prayers, the tribes married their past customs with new ones of today. Beautifully demonstrated, the audience was transported into a deeper connection with the surrounding Earth. Giving a public platform for the indigenous peoples to showcase their culture strengthens knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of those who originated on this land.
The 2022 Ohana Festival was set off to a beautifully powerful start, rooted within the opening ceremony. The ceremony brought together the Indigenous peoples native to the Southern California coast to share the traditions of their homelands in a live prayer and blessing. The peoples from the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, the Pauma Reservation, the Acjachemen Nation, and Native Hawaii demonstrated their cultural blessings through song, dance, and prayers are spoken in both English and their native languages. Miss Kumeyaay Nation 2022-2023, Priscilla LaChappa of the Iipay Nation, was in attendance alongside prominent members of the tribal nations including Rebecca Robles and Chris Devers.
Emotions ran high as the ancient culture enveloped the audience and venue in centuries worth of historical unity. With National Indigenous Peoples Day following Monday, October 10th, the acknowledgment of these tribes and their triumphs were carried out in the best timely fashion.
Setting the Scene
Setting the scene under yellow, teal, and green lights, the people of the Acjachemen Nation started the ceremony with a song of healing. Dressed in traditional garb and stunning intricate jewelry, the sisters, Jaque Nunez and Rebecca Robles offered the healing prayer to the audience. The opening blessing was to rid all pain we all have experienced from losing loved ones throughout these recent tragic years. Their voices resonated through the crowd, over the stadium seats, and into the ocean behind. Perking up ears around them, many festival goers traveled towards the stage to get a better view. After the blessing, the opening prayer was commenced by Chris Devers of the Pauma Reservation, also dressed in the traditional garb of his people. He offered the burning of the sage to carry the prayers of the ancestors to us and with us; so we can spend the day remembering the native people of the west. The prayer, spoken in both English and his native language, gave the audience a sense of inclusivity and comfort to truly open up to the natural environment around them.
Continuing the peaceful flow of prayer, Stan Rodriguez of the Acjachemen Nation brought on fellow tribal relations from the touring White Mountain Apache tribe, to perform a few songs. The songs were expressed to be stories told through music; about their peoples' history and connection to the mountains, the oceans, the deserts, and everything in between. These songs were assisted by the dancing of the Acjachemen and Iipay Nation women. Accompanied by traditional instruments, the performance gathered the essence of the founding people of those lands and connected their history and culture with the audience.
Many generations of indigenous people were gathered and recognized on stage. This gave hope for future tribal generations and their growing embodiment of the culture. We grew to learn during the first discussion at the Storytellers Stage in The Cove, that most indigenous groups that reside in LA County and Orange County are not recognized by the government. This means these tribes do not receive the same benefits and rights as the more national tribes society as learned about in academics. There are 109 recognized tribes in the state of California and 80 more are fighting for the same recognition. Over the past 40 years, less than five tribes have become adopted into federal acknowledgment. These statistics should not prevent or deter other tribes or nations from protecting their land and people.
A Growing Voice
The Ohana Festival gave a voice to the groups of indigenous people that may not be heard by those in attendance. This platform served the audience with insights into each culture and tradition of the Iipay, Pauma, and Acjachemen peoples. In turn, the audience witnessed just how sacred these spiritual blessings and prayers are and the importance of carrying on traditions for generations to come.
It’s important to remember that events like the Ohana Festival are being hosted on land that does not inherently belong to the “settlers”. We are taking up space on land that was once lived on by other people not that long ago. Embracing their culture and taking time to pay respects to the pain, oppression, and perseverance these groups have gone through is a significant step forward.
The ceremony was a beautiful representation of the indigenous peoples’ historic culture and amplified their connection to the native land. Their words carried on throughout the day into the night; when people were motivated to learn about the preservation of our ecosystems, to share the love for food, and gather together to enjoy the music of decades.
“We are all very happy to be here and from a deep place in our hearts, we thank you.” expressed Jaque Nunez of the Acjachemen Nation.
The acknowledgment and recognition of local, statewide, and national Native American Indian tribes increase their chance of becoming federally recognized.
The understanding that the land we as a society are living on, working on, and dancing on was land once inherited, inhabited, and cherished by groups centuries before us. Allowing that remembrance strengthens their culture and traditions for continuing generations.
Being a part of the discussion and gaining knowledge about any tribe, gives support and shows the want to learn. With new information, many can spread awareness and in turn, increase the inclusivity of these groups.