Kids can connect with Mother Earth

CRYSTAL COVE STATE PARK — As a child of the California Acjachemen tribe, Jacque Tahuka Nunez said she was an innate "keeper of the earth," or someone who appreciates, respects and makes it their duty to preserve Mother Earth.

As an adult and educator of Native American studies for more than 30 years, Nunez makes it her duty to pass this role on to future generations.

"My ancestors were the first ones to care for Mother Earth because our hearts told us we must," she said. "It's everyone's job now, and we must realize that we all leave a carbon footprint and begin caring for it in a proactive way."

To inspire children to become "one with the earth," Nunez hosts a series of Native American camps throughout the summer, to not only educate kids about her ancestry, but to invite them to be a part of it so they feel a strong connection.

With the help of California Park Ranger Winter Bonnin, she will hold the fifth annual Indian camp at Crystal Cove State Park, which will take students on a journey into the lifestyle of the Acjachemen Nation that flourished in Southern California hundreds of years prior to the Spanish influx.

"Our goal is to educate and enlighten others to our precious culture while encouraging them to capture their own heritage, and celebrate their diversity and gifts," Nunez said.

Kids ages 5 to 11 will learn about the Indians and their environment through hands-on activities like basket weaving, rock painting, carving soapstone, sculpting arrowheads and making shell necklaces, and will even learn to make Indian rope from yucca. Children younger than 5 are welcome if accompanied by an adult.

"We'll also teach them songs and how to make gourd rattles and clapper sticks to play music during intertribal pow wows," she said. "They'll get to touch and feel a whole culture through the activities here."

A believer that expression through art is important, but not an artist herself, Nunez hopes to recruit guest artists from Laguna to participate in the camp and teach children to draw the Pelican coastline and its animal inhabitants.

"What's so beautiful about being at Crystal Cove is that we see the untouched beauty — the same way our ancestors saw the world," she said.

It is Nunez's hope that her teachings will allow future generations to see it that same way.

Nunez was named educator of the year in 2009 in California for Indian education. She was also recently nominated for the National Educator of the Year award in 2010.

If You Go

What: Fifth annual Native American Camp

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to July 30

Where: Crystal Cove State Park

Cost: $185 per child, $165 per sibling for the weeklong camp.


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