Santa Clarita, along with northern Los Angeles County, is located on the Fernandeño Tataviam Homelands. Tribal areas such as Chaguayanga encompass modern-day Newhall, Valencia, Castaic and surrounding areas in the Santa Clarita Valley.
To honor the rich culture, the city of Santa Clarita hosted its monthly “Celebrate” series on Friday at the Canyon Country Community Center, marking the fifth installment since April. The second-to-last event in the series, the last being on Chinese culture on Sept. 8, brought residents together to learn about the beauty of the teachings of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.
Attendees could learn about the traditions of Tataviam Band, from the porcupine hair, deer hair and eagle feathers that encompass the men’s northern traditional style of regalia, to the mother-daughter “Side-Step” dance. Other dances included the children’s “Tiny Tot” dance, along with the men’s “Duck and Dive.”
Many learned about the authenticity of the moccasins, in addition to the evolution of the songs passed down from the ancestors. The beautiful regalia are bold and proud, reminding the community that the band is still alive and strong.
Casey Miller, an event coordinator for the city, described the premise behind the “Celebrate” series:
“Our event series is a cultural event, where every month from April to September, we celebrate a different culture; oftentimes they represent the diversity in our community,” Miller said. “It’s all about celebrating our differences and bringing it all together — for people to learn something new, or see something that they maybe haven’t seen before, or [to simply] celebrate their own culture in a really fun, cool way.”
She discussed the process, which entailed organizing logistics and contacting the band in the beginning of the year:
“One of the things that we always try to do when we select our cultures for each year is get community input, but also pick cultures that are from our regions. We noticed that we had quite a few from Africa, Asia and Europe, but not really a lot in North America,” Miller said. “We thought what better way to bridge into North American culture than by celebrating our Fernandeño Tataviam.”
Rudy Ortega Jr., tribal president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, performed songs with a rich history of centuries past.
He explained the depth of these songs:
“Some of [the songs we’re singing] are ancient songs that we sang. One song is more contemporary that we made today with our education department using our ancestral language,” Ortega Jr. said. “But the songs were shared and taught to us by our neighboring tribes: the Kuya’mu, Serrano bighorn sheep songs. Some of our own songs were saved, preserved and passed down that we’re able to continue sharing with the community in public. [I’m] very happy about that.”
Ortega Jr. discussed the positive influence the community not only recognizes within itself, but also continuously shares with others.
“I think it’s great — I think it’s one way to show the public that our lineages are still here, that we work and live among everybody in the community. We are still residents of Santa Clarita and other areas, our ancestral homelands. It’s good to get out and share our little bit of history and culture that we have.”
According to Ortega Jr., the band has created many agencies, including the nonprofit Pukúu, whose mission is “to [enhance] the lives of the Fernandeño Tataviam people and other American Indian community members who called Los Angeles County home,” according to its website.
“Along with [Pukúu], [we have the] cultural department that’s here, [the education department], as well as [cultivating] workshops [and teaching] the language with the kids,” Ortega Jr. said.
Shiigo Yellowhorse, a drummer and singer from the Wildhorse Native American Association, is quick to remind the crowd of one common misconception: “We don’t call these costumes, these are regalia.”
Demonstrating his culture since he was his 5-year-old son’s age, he discusses the positive changes that have occurred during the longevity of his art.
“[It’s] awesome to keep doing this. I’ve noticed a lot of non-Indigenous people don’t believe that we’re still around. From my experience, I remember growing up in school, and people were like, ‘Oh, you’re Native? I didn’t know that you guys [weren’t extinct],” Yellowhorse said. In fact, “Now it’s being more accepted, and more people are more willing to listen, which is awesome. This is something I grew up doing my entire life. I’ve been singing and dancing since I was my son’s age. It’s something that I like and I have a big passion for, so for me to share that passion with my family, I think it’s awesome.”
Among the family members who performed in regalia were his wife, Shayna MeGuinis, and niece, Bith. Yellowhorse continues to showcase his culture to remind others of one very important factor:
“We’re still here. We’ve always been here. We’re always going to be here.”
For more information regarding the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, visit www.tataviam-nsn.us/history.