Storyteller and Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians Elder Alan Salazar stood before a group at Vasquez Rocks on Saturday to tell his tales.
He periodically clapped two sticks bound together by straps at points in his stories to hold the audience’s attention and let them know when to listen up. He told many stories, most about animals — their origin stories or how their spirits are inherent to our behaviors.
One was about a coyote and a woodpecker, representing the mischievous coyote spirit that lives in some. The other was about a bear and the Great Horned Owl, an origin tale about its horns.
They’re mostly children’s stories, mixed in with some jokes for the parents. But each served a purpose — to connect our existence with the land and its inhabitants, while explaining the world around us.
Salazar’s stories were among a number of activities and events for Day at the Rocks, an event organized by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, the Vasquez Rocks Nature Center Associates and the FTBMI.
Rudy Ortega Jr., tribal president of FTBMI, said it was exciting to see a good turnout at an event aimed at educating people on their culture and history.
“I think it’s exciting. I think more people are excited to learn more and see and, and understand the tribe’s history, the culture … so it’s great that it’s a full on engagement.”
Ortega mentioned that one person in particular at the Parks and Rec Department, Regional Director Sarah Brewer, was key to making sure the FTBMI were included and highlighted during the event.
Brewer said the event started about 10 years ago as a celebration of the Agua Dulce community, but blossomed into a partnership with the FTBMI. Recent steps taken by the county to recognize FTBMI land have strengthened the relationship, according to Brewer.
“This is all unceded territory and it’s been really exciting to see the county taking steps to acknowledge and bring awareness to the public,” said Brewer. “Like when I was a kid growing up leading hikes with my dad who was a docent, it was such a common thought for people that there were no Tataviam descendants, that they were long gone hundreds of years ago … So it’s really important just to acknowledge that.”
Brewer said it’s important for people to know that FTBMI has over 800 current members, and that Vasquez Rocks once was home to the village of Mapipinga, a vibrant central village to the band.
“It’s an amazing place today; it was an amazing place back then,” said Brewer. “So just a really important step in the right direction, (but) we still have a long way to go.”
The opening ceremony of the event was a performance of FTBMI and Chumash songs, lead by Elder Denis Garcia, who also gave a storytelling session.
Garcia said because of his people’s connection to Vasquez Rocks, it was nice to return to it each year and help spread awareness of his culture and history.
“We don’t own the land, we just have a relationship with the land. So it’s a good feeling that we have a place to come and make people aware of who we are and that we’re still in existence,” said Garcia. “We’re not extinct. We’re here living our culture, learning, trying to revive and trying to bring back as much as we can about our culture, so that we can teach it on tour and future generations here.”
Because of the persecution of his people, Garcia said, for many years they were not allowed to practice or be proud of their culture. But pride isn’t reserved for the FTBMI. Garcia said anyone who has a culture that’s a part of them should be celebrated.
“Each and every one of you has culture and tradition, songs and stories, and that’s part of your identity,” said Garcia. “Language also is most important. So if you have a second language that you speak at home other than English, learn that language from your grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles.”
In addition to stories and songs, guided hikes, displays, animal preservation and wildlife education presentations were a part of the cultural education and preservation of the event.
Several FTBMI affiliated pop-up tents and resources were also available including the Tataviam Land Conservancy, Haramokngna Cultural Center of the local First Nations, Native First Lending and Paseki Renewable Energy & Strategies Company.