Visitors to the San Onofre Parks Foundation’s 2023 Panhe Festival were able to experience a wide array of artistic, cultural, and ecological events at the San Mateo Campground on Sunday, April 2.
The annual festival aims to educate the broader public about indigenous peoples, such as the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians and Acjachemen Nation, as well as the groups’ customs and the land they occupied for centuries.
Event emcee Jacque Nunez said Panhe carries additional significance in that people can learn about Native Americans’ emphasis on and varying approaches to caring for the earth, whether through trout restoration efforts or recycling.
“It’s a wonderful combination of the foundation of who we are as a people,” said Nunez. “We are caretakers, we were the first caretakers of water and land and air, and so when we come together … there’s a real love-fest going on.”
Artisan vendors displayed artwork, jewelry, fabrics, bags, basketry, dream catchers, crafts and more. Other organizations featured at the festival included the California Cultural Resources Prevention Alliance, Indigenous Women Rising, the Nature Reserve of Rancho Mission Viejo, OC Birds of Prey, and the San Onofre Parks Foundation.
Cecilia Begay, owner of Begay’s Indian Arts and Crafts and 20-year veteran of making pieces, spoke about supporting indigenous artists who connect with the history behind what they create over larger companies that borrow from Native American influence.
“I would say it’s important because the person that made it, they’re the one that is the artist, not something that was brought in from somewhere else,” she said. “That’s why you would come to a native person, to buy from them originally.”
The event also featured traditional eagle, hoop and war dances, food, and a dedicated time to honor the elders in attendance.
One of those elders was MaryAnn James, 84, who called it “a big honor” and said she was full of pride and joy from the recognition.
“This sort of gathering, where the public has been invited, they get to see the side of our Acjachemen people that—a lot of people don’t even know we exist,” said James.
She shared a story in which she struck up a conversation while on a flight with a stranger reading a book about the Comanche Nation who didn’t know that Native American descendants and groups were still around.
“It’s a great day,” James said, adding, “All the indigenous people (around) are doing something, but they always have time to talk.”
Wendy Yoder, president of the San Onofre Parks Foundation, which helps organize the annual event, said that she enjoys seeing the children learn about the history of the area in which they live.
“It’s just important to pass down to the next generation and let them see what used to be here,” said Yoder.