The social organization of California in general, and southern California in particular, is composed of a regional network of lineage communities that trade, share ceremonies, and intermarry. This regional pattern existed in the pre-Mission period, as far as scholars can reconstruct, and many principal aspects of the regional network and lineage communities continue to define the social and political patterns of the present-day Fernandeños (Mission San Fernando associated Indians); but all southern California tribes share similar social and political patterns.
It is essential to understand the social and cultural organization of the Native lineages that populated the San Fernando Mission as well as the region for centuries if not longer before the missions were established. Before significant European contact, the lineages that were enslaved at Mission San Fernando after 1797, were independent, decentralized, uni-lineal kinship groups. Political recognition with each other came from mutual respect of boundaries, and agreed upon rules of ceremonial activities, economic exchange, as well as political cooperation and respect.
Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, writing in the 1950’s called this form of social and political organization a “tribelet.” Kroeber says:
(T)hese tribelet units, with around 200 to 300 members, were the basic political and social units in native California Indian life. Ultra-miniaturized as they were, they nevertheless constitute the nearest equivalent to the State or Nation among ourselves. This is true in the sense that, just as what in Europe is called the State, but in this country the Federal government or the Nation — just as this state or Nation does not recognize any authority or power superior to itself, and is supreme and autonomous, so in native California these tiny tribelet units recognized no superior authority, but were self-governing, independent, and land owning.
Since each lineal shared a common ancestor, kinship members could not marry inside, and therefore married eligible individuals from other lineages, which often spoke different languages.
The region that composes the recruiting ground for Mission San Fernando included the territory of present-day San Fernando Valley, Simi Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley, Catalina Island, Malibu, parts of northern Los Angeles, and other contiguous areas. At least 130 named Native settlements provided slaves to the Mission San Fernando. The region before contact was multi-lingual, multi-cultural, decentralized, and based upoon lineages that were interconnected and mutually supporting through networks, marriages, ceremonies, and trade. Linguistic speaking groups did not form political entities. It is a fundamental error to conflate language groups with political and social groups, especially in California, where such groups are not the same.
Each linguistic group was internally composed of independent lineage groups that held territory, and political autonomy from all others, whether linguistically related or not. When the Spanish missionaries arrived they encountered an active regional multi-cultural economic, political, and ceremonial network, where the Natives respected cross-lineal rules and obligations, and where land, economic resources, and political leadership were established and carried on for many centuries.
Pre-contact ancestors of the Tribe recognized each other’s land, ceremonial, kinship, and political relations. Recognition in the pre-contact period came from the respect of mutual rights and obligations observed among the regional network of lineages.
There appears a certain bias in the literature in favor of the village community over decentralized lineage communities, perhaps because the lineage communities are less familiar. Nevertheless, throughout the historical and contemporary period, lineage communities continue to be the primary form of social and political organization among reservation and non-recognized California Indians. The literature suggests that the post-contact period shows a movement away from lineage communities toward the village community or multi-lineal community. The appearance of multi-lineal or village communities is certainly an observable pattern. However, it is important to distinguish between the formation of an externally required village community (Missions, Reservations, etc.) as opposed to the formation of a village community based on internal consensus. The present-day Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians is a voluntary village community, composed of a coalition of three lineage communities that retains the integrity of each constituent lineage community.
Map of the Los Angeles County lineages
Territory of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians