Tribal Council Moves Into Heritage Junction
Local Indian group sets up headquarters in Newhall.
By Katalin Szabolcsi* * *
For The Signal
Wednesday, October 10, 2001
fundamental part of Santa Clarita's early history has returned: Members of an indigenous Native American tribe have set up an office in Newhall and are seeking federal recognition.
The Tribal Council of the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians whose members include descendants of the Tataviam, who arrived in the Santa Clarita Valley more than 1,500 years ago moved into Heritage Junction Historic Park on San Fernando Road this month as part of an agreement with the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
"We have been looking for an office space in the Santa Clarita area for some time now," said John Valenzuela, chairman of the band and its nonprofit corporation, which was formed to satisfy one of the requirements for federal recognition.
John Valenzuela, chairman
of the Tribal Council of the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians, and his wife Maryrose look over the
Pardee House at Heritage Junction, where they will be setting up an office.
Photo by Leon Worden.
The group, which represents Native American families with roots in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, previously was headquartered in Thousand Oaks, but Valenzuela said it was time "to get on our own."
In August the historical society offered the use of Heritage Junction free of charge in return for some volunteer work at the park.
"Under our agreement, sharing office space at Heritage Junction is a temporary situation," said Leon Worden, president of the SCV Historical Society. "Long-range plans call for the group to establish a permanent home of its own and a cultural center in the Santa Clarita Valley. But we will be working to make this partnership a win-win that lasts well into the future."
"The historical society has been very nice to us and we're helping them in return," said Valenzuela. "Last week we began to prepare the office so we can move in."
The group volunteered to renovate the Pardee House, which the historical society intends to turn into a permanent museum showcasing SCV history.
"Many of our members are union workers and they volunteered their expertise," Valenzuela said. "A laborers union, the Local 585, donated materials and volunteer work. If we get enough materials we could finish (the Pardee House Museum) in about three or four months."
The group launched its quest for federal recognition in 1995 when organizers filed a letter of intent with the government to re-acquire their sovereignty, said Donna Yocum, secretary of the tribal council.
"May of 1995 was a turning point for us," she said.
The band must satisfy several requirements, such as establishing authenticity, proving historical continuity and showing that each member has direct ties to modern times, before filing a petition for recognition.
The group hired anthropologist John Johnson from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to "assist the compilation of their genealogical history," said Johnson.
"I am not working alone," he said, "but rather alongside the members of the tribe."
Johnson has been studying the genealogy of Southern California's Native American tribes for decades, and with the recent accessibility of certain documents such as mission records, he was able to trace the ancestry of several local tribal members.
"The documentation of our genealogy, as well as electing our own government in 1998 and the major changes to our constitution regarding membership, are the basis for our petition," said Yocum.
The group applied for and has received grant funding to fight for the petition, said Valenzuela.
"They are still in the initial stages of the process," said Johnson. "But we continue to comb through the records and record oral history to put together additional information for a stronger argument in the petition."
The group has 24 months to prepare the necessary documentation.
The band has carefully investigated every part of the process, Valenzuela said.
"We really pride ourselves in taking it one step at a time. It is in our best interest to retain our integrity," he said.
"Being quiet and keeping our noses to the grindstone got us where we are now. Our members were very supportive and that gave us strength to continue."
"Every tribe that wishes to be federally recognized has to go through the same process," said Johnson. "And these are tough criteria to meet. But they (the band) have been doing it the right way, according to rules and regulations. They have a really good case."
Valenzuela is optimistic, too.
"It was exciting to know that we did things right and it will be a solid, solid petition when we turn it in," he said. "John (Johnson) is handling the history part of our petition and we believe we have a very good argument. We are only asking for a little for the lot that has been taken away from us."
Valenzuela said things were tough for the group in the beginning, but it has come a long way in the past four years.
"Just like in a puzzle, everything seems to be fitting together nicely now," he said. "We are really looking forward to the future."
©2001, THE SIGNAL · USED BY PERMISSION · ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.