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Pechanga Band Of Luiseño Indians Hands Down Traditions To Their Youth
by Jeff Horseman- The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise
credits: photos by Frank Bellino - Special to The Press-Enterprise{credits}

A summer program run by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians teaches ancient skills and customs to tribal youth.

Besides making kiichas -- houses made from brush -- and arrowheads, those in the Traditional Knowledge Summer Youth Program say they learn to value each other as well as their culture.

"It's like a special bond they have with each other," said Art Masiel, the tribe's youth director. "You don't see that outside in the general public."

Started seven years ago by the tribe's cultural committee, the program geared toward teenagers runs for six hours a day, five days a week for six weeks.

Youths must perform 20 to 30 hours of community service before they can participate. This year's program ended in July.

The program seeks to preserve traditions dating thousands of years before the tribe first had contact with Europeans. Having endured enslavement by missionaries and eviction from their homes by state decree, the tribe today controls more than 5,000 acres through its reservation and runs the Pechanga Resort & Casino.

An average of 40 or so students take part in the program each year. Students are divided into clans based on ancient family groups.

The program's value isn't lost on Darla Morreo, 15.

"It's good to learn this because we can pass it on to the younger generations and keep it going," she said.

Instructors speaking the Luiseño language as much as possible teach students how to make baskets, pots and other items using tribal methods.

Students also visit historic tribal sites, eat traditional foods such as acorn mush and learn how to build kiichas as well as sweat lodges and other structures. Making kiichas is an exercise in expedience, because the willows and other materials lose their flexibility if not used in time.

Former student Richard Vasquez, 23, said he thought about his ancestors, who hauled in kiicha materials by hand. The students had the benefit of pickups when making their kiichas, he said.

The construction takes place along a dry creek bed behind the Journey at Pechanga golf course. Kiichas lined the creek bed long ago.

"I touch this and I get emotional," said Bridgett Barcello, an instructor who rubbed her hand along a smooth crater in a rock. Generations before, the impression was used to crush acorns or medicine.

"You can touch this ... and know how your ancestors touched it," Barcello said.

Other Inland tribes have their own programs to pass on their heritage. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians' programs center on the harvesting of plants for food, said tribal Chairman James Ramos.

The first program starts on the San Bernardino Valley floor, where the first plants bloom, and subsequent programs travel up the mountains to reflect how the tribe went to higher elevations throughout the year in search of edible plants, Ramos said.

Pechanga students often return each summer to learn more, and some, like Vasquez, even become instructors themselves.

"It's this beautiful circle that's happening," Barcello said.

"Once (the kids) show up, they get hooked," Masiel said.

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