There have been indigenous people living within the present boundaries of Orange County for at least 10,000 years. The dates for people living in present day United States keep getting pushed farther and farther back into the past with new archaeological evidence and new technology. Some scientists see evidence for 30,000 years or earlier.
Contrary to many perspectives presented to us in books and movies, the West, and California in particular, was not an unpopulated, pristine wilderness. From reports during the 1800’s when Europeans started living in California, the native population of California was one of the highest of any comparably sized region of North America. Based on archaeological evidence and first hand reports from native people of their own oral histories and family genealogies, many archaeologists and historians think that California was one of the most densely populated areas of North America before European settlement. Today California has the largest number of Indian Reservations of any state in the union.
One fascinating aspect of the indigenous history of California is the language diversity. During European settlement in the 1800’s, the present day boundaries of California were home to six distinct indigenous language families; many of these indigenous language families held languages as different from one another linguistically as Chinese and French. Within these six language groups over 100 distinct indigenous languages were spoken, and within these languages were many regional dialects. Many of these indigenous languages have been lost just in the last 100 years, when the last native speaker died. Many survive.
There are two native tribes who have lived, and continue to live, in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The Tongva people, who are also called the Gabrieleño for Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles, lived by hunting, fishing, and caretaking plants in most of Los Angeles County south to present day Irvine and Lake Forest area. The Acjachemen people, also called the Juaneño after Mission San Juan Capistrano, lived by hunting, fishing, and caretaking plants in most of central and south Orange County, from present day Lake Forest and Aliso Viejo south to Las Pulgas Canyon in Camp Pendleton. The Tongva and Acjachemen are active as tribes today.
After I studied the native people of California in college, understanding their linguistic and cultural diversity and their long ancestral relationship with the land, an important question came into my mind that continues to drive my curiosity….
How did the native people of California live here for many thousands of years, in large populations, and keep the ecosystems vital, healthy, and “wild”?
If you or your child would like to learn more about the skills the Native People of California have used for thousands of years, as well as wilderness survival skills of other indigenous people from around the world, check out Native Skills Camps, Family Walks, Survival Skill Campouts, and Weekly Home School Programs.