Temecula celebrates Pu’éska Mountain Day

Riverside County District 3 Supervisor Chuck Washington helps read the Temecula city proclamation honoring Pechanga for their purchasing of land to stop the proposed rock quarry in Temecula. Washington was the mayor of Temecula when the Liberty Quarry battle was put to an end by Pechanga. Shane Gibson photo

The city of Temecula Friday, Nov. 15, again celebrated Pu’éska Mountain Day, the official city holiday commemorating the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians purchasing of the tribe’s sacred place, thwarting a rock quarry proposed by Granite Construction starting in 2007.

The holiday and subsequent yearly celebration at Temecula City Hall seek to remind residents how the tribe banded together with the city of Temecula, Save Our Southwest Hills and other community organizations in the Temecula Valley in the fight that lasted for years.

“It is extremely important to come outside of wake up and see this beautiful air that we breathe and just the beautiful skies out there,” Pechanga Tribal Councilwoman Catalina Chacon said before the event. “It means the world to me and our future generations.”

Chacon said the process of saving the mountain, which the tribe said is the place of many significant events during the creation of the world, was and is profoundly important.

“For people to really understand what this meant, what Pu’éska Mountain means to Pechanga people, words can’t express it; it’s that important to us,” she said. “I mentioned to Susan Miyamoto ‘Today can be a different day,’ but it’s not because of what we did. Coming together as a community is huge for us. And for the people of Pechanga, we didn’t share, we don’t share a lot of our cultural traditions. So, this is huge for us.”

Riverside County twice denied Granite Construction’s application before agreeing to fast-track the project back in 2012. Then, in a move that surprised even city officials, the tribe purchased the mountain outright, ending the battle.

In 2015, the land was put into trust by the federal government.

“What really was incredible to me was the fact that if they didn’t buy that mountain and the mine did go through, 1,600 truck trips were allowed every single day,” Temecula Mayor Pro Tem James “Stew” Stewart said. “That’s just mind-blowing to me. I mean, that statistic alone would have made a major impact to our valley, to the freeway, which is already a mess. Can you imagine all those gravel trucks that would have been on the freeway at that point too?

“I didn’t even realize at the time that Pu’éska Mountain was part of their creation story,” he said. “So, that was a very interesting and cool aspect of the whole thing.”

Stewart led the event that featured speeches by Chacon and a reading of the city proclamation by members of the tribe, city, community and community groups involved in the battle.

The 30-minute documentary film, “Pu’éska,” a film created by the Pechanga Creative Studios team, was also screened for the more than 100 people who came to the event.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.