The San Jacinto Unified School District recently honored the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, the Soboba Foundation and a Soboba Tribal Member. At its Jan. 19 school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Sherry Smith, on behalf of the district’s American Indian School, Family and Community Liaison Delia Vazquez and the Board of Trustees, presented the recognition certificates.
Su’la Arviso is a sophomore at San Jacinto High School and current president of the school’s Four Directions Native American Club. She was singled out for her leadership in honor and celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
“Su’la is part of the reason we took a group of our San Jacinto leaders to visit the Soboba Reservation and learned from the Soboba Cultural Department on the unique aspects of their culture,” Smith said. “This included, but wasn’t limited to food, traditions and government. Su’la contacted the Soboba Tribal Council and made the proposal for the visit and she contacted the Cultural Department to organize it.”
SJUSD Superintendent Dave Pyle said it was his first “official” field trip since joining the team in San Jacinto and was thankful for the opportunity.
“I couldn’t think of a more important place and such a wonderful time to visit and to hear from not only one of our students but many of our members,” he said.
Su’la has been with the Four Directions club for two years, serving as its secretary when she as a freshman. However, she founded the club at Estudillo Elementary when she was in fifth grade.
The club’s mission is to promote more cultural appreciation within San Jacinto High School and the district, to help non-native and Native American students expand their knowledge about the Native American culture/problems and to prove Native American kids can make a difference within the community.
“Personally, my favorite goal is the first one; it lets me make that connection with the school district and the kids here,” Su’la said. “Because not a lot of people know of the Native culture, I’m just proud to share it and share who I am.”
Working closely with the high school’s 35 club members, Su’la has helped keep things active despite the inability to have regular in-person meetings or large events.
“The most recent activity we had was a handful of us were picked to help prepare Thanksgiving food boxes for those in need within the district,” said Su’la, 15. “I am currently trying to organize a day where the younger Four Directions club members (at other schools) can join us and ask questions or just get to know each other.”
Jesse Spriggs teaches Social Science at San Jacinto High and is serving as the club’s advisor for his third year. He said the past year has made it very difficult to execute any activities for any clubs.
“In the past, the club performed Native dancing and exhibitions on campus (this would be what stands out to me as the most effective for awareness), community clean-ups, and Native issues postings,” Spriggs said.
Su’la said participating in those events during Native American Heritage Month in 2019 was the most fun.
“Every Friday of November during both lunches, we either had Wayne Nelson and his singers or other bird singers come and sing/dance a couple songs for us,” she said. “Tekla Diaz, me and a couple girls I dance with put on a Fancy Shawl exhibition, which consisted of crow hop, double beat, straight step, and lastly round dance. At the end, students at the high school could come out and dance with us to a round dance song, since it’s the song of friendship.”
Spriggs said there are multiple reasons why he accepted the responsibility to advise the Four Directions club.
“First, and overall, I totally understand the hardships and atrocities suffered by First Peoples; therefore, I would like the students to have a voice and feel included in society,” he said. “Secondly, I grew up with Native kids back in Northern Virginia where I was born and raised. These were my friends plus east coast school systems have a heavy curriculum in Native studies. Lastly, I earned my bachelor’s degree in sociology at California State University at San Bernardino. There I continue my studies of Native history with elective courses. In addition, I served as a professor’s assistant to Dr. James Fenelon who is of the Lakota Nation. He is not only a great mentor but a good friend as well. I knew that I was going to get involved with Native affairs once I started teaching.”
Su’la said she was proud to be publicly recognized for her efforts at the recent board meeting.
“Just seeing that the school district is trying to make that connection with their Native students and acknowledge our presence makes me even happier and prouder about myself and my culture,” she said.
She added that the club’s purpose is to advocate for Native American and any Indigenous students/people’s agendas and to offer social gatherings where students can immerse themselves in First People’s culture and student camaraderie. Any student is welcome to join the club.
“Su’la is very active outside of the club,” Spriggs said. “I have witnessed her display great pride and talent in her cultural traditions.”
Her mom, Melissa Vera said, “She continues to make us proud with all she does. We have no doubt that she will reach her goal to be on Soboba Tribal Council one day as an adult.”
Sherry Smith continued the evening’s recognitions by acknowledging Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco, Vice Chair Geneva Mojado, Secretary Monica Herrera, Treasurer Sally Moreno-Ortiz and Sergeant at Arms Daniel Valdez plus Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas, Vice President Jacob Briones, Secretary Michelle Modesto, Treasurer Julie Parcero and Sponsorship Coordinator Andrew Vallejos for their generous efforts during the holidays.
“There are no words to express our gratitude of our collaboration and partnership with you to make this valley the best place it can be,” Smith said.
She cited the recent contribution of 1,000 turkey dinners for the Thanksgiving holiday and 1,000 toys and gift cards donated from the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive to families with children attending SJUSD schools.
She said that while this year’s event couldn’t be held in the same style as previous years with a long line of community volunteers unstuffing the bus filled with toys, Christmas carols blaring from loud speakers and hot cocoa for all guests, Soboba didn’t disappoint.
“They came out in force and helped us find an alternative way to impact and help our families,” Smith said.
Along with certificates of appreciation, she noted that a perpetual plaque will stay at the school board room and the years will be added as the partnership between Soboba and the district continues to deepen and strengthen.
“On behalf of the Tribe and the Foundation, we appreciate the recognition and the honor,” Vivanco said. “It’s something we really enjoy doing – giving back to the community. The idea came out of our office to expand upon what we’ve done in the past and Andrew and the Foundation team really took off with it and you’ve seen the outcome. We are honored to be in a position to help out when we can. I know it’s been a trying year for everyone, and I know it just meant that much more for everyone to receive these meals at this time. It’s something we are pretty proud to participate in.”
Vivanco also thanked all the school district staff and volunteers that came out to help distribute the turkey dinners.
“There were hundreds out there helping and it made things that much easier,” he said. “I really appreciate it and I know the Foundation and Council appreciate the support while working together to make something like this happen and go so smoothly. It was a true community effort.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians