On June 1, 2019, the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians participated in a panel at the Autry Museum that addressed the needs of the Native American community in relation to the Los Angeles River.

Pamela Villaseñor, an enrolled citizen and Executive Advisor to the Tribal President, represented the Tribe on this panel to provide the perspective of a Tribe affiliated ancestrally with the river. As a descendant of the village of Suitcanga, now known as Encino [Timestamp: 36:00 – video], Villaseñor spoke to the Tribe’s historic and contemporary connection to the river. Villaseñor shares:

The fight for us for the past century and a half has not always been just about land, it’s about the water. But people don’t know that history. They don’t know that intrinsic connection that we have with the water…it was our kin. It existed before we did. It was older and wiser than us. It kept us alive.So you don’t do things like manipulate your river to serve your purpose. You have to live in a symbiotic relationship. How do you serve the needs of that water, while it is serving your needs?

Tribal Citizen Pamela Villaseñor, Timestamp 36:00
Pamela Villaseñor speaking on behalf of the Tribe at the L.A. River Native Community Discussion Panel. She is pictured with a traditional skirt.

Villaseñor presented her traditional skirt, made of natural fibers from plants that need water. Importantly, she asks, “Well how do we make our regalia if we don’t have access to our water in our homelands?” 

“One of my major recommendations for the L.A. Master Plan is to think bigger about the concept of “access,” because there is access for our [Tribal] cultural needs, our ceremonial needs, and so much of that is fed and literally nourished by the L.A. River.

Tribal Citizen Pamela Villaseñor, Timestamp 36:00

The Tribe represents a coalition of lineages that descend from the villages and rancheries that are tied to the river, including Kawenga (present-day Burbank), Suitcanga (present-day Encino), and Escorpion (present-day Chatsworth). The Tribe has requested for access and ceremonial rights, culturally-competent signage, and history.

In addition to Pamela Villaseñor, panelists included representatives of the Gabrielino, Urban Indian community, and the Indigenous community.

According to the LA River Master Plan, “the County of Los Angeles is updating its LA River Master Plan. It is a comprehensive approach covering all 51 miles of the River. The effort was launched to update the original 1996 master plan, synthesizing more recent ideas for portions of the River and bringing a comprehensive vision to the transformation of the LA River. To do this, LA County partnered with community organizations throughout the region to incorporate [Native American] needs, concerns, hopes, and the vision for the entire Los Angeles River.”

Presently, Tribal President Rudy Ortega Jr. is a member of the Los Angeles River Master Plan Steering Committee.