"Native sovereignty, for us as a tribe, means the collective desire of our heritage, to be preserved and maintained and grown."
SAN FERNANDO, Calif. (KABC) -- "Our America: Reclaiming Turtle Island" brings to life the July 2022 National Geographic issue cover story, "We Are Here" and the conversation around Native sovereignty and the efforts Indigenous nations and communities are taking to reclaim Turtle Island -- a common Indigenous name for North America.
The documentary features narration by Taboo, a member of the musical group Black Eyed Peas and Marvel writer of Native American and Mexican descent. But the topic hits close to home in Southern California.
For Rudy Ortega Jr., the tribal president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, sovereignty is multifaceted.
"I think the most important thing with tribal sovereignty, Native sovereignty, is the correction of our identity," he said.
He said it comes down to the erasure of indigenous identity. When a tribal member passed away recently, government documents identified him as Hispanic with no mention of his tribal heritage, and as one of the smaller tribes, Fernandeño Tataviam is often misidentified.
"My tribe descends from Mission San Fernando," said Ortega. "Today, we're at the village of Patzkunga, the remaining part of it is two-and-a-half acres in the city of San Fernando which is named Rudy Ortega Sr. Park."
Its tribal boundary includes much of the northern part of loss Angeles County. Data collected by indigenous-led nonprofit Native Land Digital shows the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians is one of 27 estimated tribal territory boundaries that overlap within five Southern California counties.
"We were just dispossessed of our tribal lands where we had bought a couple of treaties of property, over 18,000 acres of property, now we're down to zero," said Ortega. "And where we have a joint partnership here, the city of San Fernando to maintain two-and-a-half acres."
The tribe is one of dozens in California that are not federally recognized and the state does not have a recognition process.
"We don't collect taxes," said Ortega. "We're not in the federal appropriations sharing, we're not in the state sharing, so there's zero resource dollars unless we apply for grants."
They rely on establishing nonprofits for grants. Ortega believes state and local municipalities should construct policies that recognize tribes as such, creating a pathway to self-governance.
"To have an existence and have a true meaningful sovereignty of governing our financial affairs alongside our political affairs," said Ortega.
Among its initiatives is the Acknowledge Rent campaign, which follow the efforts of the Duwamish tribe in Seattle.
It invites people who live or work within the tribe's boundaries to make land acknowledgments through financial contributions.
"Through their efforts, able to bring the funding resources to pretty much sustain their tribal government at a very minimum, and enhance the programs and cultural revitalization," said Ortega.
Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians is continuing to revitalize its language through song and are passing down its cultural and ceremonial practices to its children.
The tribe has filed a petition and are still seeking to be a federally recognized tribe.
"Native sovereignty, for us as a tribe, means the collective desire of our heritage, to be preserved and maintained and grown, and to govern, and, and pretty much continue our legacies of who we are as tribal people," said Ortega.