August 19, 2016

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians


The  Juaneño Band of Mission Indians is recognized by the State of California, but is not federally recognized.  They traditionally lived along the coast in what is now Orange and San Diego counties in California.

Official Tribal Name: Juaneño Band of Mission Indians

Address: 31411 La Matanza St, Suite A, San Juan Capistrano, Ca 92675 
Phone: 949-488-3484
Fax: 949-488-3294

Official Website:

Recognition Status: State Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Acjachemen, which signifies a pyramidal form of any thing that moves, such as, an anthill, or place of resort for other insects. Others apply the term to things inanimate; such as a pile of stones, but, the most correct signification of the word is understood as having relation to a heap of animated things.

The motive alleged for having dropped the name of their nation, and substituted that of “Acjachemen,” is that when moving their village near the site of the Spanish Mission San Juan Capistrano, they passed the night before literally piled upon each other; men, women, and children; and when rising on the following morning, they vociferated “Acjachemen,” implying, that they had slept in a heap; and from that time the appellation remained as if to commemorate forever the event.

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Their common name comes from Spanish priests. The name “Juaneño” derives from the nearby Spanish Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded  in 1776.

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings: Acjachemen, Acjachemen Nation, Acagchemem 

Name in other languages:

Region: California => Mission / Rancheria Indians

State(s) Today: California

Traditional Territory:

During the late Paleoindian period and continuing into the present day, the southern coastal area was occupied by a Native American society referred to by Spanish colonists as the Juaneño.

The Acjachemen territory extended from Las Pulgas Creek in northern San Diego County up into the San Joaquin Hills along Orange County’s central coast, and inland from the Pacific Ocean up into the Santa Ana Mountains. Aliso Creek formed the northern boundary. The bulk of the population occupied the outlets of two large creeks, San Juan Creek (and its major tributary, Trabuco Canyon) and San Mateo Creek (combined with Arroyo San Onofre, which drained into the ocean at the same point).

The highest concentration of villages was along the lower San Juan Creek. The Spanish built Mission San Juan Capistrano there.




Land Area:
Tribal Headquarters: San Juan Capistrano
Time Zone: Pacific

First European Contact:

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today: About 2,800 enrolled members.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body: Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 1 Member at Large, plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: Chairwoman, Vice Chairman, Secretary-Treasurer


Language Classification: Uto-Aztecan => Takic => Cupan  => Luiseño-Juaneño => Juaneño 

Their language was related to the Luiseño language spoken by the nearby Luiseño tribe located to the interior.

Language Dialects:

Considered to speak a dialect of Luiseño, the Juaneño were part of the Cupan subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan languages.

Number of fluent Speakers:



Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:


Ceremonies / Dances:

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Puberty Rites
Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Principal Feasts and Dances

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:






The Acjachemen resided in permanent, well-defined villages and seasonal camps. Village populations ranged from between 35 and 300 inhabitants, consisting of a single lineage in the smaller villages, and of a dominant clan joined with other families in the larger settlements.

Each clan had its own resource territory and was politically independent; ties to other villages were maintained through economic, religious, and social networks in the immediate region.

Economy Today:

Social Classes:

The elite class was composed chiefly of prominent families, lineage heads, and other ceremonial specialists, a middle class included established and successful families, and the lower class was made up of people of disconnected or wandering families and captives of war.

Native leadership consisted of the Nota, or clan chief, who conducted community rites and regulated ceremonial life in conjunction with the council of elders (puuplem), which was made up of lineage heads and ceremonial specialists in their own right. This body decided upon matters of the community, which were then carried out by the Nota and his underlings. While the placement of residential huts in a village was not regulated, the ceremonial enclosure (vanquesh) and the chief’s home were most often centrally-located.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Fray Gerónimo Boscana, a Franciscan scholar who was stationed at San Juan Capistrano for more than a decade beginning in 1812, compiled what is widely considered to be the most comprehensive study of prehistoric religious practices in the San Juan Capistrano valley. Religious knowledge was secret, and the prevalent religion, called Chinigchinich, placed village chiefs in the position of religious leaders, an arrangement that gave the chiefs broad power over their people.

Boscana divided the Acjachemen into two classes: the “Playanos” (who lived along the coast) and the “Serranos” (who inhabited the mountains, some three to four leagues from the Mission). The religious beliefs of the two groups as related to creation differed quite profoundly. The Playanos held that an all-powerful and unseen being called “Nocuma” brought about the earth and the sea, together with all of the trees, plants, and animals of sky, land, and water contained therein. The Serranos, on the other hand, believed in two separate but related existences: the “existence above” and the “existence below”. These states of being were “altogether explicable and indefinite” (like brother and sister), and it was the fruits of the union of these two entities that created “…the rocks and sands of the earth; then trees, shrubbery, herbs and grass; then animals.”

Chinigchinich, religious God of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians
Description of the Vanquech or Temple
Superstitions of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians

Burial / Funeral Customs:

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Funeral Customs

Marriage / Wedding Customs

Juaneño Band of Mission Indians Marriage Customs

Education and Media:



Famous Juaneño :

  • Thomas “Happy” Hunn, elder and San Juan Capistrano patriarch.
  • Bobbie Banda, elder who established Native American education programs in public schools.


Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

They filed a petition in 1982 to seek federal recognition as a tribe, and are working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on documentation.

In the 21st century, the tribe filed a land claim, seeking to regain the territory of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. This had been held by them as an Indian Rancheria until the 1930s. At that time, the US government bought the land for use as a defense facility.

In May 2013, Acjachemen voters elected the first all-female Juaneño tribal council in its history.

Further Reading:


State Tribes H-J
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