Before Spanish colonization, many tribes lived in villages. These villages were comparatively small (often between 50-200 persons) and were composed of their own sovereign governments with territory, laws, dispute resolution, control over the legitimate use of force, and hereditary leadership vested in individuals.
Traditionally, Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians had patrilineal, patrilocal, and exogamous lineages with various lineages that intermarried for strategic economic and political ends and formed a coalition of social, economic, and ceremonial cooperation. Language did not determine political or national organization, nor marriage patterns, or ceremonial exclusivity, or right to territory or political organization or political leadership. The ties extended not only to other lineages of the same linguistic group, but also to other lineages in the region, where social, ceremonial and associated economic exchanges and gift giving were essential ways to maintain access to regional foods and materials.
Captains and Headpersons
Headpersons: Generally, each family at a village appointed a leader, or Headperson. These leaders ruled at the village level, as William Duncan Strong states “the primary importance of the local group, in this case the male lineage, as the unit in native Californian society cannot be overestimated.” His analysis is corroborated by Hugo Reid, who wrote a series of letters describing Indians in Los Angeles in the 1850s. He said that the: “government of the people was invested in the hands of their Chiefs; each Captain commanding his own lodge. The command was hereditary in a family. If the right line of descent ran out, they elected one of the same kin, nearest in blood. Laws in general were made as required.” Lineage leaders resolved disputes within each lineage. Disputes between lineages were resolved by discussion between the leaders of the two lineages. If two lineages could not resolve a dispute, then a third lineage leader, from a third lineage, was called to resolve the issue. His decision was final. Within each lineage, the decision of the lineage leader was final and there was no higher appeal. The community and group leaders made rules for the lineage as they thought were necessary.
Captain: The mission alcalde system introduced elected leadership of a “Capitan” or captain, and leadership based on multi-lineal constituents. Before the mission, the lineage Headperson was the primary leader. The last mission alcalde was elected in 1846. Thereafter, elected leadership passed to the following Fernandeños: Captain Rogerio Rocha (death 1904) to Antonio Maria Ortega (death 1941) to Estanislao Ortega (death 1951) to Rudy Ortega Sr. (death 2009) to Rudy Ortega Jr., who is the current elected President of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.
Today, the practice of lineage Headpersons is still prevalent. In addition to this hereditary role, lineages continue to elect a Captain of the Tribe, the Tribal President. In many ways, political leadership and organization remain consistent with traditional patterns. As in the past, lineage Headpersons today organize the community for the collective benefit of their families, lineages, and all citizens. While leaders are elected under the constitution, the traditional lineage and family ties continue to influence leadership and management decisions. Each of the constituent lineages retains considerable political and social autonomy, and the leaders must respect the autonomy of individuals, families, and lineages in their exercise of governance.