Los Angeles Unified School District president Kelly Gonez hosted an informational event via Zoom on Wednesday, featuring tribal president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians (FTBMI) Rudy Ortega, Jr.
The event was introduced as part of Native American Heritage Month and part of the movement to get the Fernandeño Tataviam people’s federal recognition. Viewers who signed up to view Gonez and Ortega’s discussion had a chance to receive a free copy of the 2021 history book and first solely about Tataviam history, “A Coalition of Lineages: The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians” by historians Duane Champagne and Carole Goldberg.
The event also follows a resolution introduced by Gonez to the Los Angeles Unified School District in April that not only recognized the tribe but also the historical injustices subjected upon them and the injustices that exist today, including in education.
“L.A. Unified currently operates over 100 schools on the ancestral lands of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and our board district 6 resides entirely on Tataviam ancestral lands,” Gonez said. “As someone who is committed to equity and inclusion it is so important to me that we tell the stories and uplift the histories of our native people.”
The Tataviam ancestral territory stretches as far west as Simi Valley, as far north and east as Palmdale, encompasses most (if not all) of the San Fernando Valley, and down to the coast in Malibu. Ortega said these ancestral lands are vast and incorporated numerous villages dotted throughout them.
“Before the missions or the Spanish arrived into the area and had taken many of these villages into the mission and baptized them…each of those villages were autonomous,” he said. “Individually they had their own tribal leaders, their captains, and sub-captains that ran those villages. So essentially they were mini-states, literally independent from each other, so technically they were all essentially tribes.”
The Spanish built the San Fernando Mission in 1797, which the FTBMI considers the beginning of their recruitment and enslavement. This not only drastically reduced their population over the next 60 years but also began the attempt to culturally annihilate the tribe, a practice that was continued well into the American period beginning in 1846 and that many observe still exists today.
“If you walk through Mission San Fernando, I think there’s only about four places that you can see the history of my tribe there. Only four announcements, four items there,” Ortega said. “There’s many artifacts throughout Mission San Fernando, but they’re not of my tribe. They don’t talk about the history of my tribe.”
Ortega also expressed the desire for dialogue and education about the history and present day injustices regarding FTBMI, as part of the fight for recognition of the tribe and its ancestry.
“Over the years though… the best way is to sit down at the table and bring ideas. So we’ve been speaking to the archdiocese and now they’re looking at how do we change it, how do we incorporate it, and how do we tell more of the story of the tribe,” Ortega said. “As painful as it is, because we’re saying one side of the story and we’re not saying the other side of the story.”
Ortega described the FTBMI’s relationship with San Fernando as complicated and expressed that although there has been some progress over the years, there is still much to be done. Currently, over 2,000 ancestors of the TFMBI are buried on the mission’s grounds. The specific location of the graves was made difficult by a landscaping project at the mission, but Ortega said tribal elders still know where these bodies are and that there have been several setbacks in giving them a proper funeral.
“After, what is it, 200 years or more? We’re still kind of in that little love and hate relationship with Mission San Fernando,” Ortega noted.
Today, the TFBMI is recognized by the state of California as a sovereign Indian nation of approximately 900 people but the band still has yet to receive any type of federal recognition. In a press release issued May 28, 2020, Ortega said FTBMI’s federal recognition status – up to standards updated in 2015 – verified genealogical descendency however according to the Office of Federal Acknowledgement (within the Bureau of Indian Affairs), FTBMI did not meet the criterion of demonstrating “its pre-Mission San Fernando organization was a ‘historical Indian tribe,’ as defined by OFA.”
“We are confident that upon clarification of this criteria based upon the recommendations that were provided by the OFA, we will receive a favorable outcome ahead,” Ortega concluded the 2020 release.
However, FTMBI withdrew from their petition for federal recognition on Sept. 8, 2021 according to the BIA’s website.
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