The citizens of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians (Tribe) are the First People of northern Los Angeles County.
Foreign powers began colonization in the late 1770s with the arrival of the Spanish followed by the establishment of Mexico and the United States. Despite settler colonization, the Tribe continues to operate as a tribal community today. The lineages, villages, and cultures of Tribe predate the establishment of Mission San Fernando in 1797, where Indigenous Peoples were enslaved from the Simi, Santa Clarita, San Fernando, and Antelope Valleys and received the name Fernandeño.
Spanish Period: Mission San Fernando
Enslavement at Mission San Fernando by the Spanish drastically changed the daily lives of the Indigenous Peoples who would be called Fernandeños. Families were separated, children were married off, sacred sites were demolished, culture was suppressed, traditional ways of life were destroyed, food sources were removed by environmental degradation from invasive species, and the Fernandeños were massacred through Spanish-brought disease, hunger, violence, and slavery.
The Fernandeño acknowledge a mass grave within the mission grounds where more than a thousand people still lack adequate recognition today. The life of a Fernandeño person was completely overseen and controlled by the mission padres. The Fernandeños could not leave the mission grounds without the padres’ permission and often received corporal punishment for violating the rules. Less than 100 Fernandeño families survived the brutal Mission System.
Mexican Period: Lands in Trust
In 1821, Mexico gained independent from Spain and California fell under the jurisdiction of the First Mexican Empire. After the Missions were secularized by Mexico, approximately 50 surviving Fernandeño leaders negotiated for and received several land grants amounting to over 18,000 acres (10% of the San Fernando Valley) that were held in trust by the Mexican government. The Fernandeños maintained Rancho El Escorpion, Rancho Encino, Rancho Cahuenga, Rancho Tujunga, Rancho Patzkunga, Rancho Sikwanga, and the Grant to 40 Petitioners, which were meant to be preserved in the American period.
American Period: Land Theft and Dispossession
Throughout the 1800’s, the United States was on a mission to eradicate Indigenous nations. In the era of California’s State and Federally funded Genocide and campaign to exterminate California Native American people, Fernandeños lacked U.S. citizenship and yet, fought to defend their lands in local state courts for several decades to no avail. In the first years of its statehood, California also passed the 1851 Land Claims Act, which would pass lands into public domain that was not filed within a two-year period.
Land in northern Los Angeles County, particularly areas with natural water sources such as the Native-owned land grants, became extraordinarily valuable. The Fernandeño ancestors, who could not read or write English, lost their lands within this two-year period to encroaching settlers. Several Fernandeños had cases heard in the Los Angeles Superior Court [for example, see Porter et al v. Cota et al.] but the local state courts were against the Fernandeños’ claims to the land, which made it impossible for the San Fernando Mission Indian defendants to affirm rights to land that would have formed the foundation for a reservation.
By 1900, the Tribe lost all its lands and members were left as refugees on their own homelands. As result of the land evictions, our Indigenous leaders were defended by attorneys commissioned by the federal government. Official representatives of the United States, such as Assistant United States Attorney G. Wiley Wells and United States Special Indian Agent and Special Attorney for Mission Indians Frank D. Lewis, pursued land for the evicted Fernandeños. Today the Tribe, the descendants of the historic Fernandeño Indian tribe, consists of 3 surviving lineages of approximately 900 people.