OCEANSIDE — In honor of National Native American Heritage Month, City Council once again acknowledged the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians at its Nov. 28 meeting.
Mayor Peter Weiss presented a proclamation to several members of the San Luis Rey band including its captain, Mel Vernon.
“We’re the original people of the valley here,” Vernon said at the meeting.
Also known as the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseño Indians, the band is associated with six other Luiseño and Cupeño bands: La Jolla, Pechanga, Pauma, Pala, Rincon and Soboba. During the time when the Spaniards first established the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in 1798, missionaries labeled the native people “San Luiseños,” later shortened to “Luiseños.”
“If our village wasn’t there, the mission probably wouldn’t be here,” Vernon said.
After Europeans arrived to Southern California, life became difficult for the native people. Many suffered and died from disease, forced labor and lost of their way of life due to relocation and conversion to Catholicism.
Reservations were later established under the United States government, but a reservation in the San Luis Rey Valley was denied because settlers valued the land for farming and ranching purposes. Native Americans weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924.
Both Vernon and his sister, Diania Caudell, live in Escondido but were born in Oceanside. Caudell is an elder in the band and was also present at the Nov. 28 council meeting.
One of the challenges the San Luis Rey band faces today is preserving what remains of their cultural past, and sharing its heritage with future generations. Both Vernon and Caudell are actively promoting awareness about the San Luis Rey band within the community, attending events such as City Council’s proclamation and visiting local schools and colleges.
Previously a resident of Orange County, Caudell advocated for bringing American Indian education into the Capistrano Unified School District.
“I was one of the parents who wrote grants,” she told The Coast News.
According to the school district’s website, the Native American Education Program is federally funded to provide additional support for students of Native American Indian heritage. Both Caudell’s children and grandchildren eventually benefitted from the program.
Caudell is also board treasurer of the California Indian Basketweavers’ Association and teaches basketry in schools.
Vernon is a member of the community engagement panel for the decommissioning of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. He also sits on the Old Mission San Luis Rey Historic Foundation board of directors.
Vernon said it is important for native people to speak out about their history and culture as well as their present and future.
“A lot of times we don’t get the opportunity to do this, and a lot of the cities around here don’t have a lot of native people stepping up,” he said at the council meeting.
Vernon went on to explain that he sees the band as an involved “positive part of the community” and hopes to continue sharing the situations its people are dealing with today.
“We won’t forget the past and who we are, and hopefully we all have a bright future together,” he said.
The band will host is 23rd annual inter-tribal powwow on the San Luis Rey Mission grounds on June 8 and June 9, of 2019. The powwow is open to the public and will feature arts and crafts booths, food and dancing, among other things.
Caudell wants others to know that the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseño Indians is still here.
“We don’t have a tribal hall,” she said, “but our people are still out there in the community.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son