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YouTube America’s Great Outdoors & Equal Justice: Robert Bracamontes Acjachemen / Juaneno

bracamontes youtube
Click on the image to see the YouTube video.

Robert Bracamontes of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe, asks cabinet level federal officers to (1) create a national recreation area in the San Gabriel Mountains with Native American participation; (2) save the Native American Sacred Site of Panhe and San Onofre State Beach; (3) save endangered state parks by investigating the administrative complaint filed by The City Project with diverse allies, and (4) save San Francisco Peaks in Arizona.

“The bankers and financial corporations have been saved. Now it is time to save the people and their land.”

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky writes: ”Very eloquent piece.  Packs a lot in to a few minutes.  Hope some of it penetrated.”

Mr. Bracamontes spoke at a Listening Session for America’s Great Outdoors at Whittier Narrows Regional Park in South El Monte, California.

Read Mr. Bracomontes’s remarks on America’s Great Outdoors and Equal Justice by clicking here.

Robert Bracamontes is a second generation trucker, published poet, journalist and blogger. He is a member of the Native American Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe and publishes his blog at Bob was a columnist for Our Times, a section of the Los Angeles Times.

Celebrating Acjachemen people and Panhe at San Onofre State Beach

The End of the Toll Road

The L.A. Times Editorial Board reports on “The End of the Orange County Toll Road,” November 23, 2016:

There are few development fights in California that have been as prolonged or contentious as the plan to build the Foothill South toll road across southern Orange County. No wonder: The proposed extension of State Route 241 would have plowed a six-lane superhighway from Rancho Santa Margarita through the middle of a private nature preserve, across an ancient Native American village and through San Onofre State Beach, taking out a popular campground and threatening the world-famous Trestles surf break.

We Won! Diverse Allies Saved Panhe and San Onofre

The United States Department of Commerce on December 18, 2008, upheld the California Coastal Commission decision to stop the toll road through the sacred Acjachemen site of Panhe and San Onofore State Beach. Download the press release and complete decision.

“Our hearts are filled with gratitude today. I am grateful for the support of UCPP members and our allies. This victory would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of our tribal community members, Tribal Nations, and our allies such as the Native American Heritage Commission, The City Project, the Sierra Club, California State Parks Foundation and others,” said Rebecca Robles, UCPP co-founder and co-director.

“Today is a significant day for Panhe, the Ancestors, the Acjachemen people, San Onofre, and the millions of people who enjoy this state park and camp ground every year. However, this process is not over. On behalf of the United Coalition to Protect Panhe, we call upon the TCA to suspend all litigation and federal lobbying activities and instead focus its resources on studying reasonable alternatives to the toll road,” according to Angela Mooney D’Arcy, co-director for UCPP.

Louis Robles, Jr., Acjachemen tribal member, said, “The voices of our Ancestors have been heard. This is an incredible victory for Panhe and for Indigenous peoples everywhere.”

Robert Garcia, Executive Director and Counsel of The City Project, said, “It is an honor to work with the Acjachemen people. We would like to thank Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, California Attorney General Jerry Brown and his staff including John Saurenman and Antonette Cordero, the California Coastal Commission and its executive director and staff, and the diverse allies who made this victory possible.”

Los Angeles Times Editorial The Acjachemen’s Victory

Los Angeles Times

The Acjachemen’s victory
The Acjachemen quietly marked the win against the Foothill South toll road by honoring land that will not be disturbed.
December 27, 2008

On the chilly morning of the winter solstice last Sunday, the sun was just cresting the ridgeline of San Mateo Canyon as the Acjachemen talking circle started. Twenty or so people stood around a campfire. They passed a smoking bundle of dried white sage from hand to hand, then took turns speaking.

But rather than the cycle of seasons, the topic on everyone’s mind was that they had won, they who are not accustomed to winning. The ground on which they stood, site of an Acjachemen village that flourished for more than 8,000 years, would not be traversed by a turnpike. Not likely, anyway, after the federal government three days earlier rejected an appeal to build the Foothill South toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

The debate about the proposed toll road centered on potential damage to a favorite surfing spot and the fate of the endangered Pacific pocket mouse. Less mentioned was Panhe, the former village located within the state park just south of San Clemente, to which a number of Acjachemen — called Juaneño by the Spanish — can trace their lineage, thanks to the careful records kept by missionaries.

“This is our Mecca,” Rebecca Robles, one of those descendants, had told me on an earlier visit. “This is our temple.”

In 1769, the Portola expedition came across the 350 residents of Panhe. This is where the first baptism in California was performed, the site now marked with a large white cross.

It’s easy to see how Panhe’s importance, both historical and as a modern gathering place for Acjachemen ceremonies, might be overlooked, even though it is listed by the Native American Heritage Commission as a sacred site. The cross is the only obvious sign of previous human settlement. But a wealth of artifacts lies underground, along with untold numbers of human bones.

The Acjachemen lost efforts to preserve old settlements at Bolsa Chica in Huntington Beach and at a site near the San Juan Capistrano mission. And their decades-long quest to become a federally recognized tribe has so far failed, in part because they are split into four factions. (That failure in turn is a relief to municipal leaders who fear the group will erect its own objectionable development — a casino.) The toll road was a rare and unexpected victory.

By the time the solstice ceremony concluded, the canyon was softly sunlit, newly green from recent rains and looking much like it must have for thousands of years. How many of us can stand on a spot and say that when Christianity was born, when the Ten Commandments were written, my ancestors were right here?

We admire civilizations for the man-made monuments that transform the landscape. The Pyramids. Stonehenge. The Acjachemen honor their ancestors for leaving no trace.

– Karin Klein

Navy and Marines Reject New Toll Road Proposal

The California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 in February 2008 against the proposed toll road that would have devastated the Native American Sacred Site of Panhe and San Onofre State Park.

The United States Department of Commerce upheld the decision of the California Coastal Commission in December 2008.

The proponent of the toll road, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), then proposed a new toll road route just south east of the original proposal.

The Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, rejected the proposed new toll road route through Camp Pendleton.  According to Secretary Mabus, the proposal creates unacceptable risk “to the lives of Marines heading into battle.”  The Secretary concludes in a letter to United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, “Based upon the thorough review and the fact that Camp Pendleton training is already constrained by environmental and other restrictions, I have determined that the proposed new TCA route would unacceptably impact the Marine Corps’ ability to train and prepare for all contingency operations.”

The Marines have separately stated that “any loss of valuable training areas is not acceptable” in rejecting the new toll road proposal, in an open letter from Major General Anthony L. Jackson, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West, and Colonel Nick Marano, the commanding officer of Camp Pendleton.

tca new toll road


Public Comments before United States Commerce Department–Save Panhe and San Onofre and Stop Toll Road, and Uphold Coastal Commission 8-2 Decision

United Coalition to Protect Panhe and The City Project have submitted detailed public comments to save Panhe and San Onofre and stop the toll road. We urge the United States Department of Commerce to uphold the decision of the California Coastal Commission that voted 8-2 against the toll road, and reject the appeal by the toll road agencies. We urge the Commerce Department to protect California’s coastal and cultural resources and the rights of the Native American people, working class people, and low income people of color. Download the public comments here.

Acjachemen Elders and Tribal Members Save Panhe and San Onofre — Video

View the testimonials by Acjachemen Elders and triblal members to save Panhe and San Onofre and stop the toll road that would devastate both.

This documentary is produced by United Coalition to Protect Panhe, The City Project, and Womyn Image Makers and can be used only with the permission of UCPP.

United Coalition to Protect Panhe — a grassroots coalition of Native American Acjachemen people — and The City Project have submitted public comments on behalf of a diverse and growing national alliance to save the sacred site of Panhe and San Onofre State Beach and stop the proposed toll road that would devastate both. The alliance urges the Commerce Department to uphold the 8-2 decision of the California Coastal Commission to stop the toll road, protect California’s coastal resources, save the sacred Native American site of Panhe, and protect the rights of the Acjachemen people and working class people of color.

Three state agencies formally oppose the toll road: the California Coastal Commission, the California Parks and Recreation Commission, and the California Native American Heritage Commission. Three Native American Acjachemen Tribal Resolutions support sovereign participation to protect Panhe. The Transportation Corridors Agencies nevertheless have appealed to the Commerce Department to overturn the Coastal Commission.

The road would violate the law, devastate sacred Acjachemen and Juaneño grounds at Panhe, harm recreation along trails and a nearby campground, threaten endangered species, diminish precious coastal open space, impact panoramic views of the sea and the world renowned Trestles surfing beach. With 2.7 million visitors a year, San Onofre is the fifth-most popular destination in the state’s 278-park system. The City Project is working with the United Coalition to Protect Panhe and others to save Panhe and San Onofre and stop the toll road.

The Diverse National Alliance to Save Panhe and San Onofre

Download the two-page letter from the diverse national alliance here. The alliance includes:


The Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) submitted public comments to the United States Department of Commerce May 27, 2008, stating that the Commission agrees with the California Coastal Commission: “The NAHC agrees with the determination of the Coastal Commission that the proposed mitigation will not reduce adverse impacts to below a level of insignificance. The NAHC believes that the impacts to the Juaneno people who use the site of Panhe for ceremony are completely unmitigated.” The NAHC letter is available for downloading here.

The Los Angeles Times reported on June 14, 2008, that United Coalition to Protect Panhe and The City Project continue the work to save Panhe and San Onofre and stop the toll road. “Rebecca Robles, a Juaneño from San Clemente who helped found a coalition to save Panhe,” said “‘It’s not over yet,’ . . . . ‘We just have to continue to build support to protect our sacred site.’” Read more about the coverage here.

Coastal Commission Votes 8-2 to Save Panhe and San Onofre State Beach

“At the commission hearing, Los Angeles civil rights and environmental attorney Robert Garcia and Acjachemen activist Rebecca Robles and other Native American leaders provided a moving and passionate defense of San Onofre as a critical site for providing access to open space and recreational resources for underserved communities. The San Mateo Creek watershed is actually Panhe, a key Acjachemen religious, historical and ceremonial site.” Serge Dedina, Surfshot Magazine.

Dana Parsons wrote in his Los Angeles Times column: “With all the talk of surfers and environmentalists, it seemed a concern for sacred sites was overlooked. But one observer sees the outcome as a convergence of interests.” Rebecca Robles, an Acjachemen woman working with the United Coalition to Protect Panhe and The City Project to diversify support to save San Onofre nationwide, said in a poignant interview:

“Places like this are important to us, because it’s our history, our connection to who we are,” she says. “But the other part that worried me is that I’m an American. I’m a Native American, but I’m an American. I love this country. I love this country. I believe in all the stuff about freedom and justice and our ideals. We lose our greatness as a country if we lose our ideals, if we let everything be destroyed. If what’s important to native people is their religious freedom . . . a toll road through a sacred site would have destroyed something that was irreplaceable. Most of the people, I don’t think, got it. Our allies eventually got it.”

Read the complete interview in the Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2008.


View Native American testimony in short YouTube videos of the February 6 hearing where the California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 against the proposed toll road through the park.

Commissioner Mary Shallenberger voted against the toll road because the impacts on Panhe violate the Coastal Act, citing the work of The City Project and United Coalition to Protect Panhe. The Commissioner cited the “rather grim” history of discrimination by the government of California against Native Americans.

The Commissioner concluded:
“This is a rather grim research paper . . . because it does have the history, some of the history, of how we, the government of California, have treated . . . Native Americans. That is background to where we are today.” “[J]ust because the project’s proponents
say that their project will adequately protect sacred sites, when the Native Americans, whose sites they are, say it will not, this
project is inconsistent with the Coastal Act.” “We cannot define for them what is reasonable to protect their sacred sites.”
The Commissioner emphasized the significance of sacred sites including Panhe in Native American culture:

“[There is] a huge disconnect in understanding between the Native American culture, and the – what would I call it? – the rest of the culture of California. . . . [W]hat I learned and came to respect is that for the Native Americans, quite often, their sacred sites are different. They are absolutely tied to, and integral to a specific place on the earth. Churches, synagogues, and I believe mosques can be moved. They can be moved, and they can be reblessed, or whatever that particular religion calls for, and the worship can go on in a different building in a different place. With the Native Americans, that is often not the case.”

Statement by Commissioner Mary Shallenberger, Reporter’s Transcript of Coastal Commission Proceedings on Panhe and San Onofre, Feb. 6, 2008, at 401, 402-03 (on file with The City Project).

Other commissioners also cited the impact on Panhe and the Acjachemen people, and the need for affordable recreation and transportation for people who cannot afford to pay the toll.

Members of the Acjachemen nation sang a prayer before the Commission. Acjachemen leaders Louis Roble, Jr., Rebecca Robles, Joe O’Campo, Joyce Perry, and Stella Osborne talked emotionally about the meaning of Panhe in their lives and culture.

The City Project’s Executive Director and Counsel Robert Garcia, and Policy Director Angela Mooney D’Arcy, an Acjachemen woman, described the diverse and growing alliance to save Panhe and San Onofre, and how the toll road vioates the Coastal Act and equal justice for all.

Commission staff and the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) explained how the impacts on Panhe and the Acjachemen people violate the Coastal Act. California State Parks Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Goldstein described the values at stake to save the park, and the need for affordable recreation and transportation, citing the mapping and demographics work of The City Project and GreenInfo Network on who uses San Onofre.

Save Panhe and San Onofre!

Los Angeles Times: “Rebecca Robles, a Juaneño Indian from San Clemente, and half a dozen other Native Americans sang a ceremonial song to commissioners. Afterward, Robles gave an emotional speech about Panhe, an old Indian site at San Onofre that is the Juaneño band’s ancestral home. ‘I encourage you, I implore you to uphold the California Coastal Act,’ Robles said. ‘Panhe is one of the remaining sites where we can enjoy our spirituality. I ask you to protect this sacred site.'”

New York Times/AP: “The California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 late Wednesday against the project, which critics said would wipe out about a dozen endangered or threatened coastal species, decimate an ancient Indian burial ground and block sediment that creates world-class waves at San Onofre State Beach.


L to R Acjachemen leaders Louie Robles Sr., Louie Robles Jr., Rebecca Robles, and Alfred Cruz and Robert Garcia of The City Project (center) celebrate after the hearing.

See more images of the Coastal Commission hearing at the L.A. Times Photo Gallery.

Save San Onofre and Panhe

San Onofre State Beach is one of the five or six most popular state parks in California. The proposed toll road would represent the first time in California that state park lands were taken by a local governmental entity for a major infrastructure project. Allowing this project to proceed would set a dangerous precedent, threatening coastal parks, open space, and cultural, historical, and Native American resources everywhere in the State.

Panhe bears a special meaning in Acjachemen — as well as non-Indian — life, culture and history. Panhe is an ancient Acjachemen village that is over 8,000 years old and a current sacred site, ceremonial site, cultural site, and burial site for the Acjachemen people. Many Acjachemen people trace their lineage back to Panhe. Panhe is the site of the first baptism in California, and the first close contact between Spanish explorers, Catholic missionaries, and the Acjachemen people in 1769. The Acjachemen people built the mission at San Juan Capistrano. Destroying Panhe would hurt not only the Acjachemen people but all the people of California and the nation.

The proposed toll road would impermissibly harm the Acjachemen people, impair their access to Panhe, and impair their ability to practice their religion. The toll road will impair their freedom of religion, freedom of association, and beach access rights.

Save San Onofre and Panhe!

The toll road would also discriminate against the working poor with limited or no access to a car, people of color, and low income communities. The toll road would disproportionately deprive them of affordable world class recreation and access to a public beach and park. San Onofre provides such opportunities at the San Mateo Campground, on hiking trails, and through surfing at Trestles. These communities disproportionately cannot afford to pay tolls for commuter or recreational travel. The toll road will not relieve congestion but instead increase development and traffic.

Over 2.4 million people visit San Onofre State Beach each year. More than 88% of campers at the Beach’s San Mateo campground reside in California, and over 93% of these California campers reside in the 8 counties with the greatest need for green space. San Onofre is also located in one of 8 counties with the greatest need for green space – in combined terms of fewest acres of green space per thousand residents, and highest levels of child obesity, youth, poverty, and people of color.

Save San Onofre and Panhe!

Click on image to see all sizes.

The United Coalition to Protect Panhe and The City Project submitted detailed public comments to Save Panhe and San Onofre and stop the toll road to the Coastal Commission, focusing on the values and equal justice principles and laws at stake. We also incorporated the public comments submitted by mainstream conservationists.

Acjachemen Woman Heidi Perez on the History of the Acjachemen People

Acjachemen Woman Heidi Perez talks about the history of the Acjachemen people. Thank you to Naui Ocelotl Huitzilopochtli for making this video and posting it on his YouTube site!

A Plea to the Governor

An open letter from Sally Cruz-Wright of the Juaneno band to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“Governor Schwarznegger,

Please accept this letter as a formal request to enter the fight to protect my homeland. The land of my ancestors is under attack, under attack by those who propose a toll road. A road which will place concrete over the bones of my ancestors. A road that will desecrate land that has long been thought sacred by my people.

I am of a proud people who have long sought Federal Recognition, though this goal has eluded us, we have sought solace in our heritage, our communities and our lands. Many of us have been raised as Christians, due to the conversion of faith by our ancestors but still we hold on to our sacred rituals. We honor our ancestors, we honor our sacred burial grounds, and we honor those who endured the atrocities that they were made to face each day. We weep for those that must be disturbed and re-interred for the sake of progress. It is hard for me to speak of these things, because my heart aches for their pain, the indignities that they had to face each day, the humiliation they must have felt for being Indian.

My heart weeps when I listen to the stories told by my elders. I feel pain when I look at my mothers face when she relays the stories of her childhood to me. She has told me how her father would not let her grow her hair long because she would look too Indian. I weep when she tells me the white children she went to school with would not hold her hands because they were stained by the walnuts she picked to help her family survive. I rejoice in the stories relayed to me by my aunt about her father, how he would take her to the different village sites and tell her this is the land of your people.

On January 20, 2008 I attended a songfest that was held on Panhe. During this meeting a statement was made by a member of my Tribe, and I cannot let it go. The essence of this statement was, as Native Americans we love America, but as Indians, America does not love us. Why?

Native Americans have proved to be extremely loyal to this country and have volunteered to protect the rights of humanity. To protect the homelands of others when in essence they did not have one of their own. When World War I broke out Native Americans (Indians) were not considered citizens. They would not have citizenship bestowed upon them until June 2, 1924. Yet still a large percentage of Choctaw men volunteered to join the US Military, along with about 10,000 other Native Americans. The language the Choctaw spoke was considered obsolete, but proved to be extremely useful. The Choctaw Code Talkers along with their language have been regaled as being instrumental in bringing about a successful end to the war. These code talkers were able to confuse the Germans who were eavesdropping in on Allied communication.

As World War II loomed closer, it has been relayed in history that Hitler so feared the Native Americans (Indians) because of their contribution during World War I, that Nazis were sent to reservations. These Nazi’s posed as anthropologists and writers to try and subvert some Indian tribes and to learn their language.

President Roosevelt stated the following in 1936, “This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.” This prophesy came to fruition December 7th, 1941. Four days later Hitler declared war on the United States. Native Americans (Indians) flocked to the defense of their country. No other ethnic group made a greater per capita contribution. The contributions of the Native Americans (Indians) to the over throw of Hitler are numerous. Their warrior spirit helped to restore the homelands of Europe to their rightful owners.

These are the reasons I ask you for your help, for the contributions that the Native Americans (Indians) have made in defending your homeland. They have fought unselfishly to protect the homelands of others. They have fought unselfishly to bring democracy and freedom to others. They fought for your right to be free and to come to their land and prosper. It is a shame that they must now fight to protect their own homelands, their sacred sites.

I weep when I stand on the ridge at Panhe. I can feel the wind wrap around me and I know it is the spirits of those long gone. They offer me comfort, I weep because I cannot offer them peace.

Sally Cruz-Wright
Juaneno Band of Mission Indians – San Juan Capistrano”

Click on the images above to see more pictures of Panhe and San Onofre.

Read the coverage by David Reyes in the L.A. Times about Panhe on August 20, 2007.