Cultural Liasion Adelia Sandoval and Chairwomen Romero during a sage ceremony. (Kristen Wilcox)
Mohawks and hippies. Dread-heads. Metal rockers in black leather jackets. Girls with pink and teal hair. Nairobi Africans. Juaneno Indians. Irishmen. These are the people whose lives that Micael Merrifield touched.
Merrifield passed away Sept. 24 of a heart attack. The Oct. 8 memorial for the Saddleback College anthropology instructor was held at the Mission Viejo Country Club at 10 a.m. and by 9:30 a.m. there was standing room only. The sign-in books were completely full of names. Twenty-three full pages boasting 19 lines each. More than 400 people signed in his memory.
During the eulogy by Ann Reyes-Robbins, she reflected on Merrifield’s tendency to always want to stand up for what is right.
“He inspired his students to think critically and reject the status quo,” Reyes-Robbins said.
Sr. Air-man Rosales and his colleague played Taps on a military flugle horn to honor Merrifield’s service in the Air Force.
“The family requested military honors so we came to pay tribute,” Rosales said.
Saddleback College Director of Honors, Transfers and CTE Lydia Natoolo-Burnam met Merrifield through his willingness to help.
“As an African and Ugandan child I had to ‘Walk for Water’ to raise money to build wells so he (Micael) invited me to speak in his class. So I did. He asked his students to come to my walk and they all came. He gave me his schedule to go to all his classes to speak on any cause I had. That’s the kind of person he is, an amazing soul and I know he is in heaven watching everyone,” Natoolo-Burnam said.
David Hutchins’ son, Andrew, took a class with Merrifield and became inspired to trace his lineage. He found out he was Scottish. Merrifield gifted Andrew with a bag-piping horn.
“I called [Micael] one day and said ‘what did you do to my son? He takes your class and now he’s wearing a kilt to the Swallows Inn?'” Laughing at the memory Hutchins adds, “Everybody has a story. Micael was so full of life and made you want to be the best you can be.”
David had also known Merrifield from his late partner Fran Yorba, who is the vice chairwomen of the Acjachamen tribe.
The memorial hosted many different people, but the most prominent of attendees were the members of the Acjachamen Tribe.
The Acjachamen Tribe, Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, were introduced to Merrifield in 1995. The tribe adopted him seven years ago.
Adelia Sandoval, cultural liaison for the Acjachamen Tribe, was given direction on the process of adopting Michael.
“I had to go and gather the different colors of Mother Earth and had to learn how to make paint with them,” Sandoval said. “I actually had the privilege to paint his body. I’m sure he was very nervous, because it was a very formal kind of thing.”
“I painted every inch of his body in the colors of the earth. It was a beautiful ceremony and took a long time to do it with songs and prayer, and he was so humble. I don’t know how long he left it on, but I’m sure it took a while to come off. It was an honor to do that and bring him into the tribe that way,” Sandoval said.
“Knowing him, he wore it until it fell off,” Jacque Nunez, committee chairperson and director of Journeyslaughs said.
Nunez and her family became close to Merrifield. Her calm voice and warm eyes showed sadness, but she was smiling.
“Michael was in our tribe, because we adopted him with a ceremony,” Nunez said. “He is a tribe brother adopted to the Mountain Lion Clan. We consider him a special being. I think of Micael as a brother to our tribe and to my family. He is so kind and sensitive. He would go on big trips and always bring stuff back for my husband. My boys called him ‘Irish Uncle.’ The contributions he made to our nation…no words can describe.”
Marian Walking Stick, a member of the Juaneno Tribe, remembers Merrifield’s kind nature fondly.
“He was just so sweet and patient and always kind. I worked with him in book research. He was wonderful,” Walking Stick said.
Adelia Sandoval, cultural liaison for the Acjachamen Tribe, explained Merrifield’s interest and genuine selfless involvement with the tribe.
“He did most of the anthropological research on our people for our federal recognition process. His ultimate goal was to write a book on the Acjachamen people, which, of course, did not get completed, but the work that he put in was just immense.” Sandoval said. “There is no dollar amount that can be put on the amount of work that he did. He would refuse any money. It was all out of the graciousness of his heart.”
“He did not want anything to do with politics he is all about heart and that is why I say he is a true Indian because a true Indian comes from the heart,” Sandoval said.
Donations may be made to the Micael Merrifield Memorial Anthropology Scholarship. Checks should be made to the Saddleback College Foundation with the name of the scholarship on the memo line and sent to:
Saddleback College Foundation : 28000 Marguerite Parkway Mission Viejo, CA 92692
For more information on the Juaneno’s Band of Mission Indians, Acjachamen Nation visit http://juaneno.com/