Several members of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians traveled to the state capital on March 23 to voice their support for the California Indian Education Act. Assembly Bill 1703, introduced by Assemblymember James C. Ramos, will encourage school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to form California Indian education task forces with California Tribes local to their regions or historically located in their regions.
Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco said this legislation is needed to provide a more accurate account of local Tribal history stating that “it would allow us to collaborate with local school districts in developing curriculum that will best describe who we are. So many times curriculum is based on a national level and students learn that all Native nations are basically the same.”
Nine young Soboba Tribal members were among the group that were allowed to go on record as showing their support for the bill.
“Although their testimony was (limited to) an introduction and a short message ‘here in support of AB 1703,’ it was a huge learning experience,” Vivanco said. “Our students were able to experience the legislative process. Not a lot of students get that opportunity.”
Vivanco said a highlight of the trip was visiting the Assembly floor which Assemblymember Ramos was able to reserve for them to tour. “He spoke to the kids explaining some of what his duties are and that was an unforgettable experience for them,” Vivanco added
Soboba Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Geneva Mojado was given the opportunity to address the committee for two minutes and said, in part, “In my personal experience, I was always asked if I lived in a teepee or if I had running water at my home on the reservation. This was the stereotype that my fellow classmates learned in the history books that were taught throughout grade school. And because I was Indian, I must still live the same way.”
She said learning about only certain Tribes in history, some wondered if Indians even still existed. In the fourth grade, she said the class was taught about the Spanish missionaries who came to “rescue and conform” the Native people in California. “They did not teach the true and accurate accounts of the harsh reality of life that occurred to California Indian people,” Mojado said.
Not knowing the true history of her people when she was in fourth grade, she chose Mission San Luis Rey as her project. Had she known more, she would have done her own Tribe’s history, which she feels is equally, if not more, important.
“Now that my own two children are given the opportunity to do such projects, I always have them do something that relates to our Soboba Tribe or other Tribal affiliates,” she said. “Not only so that they can learn, but to educate their fellow students and instructor. The pride that they have to present about their culture and community makes them proud of who they are.”
Mojado said that even though the truth is harsh, the truth needs to be told and it should be done by the California Indian Tribes who have inherited the rich history and culture.
“The need for school districts and the Office of Education to consider AB 1703 to establish a task force with the Tribes local to their regions, is very important to the First Peoples of California and those who reside in California,” she said. “California Natives have been resilient and survived the most extreme acts of genocide from colonization. It’s time to teach the true history of California. Of the 109 federally recognized Tribes and more than 55 Tribes that remain unrecognized, it’s important to teach about California’s First Peoples in all schools.”
She said it is very important to the Tribes as to how instruction is developed and offered to students. She said Soboba Tribal members are eager to share their culture, history and community with others.
“All Tribes are unique and diverse,” she testified. “We are our own nations and exercise our Tribal sovereignty daily to continue to be self-reliant and grow our Tribal economies. No$uun Looviq (my heart is good).”
Mojado’s daughter, Gloria Valdez attends St. John’s School in Hemet and said what she enjoyed most was being part of the process and being able to testify, as well as learning how a bill passes in California. Daniel Valdez Jr., Mojado’s son, is a student at Hemet High School and said that if AB 1703 passes it will change how history is taught in California and he was part of helping to change the history by testifying in Sacramento.
Soboba Tribal Councilmember Kelli Hurtado and her son Victor participated in the event. Kelli said she feels the curriculum change is needed because it’s time everyone learned the truth.
“There were a lot of bad things that happened to our ancestors,” she said. “I feel that if the truth had been told a long time ago about our people, there wouldn’t have been so much hate towards us and people wouldn’t have been so frightened to get to know us. We are resilient, we are strong, we are survivors and our culture is beautiful but we were given a bad name in (current) history books.”
Hurtado said the highlight of the trip for her was being there with the Soboba youth, especially her son, and to see them all be so passionate in their support of AB 1703.
Victor is in 11th grade at CFLC Empower Youth/Riverside County Youth Build. He was able to share his experience at school when he returned, providing a PowerPoint presentation to his teacher.
“I support the bill because I believe it’s time to teach the truth about Native American history in California,” Victor said.
Su’la Arviso is President of the Four Directions Native American Club at San Jacinto High School where she is a junior. She was glad to be given the opportunity to show her support for the California Indian Education Act because she feels it will clear up misconceptions about her people.
“The biggest takeaway I had from this experience is that I was honored and allowed to be a part of history in the making and that our voices are finally being heard,” Su’la said. “And if we all stand together, anything is possible.”
She was able to share her involvement with two of her teachers, the Four Directions Native American Club advisor and her principal, Courtney Hall. She explained how important the bill was, not only for her generation but for future generations as well.
Su’la’s mother, Melissa Vera-Arviso, works at the Soboba Tribal Preschool and knows the importance of teaching local California Native American history in classrooms. She feels it will help improve the overall knowledge of the state’s history.
“The only history we teach at the preschool is the Luiseño language which to me is part of the Tribe’s history. I feel my curriculum is authentic since the language has been taught to us by Elders, who have had it passed down to them,” she said.
Vera-Arviso said It was a little scary for her and Su’la’s father to let her make the trip since she would be so far away if something were to happen, but they also know this is their daughter’s passion.
“Su’la has always been an advocate for her youth and Tribe when it comes to getting knowledge of her Tribe and Native people into the school system,” she said. “It was an honor to have her invited to be part of such an amazing day, with such an historical event. We are extremely proud of her.”
Iyana Briones is a junior at Noli Indian School where she serves on ASB. She is also president of the Soboba Youth Council. She showed her support of AB 1703 because “our California Indian history needs to be taught the right way and with the right information.”
As a Native American teen, she said she would love to be taught about her people’s history in the school setting. Her school follows the current public high schools’ curriculum with regard to Native American history although she has many cultural outlets in most of her classes.
She was given the opportunity to share her experience with her teachers about testifying in Sacramento. She said they were very proud of her for doing it and told her “this is a big opportunity and a good thing.”
“Another reason it’s important for this bill to pass is because Native Americans have been teased, disrespected and mocked about our culture and I feel like other ethnicities should learn about our culture and history with the right information,” Iyana said. “My biggest takeaway from this experience was that Native Americans matter and we need to be heard.”
Rhianna Lynn Salgado, 14, is Vice President of San Jacinto High’s Four Directions club and supports the bill because she wants Native Americans, as well as non-Native American people, to know the full truth and history about her people.
“I don’t want anyone to lump all Native Tribes into one big Tribe, thinking that we are all the same,” she said.
Rhianna enjoyed being in Sacramento with other youth from Soboba and members of the Soboba Tribal Council and getting to meet all the dignitaries there. She said walking the Assembly floor twice and being able to share this experience with her Tribe and representing Soboba and Cahuilla Reservations in their Bird Skirts was really nice.
Rhianna’s sister, Raya Rain Salgado, attends North Mountain Middle School in San Jacinto where she is president of its Four Directions Native American Club.
“The reason why I’m personally supporting the California Indian Education Act is because I feel that the true story about Native Americans and different tribes should be told,” Raya, 12, said. “The information given in the textbooks at schools are usually known as inaccurate and I want to help change that.”
Raya said that as a Native American student, she is criticized for her every action, including the words that she says.
“I’m treated differently than the others; I always get asked questions about being Native, which I don’t mind, but other questions can be meant in a hurtful manner and I’m not in acceptance of that,” she said. “I get called shameful names and people act as if they are ‘Native’ or ‘Indian’ and act out things they are in belief that natives do and even the way we dress when at ceremony or when we’re singing our songs and dancing as a tradition.”
Raya said it was nice to have her voice heard and to attend with her fellow Soboba Youth and Tribal Council members.
“It was a pleasure to meet Assemblymember James Ramos, Education Committee Chairman and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell and Tribal Chairman Michael Hunter of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, who was there for support,” she said.
Their mother, Rhonda Valenzuella, said she was honored and proud that her daughters wanted to participate. They are of three Nations: Soboba (Luiseño/Payomkawichum), Cahuilla and Poarch Creek of Alabama. She feels that AB 1703 is a step in the right direction in starting the process of telling the true history, not just as a state, but also setting precedent as a nation.
“I feel that there’s such a misconception when it comes to Native Peoples/Tribes in our school systems,” she said. “With not knowing the origins and full truths of our local Native communities, it leaves such a gap for misinterpretation and stereotypes. I believe this may be the catalyst that starts the trend of getting to know full truths of our vastly diverse Nation; as other minorities are also plagued with the lack of their real history. All Natives shouldn’t be stereotyped as living in teepees, etc. We are Birds and our local community should be allowed to learn about us in school. It paves the way for change.”
Valenzuella found several highlights to the trip, starting with meeting the Chairman of the Education Committee, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, who gave them a private tour of the Assembly floor prior to the hearing.
“Being able to take pictures of our Birds Skirts at the State Seal, all together, was a special moment for us ladies,” she said.
They met Assemblymember Ramos for a tour of his office and then got to explore the back hallways and shortcuts of the building on their way back to the Assembly floor, where he gave them a tour and “truly spoke to our youth and related to them as individuals.”
She said he also spoke words of encouragement, inspiration and motivation to them, letting them know that more Native representation is needed in government positions.
“Our youth are paving the way for their future,” Valenzuella said. “It truly does take a village and I fully support them.”
Daniel Salgado, Chairman of the Cahuilla Band of Indians in Anza, said he was glad his daughters, Rhianna and Raya, had the opportunity to participate in such an important event.
Janessa Mojado is a student at St. John’s School and she said attending the event helped her learn more about where she came from and a lot more about how she can help. A highlight was being able to meet Assemblymember James Ramos and hear him explain how important this bill was.
“I was honored to be able to testify for AB 1703,” she said. “This educational act will help not only me, but many Native American kids learn more about our culture. I feel like being able to learn about my ancestors and where I come from helps me become closer to family.”
She said being able to experience what happens during the Legislative process and being inside the state capitol was an unforgettable experience.
Noli Indian School Principal Donovan Post said the behind-the-scenes tour of the capitol building and the Assembly floor made a big impact on those who attended. He said having young people from many different schools in the San Jacinto Valley show support of this bill, along with other Soboba Tribal members, was very significant.
Post said there will be sweeping changes when this bill is passed and he is eager to see that happen. He was pleased that Chairman Vivanco and Assemblymember Ramos were able to arrange such an extensive tour since most young people don’t get that kind of access.
“It really made an impression on them because they got to see the enormity of it all,” Post said. “Having Chairman and Mr. Ramos talk with the kids afterwards was great, too. They talked about other issues that face Tribes.”
Ramos shared how he worked his way up from Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to the state Assembly. Post said he is an inspiration to all young people.
“Even though Native issues are near and dear to him, he has to work on all different things that affect the area of San Bernardino that he serves; he has a huge job,” Post said.
Ramos, a longstanding member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, has tried unsuccessfully to pass this type of legislation in the past. Vivanco said Soboba provided letters of support for his 2021 AB 1554. However, the current bill is moving along.
“The day we were in Sacramento for support, the bill was voted on and approved to pass through the education committee,” Vivanco said. “It’s going to take the same lobbying effort to get it passed at the next level. With continued effort and support, the bill will ultimately get to the governor’s desk for approval.”
Michael Chen, who is part of Ramos’ staff, said that AB 1703 has been referred to Assembly Appropriations and will most likely remain there until the end of April or early May. The next step after that is a floor vote on the Assembly floor, then it will start all over again on the Senate floor in June. If passed there, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Chen said this issue is very much personal for Ramos who feels that California has a lot of work to do in this space, and this is only the first step.
An overview of AB 1703, provided by Assemblymember Ramos’ office, included the following detailed information.
California students receive instruction on California state history in both 4th grade and high school. Native American educational advocates have long expressed concerns that the history taught during these instructional periods is inaccurate or misleading, focusing attention away from the history and contributions of the people native to the State of California.
Concerns of this kind are regularly expressed about “mission projects” completed by students during the third and/or fourth grades. The mission era of Spanish occupation was perhaps the most devastating and sensitive period in the history of California’s native peoples and the lasting impact of that epoch is lost by the current curriculum.
California lacks high quality curriculum materials that highlight the history, culture and government of local Tribes. Although California students are instructed in Native American history, grave concerns remain about how this instruction is developed and offered. The existing framework focuses on some major lessons such as the mission diorama, which is still taught at teachers’ discretion. However, this ignores and overlooks the experiences of California Indians before, during and after the mission era and Spanish occupation.
Assembly Bill 1703 would establish the California Indian Education Act and encourage task force participants to discuss issues of mutual concern and to undertake certain work. The bill would require California Indian Education Task Forces to submit, within one year of formation and annually thereafter, a report of findings to the State Department of Education.
Additionally, the bill would require the department to submit, within one year of receiving task force reports and annually thereafter, a report to certain education committees of both houses of the Legislature regarding the narrowing of the achievement gap and the adoption of curriculum.
For more information, https://a40.asmdc.org/.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians