Rudy Ortega, Jr.: Asserting Sovereignty and Self-Governance

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Native Nations Institute
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Rudy Ortega, Jr., then Vice President and citizen of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, shares his experiences leading his community and engaging in Fernandeño Tataviam self-governance in spite of his nation not yet being a state or federally recognized tribal government.  Vice President Ortega's years-long advocacy for the rights off Fernandeño Tataviam citizens and participation in tribal constitution creation demonstrate the means some Native nations and leaders have used to assert tribal sovereignty within the cities, counties, and states in which they reside.

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Ortega, Rudy Jr., "Asserting Sovereignty and Self-Governance," Interview, Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ,  December 05, 2014. 

Verónica Hirsch:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host Veronica Hirsch. On today’s program we are honored to have with us Rudy Ortega, Jr. Rudy currently serves as the Vice President of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in San Fernando, California, and as the Chairman of the Los Angeles City and County Native American Indian Commission. Rudy, welcome.”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Thank you.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Good to have you with us today.”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“It’s a pleasure to be here.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“I’ve shared a little bit about who you are but why don’t you start by telling us a bit more about yourself.”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Sure. I’m the sixth son of my father, Rudy Ortega, Sr., who was tribal Captain, Chairman of the tribe for five decades.

I’m the sixth son. I have sisters from him as well. Two of them are from San Ines, from his first wife. My father was married three times and today as growing up in the community I was beside him for many years and in 1976 he served on the Indian Commission, two years after I was born and then followed his footsteps from there as I was being raised from him and he pretty much inspired me. He was kind of my role model in leading the tribe and not just our tribe itself but our community and that’s where I got the insight or inspiration of doing the services and working for the community and from there that’s where I then later served on the Indian Commission in 2002. So I serve on multiple boards besides the Commission itself, an organization. I’m also the Executive Director for our nonprofit Pukúu Cultural Community Services where we provide services out to the community.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. Can you briefly share with us some of the Fernandeño Tataviam community’s history and specifically as part of that history what does the term California Historical Tribe, what does that designation mean for the Fernandeño Tativam?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Well, the history of our people, Tataviam, we’re one of the tribes in Los Angeles County. There are several other tribes and it’s…today it’s not just one tribe in California, we work in multiple bands and villages. So a lot of our villages are autonomous. We had Captains and each village had four Captains. So as…through historical times from the mission era to the Mexican era and now to the United States era, we collaborated our villages and stayed united that way and so we have the Tataviam Band, which we use the Fernandeño which describes what mission we’re from in San Fernando out of the LA area and a lot of…and today we only have three surviving families from all the villages that from historical times to today. And as a historical tribe in California what that means is that it gives us the power and the right to interact with inter-government, state government, local government and also participate on some cultural resources artifacts or things that may come up pertaining to the tribe as far as ancestral burial grounds, artifacts and it weighs us…allows us to weigh in and gives us our right to consultation and protection of cultural resources. So that way the tribe can retain its rights and sovereignty and be able to engage in those local governments and be influential about the policy making and the rights to protect the tribe’s role in the communities.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you for your answer. What does the classification as a non-federally recognized tribe mean for the Fernandeño Tataviam?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“It means that today although the United States fails to acknowledge the tribe as an American Indian tribe, it means that the tribe doesn’t have a trust agreement with the United States government, it’s not under the rule, it’s not under governance of the United States. It doesn’t have an MOU in short, a memorandum of understanding between the United States government and our tribe. So we’re pretty much kind of like outside of a foreign government within a government and even though we’re in our own homelands, the United States still looks at us as a, in short terms like I said, foreign government or hostile government depending on the role or actions that our leadership takes. So that’s the term of non-recognized and what the tribe is doing is seeking acknowledgement so that we can have a seat at the table with the federal government agencies as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs so we can advocate for more resources and benefits for the tribe itself. Without that the tribe seeks its own resources, innovative ways to bring funding to the tribe and protects and maintains our identity as American Indian people. Without non-recognition, with the classification of non-recognized, our people are limited to identification as Indian people when they go to a federal agency for services or to Indian Health Services, they’re turned away because they don’t come from a federally recognized tribe. So the tribe’s constantly pursuing that and that’s where the avenue of regaining acknowledgement is very supportive but is also not the ends to all means in the sense that the tribe still needs to lead its governance and protect the sovereignty of the people and identification of its own people as well.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“You mentioned that the Fernandeño Tataviam community is in the process of seeking federal acknowledgement or in this case really re-acknowledgement. Can you describe where the community is at in that process?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“We’re at the…under the Office of Federal Acknowledgement list of Ready for Active Consideration and that list pretty much states that our petition has been completed and verified by the Office of Acknowledgement to proceed and move to the next category on their list as far as active consideration which means that they will continue to…at that point in time they will begin the review process which is mandated under the federal register, the timeframe, the two year process of the public hearings, the review of our documentation, our petition for classification of a federal acknowledgement. So that’s where we stand today.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“From your perspective, in what ways and to what extent does the designation of either current, non-federally recognized status or federally recognized status impact the Fernandeño Tataviam or does it impact?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“We contemplate that many times in our tribal community as far as the impact or non-impact to our community and truthfully as a community that’s surrounded by the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, we are limited as far as access to as I mentioned earlier federal housing under Indian housing, Health Services, welfare assistance and just to be the fact saying you’re Indian, checking the box and saying you’re Indian and going for those services that the members may desire to have. Without that we are used to just going to the regular public services of the county and denouncing our Indian heritage because when a member checks the box off, the public agency or the county agency will say, ‘You need to go over to Indian Health Services or Indian Welfare,’ and then when that member goes over there, they get turned away because they don’t come from a federally recognized tribe. So that’s the impact of not having federal acknowledgement. The non-impact towards it is that the tribe today, we’ve written our own constitution, we’ve created a nonprofit, we’ve created a business and under the guidance and leadership of our own people. We have no interference from the United States government, we listed our tribal as a mutual benefit corporation in order to put our funds into a bank account. So we sought out innovative ways to continue our existence as a tribal community, as a tribal government without the interference of the United States government. But as far as I said, just to have a further reach as far as identification and it’s…that’s the process of federal acknowledgement. And some people today have returned to more modern contemporary White tribes who are fighting or existing why don’t the tribe have federal acknowledgement. The question we always receive is why don’t you have federal acknowledgement and the simple fact is that we’re in Los Angeles. At the time in 1892 the Mission Relief Act, when the tribe was being reviewed and moved into trust lands, the local politicians, the mayor of Los Angeles, the founding mayor of San Fernando, the City of San Fernando didn’t want American Indian tribes there and other folks didn’t want American Indian tribes there because the Indian people were sitting on land that had natural resources such as water or gas or minerals that were useful for the communities and to have a tribe exist in Los Angeles was detrimental to their profit, detrimental to their view of American history, American dream. And that’s why today when we advocate to our youth today, we’re not actually telling them to go get education and become…and stretch out for the American dream because we’re not looking for the American dream. We’re looking for our own community dream. We’re looking for our tribal nation dream as far as sustaining and building our nation itself. So therefore that’s the impact that we have and the non-impact of it and having…not having federal acknowledgement just gave us more of the power, more of the fire in our bellies to say, ‘Hey, this is something that we need to build up regardless of acknowledgement or non-acknowledgement. And if acknowledgement never comes our way…’ We found innovative ways as I said. We created a business, a nonprofit to continue, to maintain and to look towards our traditional cultural. We lost so much because we had to go underground. Within our own community, within our own homelands we had to not say we’re Indian, we couldn’t speak our language, we couldn’t sing our songs, we had to work in American society. Our ancestors or prior to that when factories came into Los Angeles, gold mines were being built, we had to work in those resources and we had to say that we’re simply Mexican or Caucasian just for the fact of survival. So we adapted ourselves and from that we maintained a hidden society within the society itself.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. Can you discuss the ways in which the Fernandeño Tataviam and/or other non-federally recognized Native nations politically interact with the State of California and do such inter-governmental relationships exist? And if not, why do you think that is the case?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Many tribes in California who don’t have the federal designation do interact with California and it’s two limited statures. One as I mentioned the cultural resources. Many of the tribes have an opportunity to participate with the California Historical Commission in California which is the lead agency to oversee cultural resources. So we get to engage in policymaking as far as protecting and enhancing tribal rights over cultural resources and ancestral territory. Other areas we do depending on county to county, the level of participation. Some counties welcome tribes to engage with them and even so a federally recognized tribe will have trouble engaging with counties. From what I hear other counties are not so reluctant…not so easily approachable to engage with the tribes regardless of their federal or non-federal status. They just don’t…they still 40, 50 years back in my words I like to say they haven’t matured yet to understand that we’re living in a new century where racism should be limited but so far many of these counties still are not engaging with these tribal communities to hear from them and these areas that we’re talking about is protection of Indian children when they go into ICWA, my tribe has limited participation depending up to the judges. In Los Angeles, some judges are very friendly and approachable and allow the tribes to engage and we took even that as a different approach. We’re saying, ‘Okay, you don’t acknowledge the tribe or the tribe’s not on the federal list but we’re an organized community of organized families. We’re the extended family of this one child and we wish to participate and give insight to where we feel that this child should be placed or how they should be placed so they can maintain its…the child can maintain their cultural and traditional values within the community.’ So that’s one area where many tribes that are non-federally recognized get to participate. And again it’s limited because once the judge waives is the tribe federally acknowledged and the tribe gets too advanced or too…with too much requests or too many demands the judge can simply excuse the tribe out and say, ‘The tribe’s not federally recognized so we’re not going to no longer hear from them.’ So it’s limited to how much participation we have in the State of California as a non-recognized tribe.”

Verónica Hirsch:

 â€œI want to transition now to some nation building questions as we’re terming them that are specific to Fernandeño Tataviam community and with that I’ll begin by asking how do you define nation building personally and to piggyback with that, what does that mean for the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, this idea of nation building?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Well, nation building, honestly it began back in 1950s when my father and many of the elders who passed before him. Back then we said we rebuilt the tribe. In retrospect we didn’t rebuild the tribe or we didn’t build the tribe, we rebuilt…what we’ve done is restructure how our organization or how our tribe was organized in the community. And we needed to reestablish ourselves or establish us more strongfully with our current situation of non-federal acknowledgement with no lands in trust, no resources coming our way, no one supporting our community outside our own selves so our tribal members are the ones who supported this community, our tribal members who have the passion and desire to have this continue solidly from historical times to today and the desire to know their heritage and traditions is where we started beginning our nation building or enhancing I’d say more than rebuilding or anything like that. In the 1950s they looked at bylaws, regular corporation bylaws, rules to write down and say, ‘These are the governing rules which all our members should participate.’ And the reason why our leaders back then looked at that is because that’s what western society wanted and that’s what the United States government looked at, that’s what the county understood. They understood rules and policy that were written down and documented and saying, ‘How are you leading your people or how are you following certain rules? How can we engage with you? If we talk to you one day as an Indian tribe, your story changes the next day,’ and that’s how they felt. So my father and many of the leaders said, ‘Well, we need to document our history. We need to document our government leadership, our rules, who should speak for us and this way we can point back to it and say this is how we govern ourselves.’ So as we move forward through the decades, the 1970s we solicit or petitioned for lands to be moved into a reservation, into trust for us and we were denied and it says we were denied in 1892. And then we later sought for federal acknowledgement in 1995 where we went back to community again. We actually went back to the elders first and said, ‘Are we going to the next step of soliciting or petitioning federal acknowledgement,’ and they said yes, to try for that. And that’s when we reached out to our general membership in our tribe and said, ‘This is what we’re doing, what we want to have done,’ and the consensus from all of them was to proceed forward and to pursue federal acknowledgement and to continue building our tribal communities. And one of the things they asked for was resources. We…they wanted to know…they were limited in jobs, the low paying jobs, they needed more education, they needed scholarships so they sought for us as leaders or back then as leaders to pursue and build our tribal governments regardless of our federal acknowledgement status or not. And so that’s where we began building our nation from there. Rebuilding…actually enhancing the building. Like I said, it’s more of enhancing it, bringing it to the next future and as we’re doing that we’re looking at local and I said county and state governments. And since they have a ton of code, laws, policies that governs themselves and that’s how they understand, that’s where they’re at as far as communicating and their successors after that. And so the tribe sought to do the same as well so that we can have an easier transition. So when we’re speaking to the county, they can understand us and we can understand them and there’s a set of rules that we all can follow and guide ourselves with it. So that’s how we looked at as nation building is going back to the community, speaking with them and also not just our own community but the community that surrounds us as well so that we can engage with them more extensively.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. Based upon your experiences, what other unique challenges are there for being a council member of the Fernandeño Tataviam realizing that its status is currently non-federally recognized? Are there any advantages to that status? You’ve touched upon some of them that you’ve been able to work within and around and at times between certain very defined structures that place an emphasis upon codes, regulations and policies. Within that defined structure, have you found other ways to be innovative and have you experienced unique successes because of your current status?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“We’ve…in a lot of ways I think it’s up to the leaders who are elected and appointed to these positions and myself from what I’ve seen the ones before me and the ones that are coming after me and the ones that are being elected today including myself it’s confidence and also belief behind it as well. And when you walk into a meeting and are wishing to deploy a policy that your own people decided on or make, you had to have confidence behind it to advocate for it. And in myself it’s more of getting to the table and hoping and soliciting and petitioning in a way that the gentleman across the table will or woman across the table will listen and engage with you and be able to come to a solution. And I think the one avenue that we saw that I see that we’re successful was to work with the federal…national…The Angeles National Forest and to repatriate…we buried two remains that it took my tribe, another tribe, a nearby recognized tribe and along with the federal agency to successfully rebury remains that were unearthed for approximately 40 years and that was the success. And we continue to do that. More recently my tribe with the same tribe that we advocated before were able to successfully negotiate half an acre of property within county property as designated area for reburials, for future reburials and reburials that we currently have that need to go back into the earth. So that’s the success. As being a leader in the community, advocating for the people, it takes a lot of dialogue because as you’re dealing with ancestral remains, you’re not only going to the county in this case to request that it be reburied back to the location they were found or nearby but also working with another tribe who has federal acknowledgement as well going back to your own community and elders of council that you had to speak to ask for their desires and wishes and then go back to the general membership of the tribe and ask, ‘What way or method shall we rebury these remains and is this the location you wanted to have it go back to?’ So it’s a lot of contemplating and a lot of working, a lot of negotiating, a lot of discussions, a lot of meetings for us to get to this point in time and it’s a lengthy process that takes several months to years to complete. So that’s a success that I will say that as a leadership and serve as my capacity as a leader the road that I must take is that you’ve got to be able to be open minded, to listen, maybe put your own ideas and thoughts and put them up to the people and say this is how you view things will work successfully and be able to articulate that back to the community. And at the same time listen to their wishes and demands as well and be able to deliver their message back to whoever you’re negotiating with or whoever you’re discussing with.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. On that topic of leaders responsibility to the community, how does the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians community choose their leaders and hold them accountable?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Well, in 2002 we established our constitution and prior to that it was really done very traditionally where we have selected community leaders by through our leaders or through community…through families who selected their spokesperson that would designate their person to speak on behalf of the families. In 2002 when we wrote our constitution we now go through election process and through our election process we elect our tribal president, treasurer as a whole through the entire community and then we select our legislative persons through districts to two different districts. One that would encompass the San Fernando Valley and the other that would encompass outside the San Fernando Valley. And those members living in those district areas will vote for those elected officials, five in district one and four in district two and then that will comprise our legislative body of nine people. Then our executive would be the president, treasurer, the vice president would be the one selected from our tribal legislative branch. They would choose their own vice president…they would choose the vice president for the tribe and the secretary and then those two will serve on the executive committee as well. So that’s how today we politically choose our officials and that’s how we explain to the rest of the world and the rest of the outside governments how we elect our officials and they understand that process because they’re familiar with a similar process to how they choose the leaders today. We choose a county supervisor, a City Council member for a city so they understand that process. One process they don’t understand is not written in our constitution is how we still go by our traditional ways of having our spokespersons and they are selected again by their family members. They speak on behalf of the family and they bring the information back to the community…to our elected officials. So the way we hold our elected official accountable and responsible for the duties is that one we do have a general election, vote for items that wishes to be heard by the people or move on action. We have monthly meetings that both bodies have to report on the status of what they’re working on and then the people get to address what items they find or seek that needs to be worked on or addressed. And any question that the community member wishes to find information or status or a desire for an item to be worked on, it’s brought up to the monthly meetings to ensure that our elected officials are addressing or communicating or moving forward on a project or an item that they may have a question or a query on.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You’ve given us a brief description of Fernandeño Tataviam traditional governance and also explained the context in which those elements of traditional governance remain and apply to today. I want to ask you why…what was the choice to not include a description of Fernandeño Tataviam traditional governance within your current constitution?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“We really looked at it extensively. We…before coming up with our final constitution there was 10 different drafts and one of the drafts did encompass it. And as we were going through it, some of the elders felt that once you’ve written it down it’s that forever and a lot of traditional ways it didn’t stay forever. It was…the spokesperson may have a direction and the way they spoke about it was it’s like the river, it changes path over time. And once you’ve written it up, we become like the United States government where…or any government who writes government up, writes up the rules and you can’t change it unless you go by everyone’s opinion or changes and that’s not tradition. It’s not easily flexible, it doesn’t bend like the trees in the wind as they expressed back then. So by writing it up you lose a lot of the sensitivity, the common sense, the traditional values of living life. One…life itself is not written in stone and that’s what they expressed to us and so by writing our traditional way in the constitution we lose that value. We already lost so much in oral tradition, whatever was remaining must be handed down and traditionally passed on. So we redid it in a different way where we have cultural classes at one point in time or we continue to have them or we…certain people are mentored how these traditions are handed or passed on. So we prefer to have it that way than have it structured and written to a constitution where it may be followed, may not be followed and it’s a rule that shouldn’t be documented in such a forceful way, that’s the way they saw it.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. Can you discuss…you referred to it briefly in some previous answers that you provided but could you discuss more fully how Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians relates with other tribal communities and governments?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“We engage in multiple levels. Our community members, I would say the best avenue of communicating with other tribal…with other tribal communities because we participate in cultural traditional dances and songs, participation and engagement in festival activities and that’s the more natural way, the more harmony way. Politically, we may see different points of agenda or interest or discussion so we engage in consultation with one another, we discuss items. Just recently we’re working on two projects that involve communities from both federal and non-federal tribes to participate and engage on reburial of ancestral remains on the villages, locations. Overlapping villages was also an interesting discussion as far as who’s ancestors are more tied to a village than the other but those are…those are discussions and well-deserved discussions because that means everyone has a very passionate and hard decision…interest into it. If no one cared, then there won’t be no argument or discussion over it. But other projects are discussion on protection…future protection of artifacts and decisions on whether or not to…how we protect them. And so that’s where…how we engage. So we have the levels of tiers of engagement politically. There’s that formal way of discussing and sitting down to the table and discussing politics and discussing agenda items and others are just community engagement in participating where the tribe will invite us to their activities, festivities and vice versa, we invite them to ours as well.” 

Verónica Hirsch:   

“You made an important point about these different levels and means and even applications of engagement distinguishing that between a political form of engagement and more as you mentioned the harmony way that culturally informed form of engagement. In your opinion, how do those differing forms of engagement complement each other?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“I would say the way they’re complementing each other is that understanding that there’s a common denominator behind it in the sense that we’re all Indian people and regardless of whatever the level of participation we have, that our communities are always engaging and participating with one another and the livelihood of our future generation will coexist. And we’re able to bring to the table discussions that may surface at one point or another and we know what communities to participate with. If it needs to be a political item or an item that becomes a political item we know where the items or leaders who will be discussing such actions and as far as a community it just means that at one point in time we all come together, we break bread together and we have a good time as far as having our communities engage with one another with song and dance.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Looking back now what do you wish you knew before you first began serving on your nation’s elected council?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“That’s a difficult…for myself a difficult question. Coming from one of the sons of my father and I guess it was always looked upon that from his children or my other siblings that we…this is the role you take or as it was said to me by elders that mentored me, ‘You’re not asked to or you’re not put in the position that you want to be in. You’re in the position because you were selected to be in and for myself seeking out…that’s a question I looked at and contemplated quite a bit is what was it that I would have known prior. I think the best thing to do is or say is to engage more with the elders than I have in the past. I was mentored by mostly all of them and spoke with them and making sure that their visions or questions were sought out but as far as understanding or questioning of…it’s real…difficult for me to answer because I was taught that I’m in this position because I was asked to be in here and to serve in here as this position. That’s the…I think that would be the only way I can answer that question.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“On that point of being asked to serve in a position of leadership versus an individual seeking leadership or political recognition for himself or herself, can you discuss how that viewpoint of being asked by the community, how does that tie into some of these elements of Fernandeño Tataviam traditional governance that you’ve mentioned previously?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“I think me being asked is along the lines of the traditions. When I was asked to serve, I was 17 years old and sitting with the elder’s council. Well, actually with the tribal council which had the elders at the table at the same time and this was a discussion of seeking acknowledgement for the tribe itself. And at that time I was the only 17 year old in the room. A lot of the elders at that point in time said they have put a lot of energy in and looked towards me as the new, young energy that can help continue and enhance the tribe. So being asked to…was along the lines very traditional along that ways and someone who’s seeking federal…seeking to serve in the community…I never really asked why they would want to serve but more so we embraced it in a way as they are seeking it we sit down and counsel them and hope to give them as much information as possible so that they can become great leaders to serve the community and also to give back to the community to make sure that they are listening to community’s wishes as well.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You mentioned previously how in 2002 the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians adopted a constitution and you’ve already discussed a bit what prompted the nation to adopt a written constitution. Are there any other factors other than the ones that you’ve provided that you believe served as motivation for the community choosing to go this written constitution route?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“There are several factors. One factor is the fact of seeking federal acknowledgement, engaging with local governments, having outside governments understand our ways so this way we can hand them a written document and they can understand how we function and work. That really supported our concept as our own nation. But more importantly it was internally. As in every community, there’s always difference of opinion. We can always agree to disagree. So we had families…we are three families in the tribe and sometimes even within the family itself disagreed. You have siblings who didn’t see eye to eye so families didn’t really participate, didn’t feel they had a voice. Under one person’s leadership or another person’s leadership and they fought to be who will be the main person in charge of the tribe and since traditional ways wasn’t…it’s not going to be documented, it wasn’t going to be documented and they always felt strong with traditional ways, we thought that writing a constitution that people can agree onto and understand that that elected officials will be the way we appoint our people to lead the tribe in the political arena, not in the traditional way, and that’s how we kept our traditional way, our songs and dances. Families can teach their own children, they can engage in social events outside of a political arena and the political arena we can always elect our own officials. They can determine who should become our leader and those who are seeking it, they can desire if the people choose to vote for them or not. We found it easier. This way we can break down the barriers of internal fighting and come to a more cohesive way of electing our folks to leadership rather than well, from what I understand the old ways [people would argue] ‘no one appointed that person to be leader of our tribe or my family, this is our leader of the tribe’ and that was a discussion prior to the constitution. And today now that they understand the constitution’s in effect, we all get an opportunity to vote for our main leader of the tribe and they get to lead us and hopefully and they have…they’re hold to the standard. Like I said earlier, we can ask them questions every month, daily and give us progress reports, reports of all their activities and hold them accountable. Under our constitution and under our tribal code as well.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You mentioned how in this process of adopting a written constitution that there was a concerted effort to engage members of various families, of the three main families that comprise the Fernandeño Tataviam and I would ask you I guess for more information on that point, specifically what process, whether they were formal or informal, what processes were used to engage the citizens about their constitution?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“The formal process it’s difficult. You can’t put our tribal people into a presentation or a PowerPoint, very lengthy lectures. They want to know pretty much the blunt of why we’re writing such a document and the constitution as we’ve gone through it the leaders who were coming up with the drafts were sitting down with the attorneys, the UCLA attorneys that assisted in drafting our constitution in a way that…we looked at it in many different avenues but one thing we wanted to make sure that our constitution was something that the people would vest into, understand, be part of so we had to translate from what the attorneys were speaking, their lingual, even for us. I would get lost. I had to pull up a dictionary and find out what the heck they were talking about at certain times. Not immediately in the meeting but after I left the meeting I was like, ‘Okay, let me see what they’re referring to.’ And translate it to make sure that it didn’t come from them, it wasn’t the attorney’s vision of writing the constitution but it was the tribe itself. And so we had meetings to discuss it and we handed out drafts of the constitution. Don’t know honestly if everyone read it. They probably just saw a ton of text and paper, outline, red outline but I know that some folks engaged with us and in the public forum not everyone spoke but once we broke off and just had a regular discussion, one on one folks would come up to the leaders and discuss their points of view of the constitution. There was other times when we had the attorneys in the room no one would speak at times and I didn’t know why. So it was just engaging in different ways. And the way we’ve held our hearing listening sessions of the constitution was in community family homes, in certain backyards more of a potluck style and engage with them that way. If we’d try to have like a hall rented, literally no one would show up. They thought it was too formal, too rigid but having it in someone’s backyard and having everyone there at the same time having some traditional songs and dances carry on during the time of consulting with the constitution was more productive than to have a formal method of engagement with the community.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“And it sounds like that these strategies and approaches that you used to educate Fernandeño Tataviam citizens were more leaning as you said less rigid formality and more so drawing upon that traditional governance structure and that ability to relate, as you mentioned that these are listening sessions regarding the constitution. In your opinion, were these strategies, both the formal and informal, were they successful and to what degree?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“I would say they were successful in the sense of crafting up the constitution in a way that encompassed the visions of our people and I have to be honest, it wasn’t 100 percent successful ‘cause today…even today we go back and wanted to change our constitution that best serves the people itself and even though we had these sessions or listening sessions we’re now coming onto a new generation of Tataviam citizens who don’t recall the time when we had these listening sessions or meetings with the folks and a lot of them were done with predominately elders and that’s where the traditional ways kind of doesn’t work with the more modern ways and now our new generations are more in tune with today’s modern technology and modern ways that the elders who were consulting, were engaging, a lot of them have passed and so it’s more of a reeducation of our constitution. So the success of it would be the fact that we have a constitution that we follow and the fact that we get to practice a political authority and the people have the power to engage with the leadership and be able to address their interests or points. More successful of it is in our constitution that our leadership got to open up enrollment for the tribe which we took out the word enrollment. We felt that enrollment meant that you’re already part of something and you’re in but with our government status, we’re talking about registration, they had to register with the tribe to become a citizen of the tribe and engage within that and this way the families who didn’t understand the registration or the enrollment process got to come in later on and enroll. So many folks thought that because you have blood already you didn’t have to document your documentation with the tribe and so that’s a success as through over the decade of having this constitution we got to change our method of registering our tribal members, identifying our tribal members, educating them on the procedure of registration and be able to vote in the tribe itself and as they go through the constitution they get to learn how much power they have with the tribe and how they can select their leaders, how they can voice their concerns to the legislative body and how they can have the tribe champion maybe their concerns, maybe something they had an issue with in the outside community that they needed to address and by using our constitution or bylaws or of any method to engage with the tribal leadership and to ensure that they are voicing out their concerns to the communities as well.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You mentioned this idea of educating and in fact reeducating this younger generation of tribal citizens regarding the constitution, regarding not only its history but also its practice and purpose. You also mentioned the importance of being specific in language and in using language that is relatable and understandable to the tribal citizens. I want to ask, is there a means in place whether it’s formal or informal, is there a means or method in place to continue this idea, this process of reeducating tribal citizenry regarding the Fernandeño Tataviam Constitution?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Right now the place that we’ve sought to seek is firstly the folks who are registering newly to the tribe. We give them our constitution and that gives us the opportunity to hold a conference or a session. In our constitution we have it written that we have one general meeting throughout the year and kind of that’s where a bit of our own traditional ways is written in there, kind of tucked in there because in that general meeting anything goes. You can…if you didn’t like the tribal president you can vote for a new tribal president in that meeting. But that’s the traditional way of it and that’s a time where it can take place. So at that point in time we can…we take advantage of it to address the people of our rules, of our laws, what rights they have and along with that we also have another section, we have public hearings on budget. And so they get to listen or follow ‘cause that’s where everyone will like to come in is follow the money, is address their concerns and be able to engage with it. When we first started this process, a lot of our tribal members didn’t engage and they’re now coming around to engage and realizing that the constitution does hold weight in the tribe, that the bylaws that we write, the code, does hold weight and that we follow it and is ensuring that we enforce these rules to ensure that there is a checks and balances within our government system rather the old way of one family leading the tribe only or one person is more favorable. We’re all family members so you can’t really use the nepotism card. Everyone is related one way or another. So this way they can engage and that’s the point in time where at each sectional block we educate our members of the rules, of the laws. This is where it says that you can participate in the tribe at a certain point in time to discuss funds, a certain point in time to discuss anything you want is the general council meeting of the people. And also we have…outside of that we have our cultural activities that we have coming up. In winter we have winter social gathering where we celebrate the winter solstice and Christmas. And we bring a little bit of tribal government into it just stating, ‘Here’s our rules, here’s our laws.’ Not intensively because they’re there to have a great time but a way to just ensure that there is a book, there’s rules and that if they ever want it they can go and pick it up and read it and discuss it and if they have a question about it because we always look for their opinion. And sometimes they’ll give us the opinion without reading through the constitution but say, ‘Is there something…’, especially from elders. I have several elders that will always come up to me every time they see me, every chance they have and say, ‘Why aren’t you doing this for the tribe?’ or…and it’s amazing because they’re very innovative. Even though they’re thinking very modernly these elders are in their 90s and late 80s and they’re saying, ‘The tribe should have a hedge fund where members of the tribe will contribute and anyone who contributes to it could have a share of this fund and anyone who takes out from it will have to repay it.’ So these are the thoughts that they’re thinking about in which we have to go back and say, ‘Okay, how are we going to make this function? How are we going to make this work?’ And we tried it numerous times but it hasn’t gotten passed yet but each time they say, ‘How come that hasn’t passed or moved on it?’ So this is a way that we get to engage with them and say we’re writing up the tribal code, the tribal constitution and there’s certain limitations that we have as leaders, unless it comes from the people or we vote on it, then we can act upon it and this way we can also educate them as well at the same time.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. To what do you credit this increased level of citizen engagement? You mentioned how even as let’s say more strictly social settings or settings that have spiritual components, cultural components to it that education and elements of reeducation regarding the tribal constitution that they are integrated in a way that is not off-putting, in a way that is approachable and understandable. What other factors do you think are responsible for this ever increasing growth in tribal citizen engagement with the constitution?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Honestly it would have to be 100 percent return back to the people, showing them the truth of every dollar we earn goes right back into the larger pot, the larger vision. It’s not one person’s secret agenda. It’s not one person idea, that it’s the whole community and that we listen to your voice. We may not get to it really quickly or expedite it as much as you wish but we will eventually get there to that point in time. The fact of educational programs. Our members wanted us to grow our education department. The tribe received a grant from the Department of Indian Education for after school tutoring and mentoring our college students for higher education so the program’s in full force now. Our nonprofit that provides social services, scholarships. So everything that we bring into our community, not one person’s getting wealthy and we make sure that it’s divided equally and that it’s going to programs not everyone will receive. Of course those who are in their mid-40s or on or who don’t want to go to college are not going to apply for a scholarship, is not…or has a steady job, don’t need social services, I mean welfare services but there’s some point in time we will have a program or activity that will go to them. And if a member comes to us and it’s at different levels. So like I said earlier, an elder who asks us to create a hedge fund or a fund where every member can give into and be able to grow the funds for the tribe because now they see that whatever the tribe does and produces we’re giving it right back into the community. Not one person, like I said, not one person is receiving…be the beneficiary of those activities rather it goes to everything else and establishing our self structurally. The tribe has an office right across from the City Hall of San Fernando and just to have a stable location and the members that come in there understand that there’s rent involved, there’s bills to be paid just like a house and their own families. The tribe itself has those overhead that needs to be covered as well. So just the continued growth and the continued involvement and giving everyone an opportunity that asks to come and work for the tribe or volunteer for the tribe, give them that opportunity and not shunning anyone out or excusing anyone away from us but just making sure that everyone’s level of participation is well received within the tribe and making sure that everyone’s growth and visionary’s growth continues to grow as well with us.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Can you define in your opinion the distinction between this idea of membership and citizenship within the Fernandeño Tataviam community?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Sure. Well, the concept behind it is the fact of enrollment versus registration is that membership and also the fact of membership versus citizenship. Citizenship is part of a nation and part of a tribe or part of a community where membership you can lose your membership. To me it’s more…it sounds like a gym membership. You only have…or school membership or school enrollment and you’re enrolled to be part of a university, enrolled to attend higher education. But citizenship means that you have more rights, you have power, you have political power, you have authority to be part of and I didn’t want to downgrade or we didn’t want to downgrade the tribe and say, ‘Our members are only part of this community,’ versus ‘Our citizens are this community,’ and that’s a different statement to state in the fact that it’s saying that we are sovereign and to say the fact that our members are not just a organization of a nonprofit versus our citizens are these people when their child are born we’re registering their child to ensure that they have equal rights and that they have rights in this tribe, in this community and that they at one point in time when they turn 18 years old they’re eligible to vote, they’re eligible to lead, they’re eligible to run for tribal office or consult with the tribal government. So that’s the statement we want to be sure that our citizens of the tribe are able to engage with us and to know that when they are coming to enroll, they’re not just enrolling into a program. They’re coming to register the tribal citizens, register their children and also the fact that the reason why we chose that because in the ‘70s, in the ‘50s, in the ‘20s when the Bureau of Indian Affairs were registering members for the California Indian Judgment Fund, they were enrolling them into this program fund so they can get their share from the settlement. They have the impression that because of that action took place, they’re automatically enrolled in the tribe and that they have a designation to be part of this community but as tribes go, there’s different families. In our tribe we have three families that we descend from. You have to show proof of lineage to these families. You have to register with the tribe to become a citizen, to participate with the tribe itself and to be able to vote like I said and to engage with us. So registration is…it’s a way of saying that just like United States government, when a child is born everybody doesn’t understand that once you register your child with the county records you’re actually registering that child to become a citizen of the United States. It’s an instant documentation that occurs and that’s the same concept that we’re leading and doing with our tribal families is that we’re saying, ‘As you register your child at birth, we would like you to register your child with the tribe and record them because we have our own register records and we want to make sure that we have our census and understand how many children are being born.’ But it goes further. It goes further than collecting that data. What we found off that data is that we learn about health issues. In our community boys that are born are born with a highly chance of heart defects. We learn through the census data that we’ve…we had our own census in 2010. We built our own online system where we get characteristics instantly as they register. It’s all instant census versus waiting for someone to fill out information. But when they fill out their registration form we ask for information as far as their mother, their father, if they’re not tribal community, their health, if they have asthma, heart defects, just like in any county facility and the more…the reason that prompted it is because as I said we found that there’s boys born to tribal citizens that had heart defects so we had some children that had heart surgery as early as four weeks to as late as 12 years old and some of them…a good portion of them made it, a lot of them didn’t make it. Some of them passed through crib death, didn’t understand that the child had heart defects. So now that we understand that we’re able to deliver this message to the community, deliver it to our tribal citizens and say, ‘If you have a male, be sure you thoroughly check them. Have an expert check their hearts, a cardiologist check them because this is a high issue of the tribe.’ And just to know it closely, it affected me, my own son. One of my son’s didn’t make it. He had a heart defect. My sister’s son had a heart defect. He passed. He didn’t make it. But then one of our tribal legislators, senators, who served for a short period of time, he had a heart operation and his father who served for a longer time was always concerned every…they had told him that he would never make it past 24. Now he’s 32 years old, he walks around and a few others as well so we know that that’s a real health concern for us and that’s part of registration. So enrollment you just fill out a form, you’re not asking a whole lot of things. You have interest, you want to become a member of…it sounds like a social club versus a government and it doesn’t sound very…in the sense of registering the members and capturing characteristics, capturing information that will be beneficial as a whole for the community. Even the fact of education. When we have our census data we ask them do they go to college, have they gone to college, how many folks…we’re able…and that in turn turns around for us inside the government and the administration department where to apply for grants and how to apply for grants. And applying for grants you need this data to state your cause and we have that data. We’re able to capture that data and that it starts from the point of time of registering members for citizenship. So it’s more than just becoming a citizen, it’s more than like I said, more than just a member because it’s a lifestyle, it’s a community, it’s health issues, it’s…it’s a lot of things that come with it and just to understand the community and how it functions, that’s the reason why we are…we have dropped the word membership and went with the word citizenship and went with registration versus enrollment and just to empower our tribal government. Also too we found in the tribe that the federal government, the U.S. government minimizes the tribes and say, ‘You’re a member of… You’re enrolled. Where are you enrolled in?’ But when we talk about that we’re American citizen everyone proudly to say that you’re an American citizen, even folks who’ve just recently become American citizens who may have immigrated more recently into the United States, they’re proud to say they’re a citizen of United States versus… And as Indian people we say we’re proud to be Tataviam, we’re proud to be Navajo, we’re proud to be Tohono O’odham so you take that statement but we’re citizens of that organization versus memberships. We’re citizens of that tribal nation and that’s what we went with preferably and then the word enrollment.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You mentioned how Fernandeño Tataviam conducted its own census in 2010. What prompted that action?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“We’ve…in our tribal code we’ve written a census to be conducted so in…it took us a lengthier time. We wrote a lot of rules, a lot of code as we got advice from elders and other people but a lot of stuff do take place really quickly, some stuff takes some time for certain things to occur so census was one of the areas that we’d written down that we conduct a census every five years, every four years, every… So we went with every 10 years to have a census and the reason is for a couple fold. One, election boundaries, where people move and districts. So now that people understand that affects your districts, now everybody’s really interested in the census because District 1 has five seats, District 2 has four seats. So now the struggle of who has the more seats where it’s like the United States Republicans versus Democrats. It’s who you want more seats in one district because they feel you pay more attention to a district. So they…that affects that. Also the census creates…captures data of education levels. We have an education department. We want to apply for grants that we can be able to enhance our educational process, send people to college, to universities or retrain someone. So through our census we found that we have a high level of people who didn’t graduate high school. And so they’re coming back to the tribe and say, ‘I had my child.’ Well, one education is much more difficult. Math problems are much more complex than what we did 10, 20 years ago so their kids are coming home with homework that are more complex so the parents are now saying, ‘We need to be reeducated. We need to be…we need to catch up to our own children because we want them to enhance.’ So that census helps us capture that data. Health concerns, also social welfare, if they’re living on SSI, the seniors. If they’re in Los Angeles it’s very difficult, high cost of living so we saw a trend that a lot of people moved further north or out of the county because of cost of living, because of employment so that census catches that data and it helps us because as leaders, as we’re advocating on the behalf of the tribe, we can speak to corporations. We can say, ‘You’re leaving not only…’ Like a regular county supervisor or City Council member who says, ‘You don’t want a factory to leave L.A. because you’re taking the jobs.’ We can say it too but we can say it more passionately because we can say, ‘Hey, this is our homelands. Our people are not from New Mexico, we’re not from Mexico. This is where we’re from. We like the jobs here but the level of our education of our members or the skill level of our members, workforce is factory work.’ Or if it’s some type of engineering type of work ‘cause we found a lot of folks are…may not have the high school level or college level of education but they’re working almost like quasi-engineers in the type of work field that they’re in because they’re working on airplane manufacturing parts. So if you have these companies leave this area, we’re not able to retain them and our members, our citizens are able to…are going to travel with them or lose those jobs so they have to be retrained or reeducated. So we have to follow the trend, we have to be educated on the trend so this way we can bolster employment for the members, for the citizens of the tribe. We can look for health concerns. Like there’s no Indian Health Services fully in Los Angeles. There’s a smaller clinic so with the concerns of our citizens and using the census data we can say, ‘Here’s these high numbers,’ as I raised the case of heart defects among the boys, among the men. We can bring those case studies and be able to really show data that here’s the cause and here’s the reasons and why we may apply for a grant or may solicit a corporation for jobs because of the census data that we retain and capture.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. What can other Native nations engaging in reform, in constitutional reform, learn from the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indian’s process?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“I think what they could learn is the methods of adapting and enhancing their own community’s concerns and really jump into their communities and understand, listen to them as far as how they can reform their constitution or establish one if they don’t have one, create the laws because it goes beyond the tribe itself as I mentioned throughout is that it reaches out to local governments, state governments and federal governments to say, ‘This is our Aboriginal territory’ and there’s a whole plethora of concerns that will come up and you need to advocate on their behalf and it gives you that tool that you’re able to go to the table and negotiate or stress your concerns for your community, for your tribal nation. But it starts off with the community itself and perhaps a constitution lengthier or smaller… Our constitution, I believe it’s in total 14, 15 pages so we made sure it wasn’t as lengthy or just short enough to really capture the needs and desires of our community and the concerns of our citizens and the same thing for anyone who are seeking to reform themselves and their method. And it’s a way of thinking for the future and it’s best, always best that it comes from the tribe versus someone enforcing it ‘cause I know that [IRA], the federal government’s saying, ‘You have to write up bylaws, you have to write up a constitution.’ You’re under their power, under their wing and many times you may not capture what your community wants to be able to enforce or capture or what’s really, like I said for our community. We didn’t capture tradition in our constitution. We felt that it needs to stay out of it. Even though it helped mold our constitution, it’s not really enforcing the constitution because it comes from generational folks who may want to one time enforce it or not enforce the rule of traditional rules but it’s a way to keep the government moving forward and be able to advocate and participate with the surrounding communities. And as we understand, the United States government is…doesn’t want to go anywhere, doesn’t want to get on ships and move back to wherever they all came from so they’re here, they made this themselves a home and we have to understand and come to the realization that they’re here to stay as well and they love these lands as well as we do so we have to learn to engage with them and one way is to reform our constitutions or create the constitutions so that we all have the same type of speaking engagement with each other.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Has the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians changed aspects of its political culture to meet this constitution?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“In the last 10 years it has changed. It really has changed from the time my father passed in 2009 because with him he went through the decades of tradition, introducing a modern way. He’s the one who first introduced bylaws so he was one that was…and he served on the Indian Commission in 1976 so working for that or being part of that you understand government the way they were thinking so it’s slowly changing. They didn’t change rapidly but when he passed, since he was kind of the threshold behind it, folks just followed him naturally. He was naturally selected to be the spokesperson of the tribe, he was naturally voted to be the chairman and tribal president ‘cause he went through the different changes of names in our tribal constitution to become our leader that when he passed all of a sudden our laws too effect. The vice president became the tribal president, secretary became the vice president and everyone in the community was scratching their head and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We know certain individuals should have been the leader of the tribe, why didn’t that occur.’ And the wake of the constitution was in effect and actually did…was enforced, the tribal citizens didn’t realize the rule that we created is standing and is in force. And so that made them pay attention to it and said, ‘Okay, now we understand elections are really viable we just can’t elect anyone we want in there, we’ve got to make sure that they’re accountable, credible and knowledgeable to explain the tribe’s history and advance the tribe forward on our needs and desires, that our wishes that the citizens may want. So that’s what made them really pay attention was it took that travesty of my father passing to kind of wake up everyone. It wasn’t as…seeing it back then it wasn’t a full on like rude awakening, more of a realization that the constitution is in force and that we are following it. And that’s what really took place. Even though we follow other things, the budget hearings, everything else, that was the time when we really truly followed it, that was noticeable to the citizens at large that we followed our constitution and it took in place.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“On that topic of these type of watershed moments where the larger tribal citizenship realizes this is our constitution at work, our constitution in action, are there other specific moments that you can think of and maybe describe as maybe those watershed moments where people realized our constitution is working, our constitution is in action?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Other moments… I would have to believe… I would have to say the fact of conflict among families, among siblings where the constitution is in force and it has to be more than one person enforcing it to make it a realization that the constitution is in force because in tribes we’re still family, we can just rip up the constitution any given day and say, ‘Hey, we’re going with a whole new constitution someone wrote in the midnight hour and came up and here’s the new one,’ ‘cause we’re so small as far as community wise go and we’re governing our ownself, we have our own sovereignty so if there’s a reign of new power that comes up, they can wish to do so. But it’s a matter of everyone believing in it and following the constitution and I believe that…not to go into huge depth of the conflict that occurred but just the realization of people saying, ‘Why don’t we change that person out? We don’t like his politics. We don’t want them to be in leadership anymore. We need to remove that person. How can we do it?’ And you have these rules in place. At the same time the individuals, the citizens, other elected officials question themselves and say, ‘Do we really want to go through with this ‘cause it’s pretty harsh to go through the tribal code and the constitution in order to remove an elected official because that per…then all of a sudden everyone’s now second guessing themselves because we’re all family and we say, ‘Well, we don’t…if we do such an action we’re never speaking to that person, they’re going to forever hate us.’ So it shows the power of the constitution and the tribal code and at the same time how people can really look at it and not act impulsively…on an impulse of emotions to make a decision and just raise their iron fist and say, ‘We’re coming in with a whole new reign of power, a whole new regime,’ versus where we have to follow these rules, we have to follow this constitution and it’s put there for a reason and it made people sit down a t the table again and to discuss and have dialogue and hopefully which it did, sit down with the elected officials and say, ‘Okay, we understand you’re voted in here, you got your seat, let’s try to make the best of it and make it work and you have your agenda and you’re here for a reason,’ and the other officials were there for a reason so they had to work together to make the tribe move forward and understand they have to move their own personal agenda and work for the larger which is the tribe.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. Can you discuss in a bit more detail your involvement and I believe you mentioned your father’s previous involvement with the Los Angeles City and County Native American Indian Commission?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Sure. The Indian Commission was established in 1976. It was established by Indians who were part of the Relocation Act and made Los Angeles their home so they sought to see rights of Indian people being heard and being protected and services rendered to tribal people who may call Los Angeles home or called it home at the time. So they sought to…the Los Angeles mayor at the time, Mayor Tom Bradley and the supervisors … to create the Commission. So as they created the Commission my father became one of the first community elected commissioners. So the community elected commissioners are elected by tribal people only in Los Angeles and they’re broken down similar to like the county supervisors. They each have a district and so my father had the Northern Los Angeles County and he was elected by the community of the Indian people living in the Northern Los Angeles County area. So he served on there and advocated for education, health. Those were two of his biggest agendas and which was also samely on the tribal side two of his biggest agendas here on the tribe itself. So he found that serving on the Commission can expand and reach across the tribe’s politics as well as the community of Los Angeles politics and he found them very similar, which they are, in the sense that they both needed the educational programs and health programs and social services programs as well. So he found that bridge in order to connect and bring those services to the Northern portion of Los Angeles which served our tribal members as well as the folks who call Los Angeles home. Myself, when I joined in 2002, pretty much I was firstly elected, appointed actually from Mayor Hahn who was the son of Commissioner Hahn who established the Commission. So it was kind of like father/son kind of championship kind of thing that we served and Mayor Hahn at the time was pleased to appoint me to the Commission since his father helped establish the Commission and then my father served so it was this monumental moment, a time that we shared. And the same reasons my father had the visions, my reasons to serve on the Commission is to bridge that gap, to bring extended services to the community, to be a voice for all of Indian people in Los Angeles and to champion programs and some of the initiatives that we’re working on now is Indian housing in Los Angeles, very similar to what they have in Minnesota from Little Earth. We’re looking to bring such an initiative to Los Angeles because of the cost of living and that’s the same concern that our tribe was facing as well is the cost of living. More and more members are leaving the county or moving further away from the main homelands of the tribe so it’s beneficial for me to serve and exciting for me to serve on the Commission in order to voice and opinionate and bring issues…to address issues as well that are of interest to the larger Indian community as well as my tribe and just to be a participant of it as well is great.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. You mentioned I believe a distinction between…referring back to the Los Angeles City and County Native American Indian Commission, the distinctions between being elected versus appointed to the Commission. Can you give us a bit more detail?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Sure. The makeup of the Commission, we have five appointed seats from the city, from the mayor and it’s concurred by the City Council and he gets to select five American Indians who are in…who live in the City of Los Angeles to serve on the commission and there’s additional five members who are appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Each Board of Supervisor gets to appoint one member to the Commission and concurred with the Board of Supervisors, full board, and then there’s five community members that are also selected which makes a total of 15 members on…that serve on the Commission. The community members is to bring the election of the community members to vet those folks to serve on the Indian Commission. So when my father served, I remember him telling me time after time that he was questioned because he comes from a tribe who’s well, one right there in the Los Angeles area and two a non-recognized tribe and they had to show proof of enrollment in the tribe. So the tribe itself didn’t really have a form of procedure of enrollment, more everyone knew who the families were and so you had to use the California Judgement Rolls to show proof that he was who he said he was as a Tataviam Fernandeño Indian at the time. So that’s pretty much the makeup of the Commission and the community elect members are also today…in 1993 we created a Self-Governance Board which acts like a tribal council. It’s an Indian organization that serves the community and receives a grant from the state to provide programs to the Indian community in Los Angeles. So they’re the ones…the Self-Governing Board oversees the grant funds and are the five community elect members plus one member from the City Council appointed and also from the Board of Supervisors appointed which will be a total of seven members on the Self-Governance.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Reflecting upon your personal experience as the son of an elected leader and now in your position of elected leadership, what advice do you have to give to those future, those upcoming Fernandeño Tataviam leaders?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“The advice I would give them is understanding the role of leadership, understanding what they’re asking to be part of in leading and directing and guiding the tribe is to listen to the general membership, general census of the people, the citizens of the tribe, to understand their wishes and desires and to be humbling to yourself and to understand that it takes 50 percent of your energy into it because you have to leave your other 50 percent at home and that same concept is to understand that 50 percent of the people may love you at one point in time and the other 50 percent may hate you for your decisions and hope that you change out or change in, into their direction. But just to give great leadership, great guidance and understand that you’re there as that, as a guidance tool, as a leader as the tool. You’re not there as the ruler and you’re not there to dictate how the tribe should function or rule and to understand that you need to listen to every aspect of the tribal citizens in the tribe from the elders to the young and their opinion counts and is vital. And myself, that’s where I’ve looked upon. A lot of the decisions that I seek or solve to champion were not of my own, were those collectively of elders, the young people and they’re the ones who give you inspiration because sitting at a seat and writing tribal laws will get tiresome and bored and you get fatigue over it versus if you’re always innovating yourself by speaking to everyone and fighting that next solution and fighting what’s the next progress that the tribe wants to go to and in order to do that you need to speak to everyone and you need to give your attention to them and that’s the relationship that you want to carry on as a leader is that you’re going into a seat it’s like a coin toss and one day you may make a bad decision and to be honest to yourself as well. To be honest that you are leading and guiding and that you are also a follower of those who...of the people who put you in that position and you’re the follower of them but you’re leading as a whole to everyone else who they ask you to task…to carry out the task for.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Lastly, for those Fernandeño Tataviam tribal citizens who want to affect positive change in the community but are perhaps reluctant to take on positions of leadership, what encouragement would you give those individuals?”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“If you’re reluctant to take on leadership and they want the change to occur, the best thing to do is, honestly, either engage fully with your elected officials or seek out someone else that will have the passion and desire to run for office because we know the scary thought behind being in leadership, you’re in the spotlight and there’s times more ugly than good in serving the seat so you’ve got to be…have the ability to take on criticism, take on insult but understand that you’re there as a servant to the people and be able to carry on their wishes. And if you’re an individual who wants to see the change done but are a person who don’t want to run for office, find an individual within the tribal community, a citizen who has the passion and desire, who has the makings of a strong advocating leader, someone who has a great voice to carry on and champion many objectives for the community and is very promising. That would be the best method in finding the best solution to make the change occur and happen. Many times things may go in a downward spiral of elected official and the reason for it is because they’re exhausted. Not because they’re bad but maybe they’re just tired and exhausted and had enough and since maybe no one else is running for office they just out of habit continue to put their name in for office and continue to run. But if speaking to the individual doesn’t make change, then finding a new individual that can be promising would be the best solution if you choose not to run for office.”

Verónica Hirsch:

“Thank you. That’s all the time we have on today’s episode of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit NNI’s Indigenous Governance Database website which can be found at igovdatabase.com. Thank you for joining us.”

Rudy Ortega, Jr.:

“Thank you.”