Campus: Sage Hill Ceremony Blesses Science Center

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Jacque Tahuka-Nunez, from the Acjachemen Nation of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, burns sage as she performs a Native American blessing of the land at Sage Hill School, in conjunction with the construction of the Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center.   — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Jacque Tahuka-Nunez, from the Acjachemen Nation of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, burns sage as she performs a Native American blessing of the land at Sage Hill School, in conjunction with the construction of the Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg

Several hundred students, staff members, parents, school officials and supporters gathered on the campus at the top of the hill in Newport Coast on Monday to honor its history and celebrate its future.

The event was part of a Sage Hill School Native American blessing ceremony performed by Jacque Tahuka-Nunez of the Acjachemen Nation to celebrate the school’s Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center. The $8 million building is slated to open in fall.

“May it be an open space for learning and technology and changes,” Tahuka-Nunez said during the prayer. “And may every student that is here today take their life and be all that they can be in their community filled with love, and celebration, and respect and dignity as they perhaps lead this nation.”

The blessing is a prayer “to the creator, to guide their path in all that they do,” Tahuka-Nunez explained before the ritual.

It’s also about sharing her culture with the students, she added. It’s a learning moment, she said.

“I’ve been a part of this process since they began the school,” she said. “So this is a ‘heart’ moment for me.”

Sage Hill sits on land originally belonging to the Acjachemen Nation, who blessed the land before the campus’ construction in 1999.

Pearson Tahuka-Nunez, 27, dances during the ceremony. His costume includes pieces from many different Native American tribes. — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Pearson Tahuka-Nunez, 27, dances during the ceremony. His costume includes pieces from many different Native American tribes.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg

“We wanted to pay tribute to the ancestors who lived here,” said Shoshana Grammer, Sage’s Director of Development.

Tahuka-Nunez returned to Sage in 2010 to bless the land following the construction of the Studio

“When I came here I felt something very special,” Tahuka-Nunez said.

Founding member Vicki Booth and her daughter, Sarah, were both in attendance at the original campus blessing. They were involved again on Monday for the blessing of the science center.

“Sarah was only 3 years old in 1999 when we were breaking ground and she graduates this year,” Booth said as she choked up.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” she added.

The ceremony started with Tahuka-Nunez and student body president Jack Williamson placing fresh sage leaves in a circle around the town square. Students sat silently as she sang a traditional song.

“The greatest gift that a Native American can give is a song,” she said.

Tahuka-Nunez’s son, Pearson, also participated in the ceremony. He demonstrated bird singing and performed a drum dance.

“(The drum) represents the heartbeat of humanity,” Jacque Tahuka-Nunez said, “so it might just touch your soul today.”

Guests then formed two circles in the middle of the town square.

“When you’re in a circle, everyone is equal,” Tahuka-Nunez said.

Jacque Tahuka-Nunez and student body president Jack Williamson place fresh sage leaves in a circle around the town square.  — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Jacque Tahuka-Nunez and student body president Jack Williamson place fresh sage leaves in a circle around the town square.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg

The inner circle consisted of founding members Joel Lipman, Karina Hamilton, Madeline Swinden, and Vicki Booth and her daughter, Sarah, and special guests Lisa Argyros and family, Head of School Gordon McNeill, and student body president Jack Williamson. The second circle included science faculty, trustees and parents.

Tahuka-Nunez started burning some sage as she stood in the middle of the circle.

“Sage is the most sacred medicine that our people have,” she said. “For thousands of years we have taken the sage that has grown in this area and we dry it and we burn it. We believe that the smoke is taken up to the creator.”

She began singing another tradition song as the group faced all directions, starting in the west and finishing by looking down at the ground and then up to the sky.

An abalone shell was given to the Argyros family as a thank you for their donation, she said.

Shells were a great trading commodity as a Native American from the west coast, Tahuka-Nunez explained.

She also presented McNeill with a basket of sage plants.

As a founding member of the school, Booth said she felt honored and proud on Monday.

“We’re grateful that the school continues to grow and attracts people that care about education and care about our next generation,” Vicki Booth said. “It was a great celebration as we move forward with a new building and more progress.”

For more information, visit sagehillschool.org/science center.

Jacque Tahuka-Nunez (center) and guests form the inner circle during the ritual. The circle includes Lisa Argyros and family, Head of School Gordon McNeill, founding board members, science faculty, students and more.  — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Jacque Tahuka-Nunez (center) and guests form the inner circle during the ritual. The circle includes Lisa Argyros and family, Head of School Gordon McNeill, founding board members, science faculty, students and more.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg
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