L to R: Dr. Duane Champagne, Tribal President Rudy Ortega Jr., Dr. Wendi-Starr Brown of OFA at Rudy Ortega Sr. Park, San Fernando, CA.
On March 28, 2016, Anthropologist for the Office of Federal Acknowledgement Dr. Wendi-Starr Brown visited the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians for approximately two weeks.
During Dr. Brown’s site visit, she interviewed between 10 to 15 tribal citizens individually. These citizens were chosen by Dr. Brown for specific reasons relating to their participation and place or position within the Tribe.
The first day of Dr. Brown’s special visit included introductions with Tribal President Rudy Ortega Jr. and Dr. Duane Champagne, leader of the Tribe’s Recognition Team. President Ortega first showed Dr. Brown the well-known Rudy Ortega Sr. Park, located on a parcel of Captain Rogerio Rocha’s historic property. Ortega toured Dr. Brown down Maclay Street, a street whose namesake is responsible for the death and land loss of many ancestors of the Tribe. Due to her interest for the historic topography of San Fernando, President Ortega showed Dr. Brown the old home of captain Antonio Maria Ortega on Coronel Street, a street on which many of the Tribe’s ancestors once lived.
At Mission San Fernando, Dr. Brown saw firsthand the Church’s apparent lack of acknowledgement of the Tribe or any local indigenous peoples today. Church bells rang as she walked through the historic walls of where the ancestors were enslaved, forced to live, and/or buried in order to gain a deeper understanding of the complex history.
Dr. Brown was also shown sensitive cultural sites in Simi Valley, San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, and parts of the Angeles National Forest. Throughout her stay, Dr. Brown visited the Tribal Administration Office daily to organize and review the day’s agenda. This provided some time for discussions that pertain to the overall history of the Tribe.
This important site visit by a member of the Office of Federal Acknowledgement provided a unique opportunity for the Tribe to humanize their traditional lands and provide insight on the present-day affairs and complex make-up of the tribe.
The ancient lineages of the tribe have always been dispersed across Los Angeles County and parts of Ventura County. Regardless of their distances, these lineages maintained strong social, ceremonial, trade, and kinship bonds. It was important for President Ortega to be able to show, on the ground, how these terrains where the lineages would have once existed are still interconnected.
Furthermore, the urban landscape of Los Angeles made it incredibly difficult for the Tribe to maintain its traditions against an incoming settler population. Showing the traditional spaces nestled between metropolitan areas provided some insight into how the Tribe maintains cohesiveness, gatherings, and traditions today.