Our America: Reclaiming Turtle Island Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians explains why sovereignty has many facets

SAN FERNANDO, Calif. (KABC) — “Our America: Reclaiming Turtle Island” brings to life the cover story of the July 2022 issue of National Geographic, “We Are Here,” and the conversation about Indigenous sovereignty and the efforts of Indigenous nations and communities to reclaim Turtle Island—a common Indigenous name for North America.

The documentary features narration by Taboo, a member of the musical group Black Eyed Peas and Marvel author of Native American and Mexican descent. But the theme hits home in Southern California.

For Rudy Ortega Jr., tribal president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, sovereignty has many facets.

“I think the most important thing about tribal sovereignty, indigenous sovereignty, is rectifying our identity,” he said.

He said it comes down to erasing indigenous identity. When a tribesman recently died, government documents identified him as Hispanic with no mention of his tribal heritage, and as one of the smaller tribes, Fernandeño Tataviam is often misidentified.

“My tribe descended from Mission San Fernando,” Ortega said. “Today we are in the village of Patzkunga, the remaining part of which is two and a half acres in the city of San Fernando, which bears the name of Rudy Ortega Sr. Park.”

Its tribal line includes much of northern Los Angeles County. Data collected by Indigenous organization Native Land Digital shows that the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians is one of 27 estimated tribal territory boundaries that overlap in five Southern California counties.

“We just got dispossessed of our tribal land where we bought a couple of title deeds, over 18,000 acres of property, now we’re down to zero,” Ortega said. “And where we have a common partnership here, the city of San Fernando to entertain two and a half acres.”

The tribe is one of dozens in California that are not federally recognized, and the state has no recognition process.

“We don’t collect taxes,” Ortega said. “We’re not in the federal resource division, we’re not in the state division, so there’s zero resource dollars unless we apply for grants.”

They rely on founding nonprofit organizations for grants. Ortega believes that state and local communities should develop policies that recognize tribes as such and create a path to self-government.

“Having an existence and having a really meaningful sovereignty to manage our financial affairs alongside our political affairs,” Ortega said.

Among his initiatives is the Acknowledge Rent campaign, which follows the efforts of Seattle’s Duwamish tribe.

It invites people living or working within tribal lines to make land recognitions through financial contributions.

“Through their efforts, they are able to raise the funding resources to keep their tribal government to a minimum and improve programs and cultural revitalization,” Ortega said.

The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians continue to revitalize their language through song and pass on their cultural and ceremonial practices to their children.

The tribe has filed a petition and is still trying to become a state-recognized tribe.

“Indigenous sovereignty for us as a tribe means a collective desire to preserve, conserve and expand and govern our heritage and pretty much continue our legacy of who we are as tribal peoples,” Ortega said.

Learn more about National Geographic’s July 2022 Cover Story, “We Are Here.” click here. To learn more about Native American sovereignty, visit natgeo.com/take.

Watch Our America: Reclaiming Turtle Island wherever you stream: Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Laura Coffey

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