Native American Heritage Month forum to share personal stories, insight and historic perspectives

Name, Face and Story graphic

A virtual forum presented by the Orange County Department of Education will celebrate the deep histories, dynamic cultures and enduring contributions of Native Americans and explore how educational systems can more purposely meet the needs of Indigenous students.

In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares will host the latest in a series of online colloquiums based on the theme “Know My Name, Face and Story” from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 30. Featuring a panel of distinguished speakers — they’re listed below —  the event will share personal stories, unique insight and historic perspectives on the first peoples of Orange County and the United States. 

The forum is free to those who register at Teachers, counselors, administrators, parents and others who educate and support students are encouraged to attend.

“For thousands of years, people from Native American Indian or Indigenous families have been stewards of the land that we now call Orange County,” Superintendent Mijares said. “Students of Native American descent add to the rich diversity of the student population within Orange County, with practices and traditions coming from Indigenous, African and European ways of being, yet they are also some of the most vulnerable students within our schools.”

In Orange County, Native American students and their families experience disproportionate rates of homelessness and chronic absenteeism, along with higher suspension rates and lower graduation rates. Moreover, Native American children are twice as likely to be in the foster care system compared to the county’s student population as a whole.

“Because students coming from Indigenous communities have been traditionally underrepresented in schools, students may not yet feel that they belong,” Mijares said. “By improving social belonging and connectedness, students of Native American descent may be more likely to attend school and be more successful academically.”

Native American Heritage Month dates back to 1990, when President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994.

The colloquium on Nov. 30, Mijares said, “will extend respect to citizens of the nations and families who live here today and explore how educational systems can more purposefully meet the needs of this underserved population of students.”

Featured speakers

Paul Apodaca, Ph.D.
Associate Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Chapman University

Dr. Paul Apodaca is an associate professor of sociology and American studies at Chapman University, specializing in folklore, mythology, American Indian studies and California, Southwestern and Mexican culture. 

Along with serving as the former editor of the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, he is a founding consultant for the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian. His research has helped to preserve and continue American Indian music in California.

Dr. Apodaca was also part of a team that won an Academy Award in 1985 for the feature documentary “Broken Rainbow,” and he was curator of the Folk Art, American Indian, California and Orange County history collections of the Bowers Museum for 17 years.

William Bauer, Ph.D.
Director, American Indian and Indigenous Studies
Professor, Department of History,
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Dr. William (Willy) Bauer is a citizen of the Round Valley Reservation in Northern California and a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he offers classes on American Indian history, the history of American Indian gaming and the American West. 

Dr. Bauer is also UNLV’s faculty liaison to the Newberry Library’s Consortium on American Indian Studies and the author of such books as “California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History” and “’We Were All Like Migrant Workers Here’: Work, Community and Memory on California’s Round Valley Reservation.” He is currently writing a history of California Indians and working on a family biography based on the life of his great-grandfather.

Mary Crist, Ed.D. (Blackfeet)
Former Dean, Metcalf School of Education, California Baptist University
Coordinator of Indigenous Theological Education for The Episcopal Church

Dr. Mary Crist is the former Dean of the Metcalf School of Education at California Baptist University, where she served for 27 years before retiring in 2019. 

Dr. Crist has been active in Indigenous Ministry in The Episcopal Church for many years. She currently serves as the church’s Indigenous Theological Education Coordinator, working with the clergy and lay leaders serving Indigenous dioceses and congregations to equip them for congregational ministry and leadership, discernment and ordination processes, and continuing education programs.

Amanda Cheromiah, Ph.D.
Pueblo of Laguna
Director, Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access & Resiliency)

Dr. Amanda Cheromiah is from the village of Paguate, located on the homelands of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. As an educator, mentor and sister, she helps build the confidence of Indigenous youth through storytelling, photography and videography.

Dr. Cheromiah cares deeply about giving back to her Indigenous community and transforming spaces through visual narratives, Indigenous-focused scholarship and methodologies. She has served Native SOAR, an Indigenous-focused multigenerational mentorship program, for more than 10 years.

Jerry Nieblas
Direct descendant of the Juaneno/Acjachemen Tribe
Native and historian of San Juan Capistrano

Jerry Nieblas is a direct descendant of the Juaneno/Acjachemen Tribe and a direct descendant of Early Californio Rancho Yorba and Rios Familia. A native and historian of San Juan Capistrano, he serves as president on the Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee Board of Directors.

He also serves as caretaker and guardian of the Old Mission Historic Cemetery.

To register for this event, visit