We the people of the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians maintain our tribal government, in order to:
Continue, with the help of our Great Creator our unique identity as Indians and as the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians, and to protect that identity from forces that threaten to diminish it; Protect our inherent rights as Indians and as a sovereign Indian Tribe; Enhance and support our customs and traditions; and pass them on in our own way to our children, grandchildren and grandchildren’s children forever; Help our members achieve their highest potentials in education, physical and mental health and economic development; Maintain good government- to -government relationships with other Indian tribes, the United States, other nations, the State of California, other states and local governments; Acquire, develop and conserve resources to achieve economic and social self-sufficiency for our tribe; and ensure that our people shall live in peace and harmony among themselves and with all other peoples.
Members of the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians descend from the original native peoples who lived in the San Fernando Valley and adjacent regions at the time of European contact and who became affiliated with Mission San Fernando during California’s Mission Period (1797-1835). Following the mission’s secularization in 1835, many of the Indian families continued to reside upon lands which they had been given to support themselves under the Mexican government. The descendants of these families remained on these lands under the authority of a recognized chief until 1886. In that year, under court order, the Indian families were evicted because the lands formerly owned by the mission had been acquired by new owners who wished to develop the property. The Indian Agent for California protested this taking of tribal members’ lands to no avail.
Following the loss of their homes near the former mission, the history of the tribe then shifts to the rural area surrounding Newhall, located not far from San Fernando in the upper Santa Clara River Valley. Here several San Fernando Indian families had relocated by the late nineteenth century, some purchasing their own property in the area. These families supported themselves through farming and through labor on neighboring ranches. The 1933 California Indian Roll included “San Fernando Mission” as tribal designation for these families, who were led by two elders, Fred and Francis Cooke. In 1962 with the assistance of the California Indian Rights Association, the tribe’s then 78 members formally organized themselves as the “San Fernando Mission Band” under an elected “president.” All current tribal members are descendants of those listed on the 1933 roll, and they are either the same individuals or descended from those members who organized themselves in 1962. The tribe’s current government is based on a constitution and by-laws adopted in 1998
The San Fernando Band of Mission Indians is one of two tribal organizations whose ancestors once lived at Mission San Fernando. The other organization primarily represents families who remained in the San Fernando Valley, whereas the SFBMI represents the majority of those descendants whose families had moved to the upper Santa Clara River Valley and is the descendant organization of those who adopted a constitution and bylaws in 1962.
Despite their continuity of occupancy in their tribal territory, cohesiveness as a community, and de facto acknowledgement by Federal and State authorities, the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians does not possess formal tribal recognition by the United States. All up and down California, BIA agents usually concentrated their attention on Indian communities and reservations established in more rural, interior settings. Nonetheless, when the first California Indian roll was created after the passage of the California Indian Jurisdictional Act in 1928, the agents in charge of enrollment were soon directed by other California Indians to the San Fernando Indian families living mostly in the Newhall area. As a result, their existence was well documented in the California Indian enrollment records.
Mission San Fernando
The San Fernando Band of Mission Indians can trace its origins to native tribes who lived in the series of inland valleys long before Spanish contact in the eighteenth century. These peoples are known today by the four languages spoken by Native Americans who lived at Mission San Fernando. Three of these four languages belonged to the Takic division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family; these were: (1) the Fernandeño dialect of the Gabrielino (sometimes called “Tongva”) language, (2) Tataviam, and (3) the Vanyumé dialect of the Serrano language. The fourth language was the Santa Monica Mountains dialect of Ventureño Chumash spoken by the native peoples of the Simi Valley and Malibu Coast. Because of the intermarriage of people speaking these different languages that took place at the mission during the nineteenth century, members of the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians can trace their ancestry to at least three of these original four groups: Fernandeño, Tataviam, and Vanyumé.
Mission records document the original native towns (“rancherías”) where the ancestors of tribal members were born. At least three ancestors in different families of current tribe members were originally born in the Fernandeño ranchería of Tujunga, located in what is now known as Little Tujunga Canyon. The name Tujunga means ‘old woman place’ and originates from a Fernandeño myth, in which the wife of Hrawiyawi, the old chief of Tujunga, turned to stone from her grief over the deaths of her children. The “old woman” stone outcrop featured in the myth still exists in the canyon there. Other ancestors were associated in mission records with the name “Chaguayabit” (Tsawayung), which was among the largest of the Tataviam rancherías and was once located near where the Magic Mountain amusement park exists in the city of Santa Clarita. Still other ancestors came from Vanyumé rancherías located in the Western Mojave Desert from “Topipabit” and “Najayabit” near Victorville and “Chibuna” (Tsivung) near Elizabeth Lake.
Mission San Fernando was founded on September 8, 1797 near a ranchería called “Achoicominga.” Within a decade, virtually most of the native peoples who inhabited a 30-mile radius surrounding the mission had been incorporated into its neophyte population. Within twenty years, the mission’s reach had extended much further afield, encompassing citizens of rancherías that lived more than twice that distance. The mission reached its peak population of 1,081 Indian neophytes in 1811, following recruitment of a number of people from rancherías in the Antelope Valley, but at the time it was secularized in 1835, the Indian population had declined to half that number (541 people). The decline was due to the effects of introduced European diseases and high infant mortality.
Following secularization of the missions, the Indian families continued to reside in the vicinity of the mission under the authority of elected leaders called “alcaldes,” who functioned in the capacity as chiefs. A number of contemporary historical accounts and ethnographic records demonstrate that traditional ceremonies were continued by tribe members who remained in the area. Some Indians who had been affiliated with the mission, moved to other parts of southern California; however, a central core of San Fernando Mission Indians remained in the valley. Under the Mexican government, these families were given rights to continue to establish their homes in the vicinity of the former mission and to sow crops to support their households. A few Indians were given their own modest-sized land grants independent of those who continued to live adjacent to the mission.
Mission San Fernando
In 1846, Pío Pico became the last Mexican governor of Alta California, after his predecessor Manuel Micheltorena was overthrown. Micheltorena had been active in restoring the mission lands and distributing grants to Indians. Pico subsequently leased and sold a number of the missions to raise money to oppose the United States conquest of California during the Mexican War. He leased Mission San Fernando to his own brother, Andrés Pico, and sold a large grant of land in the San Fernando Valley to Eulogio de Celis. The following year, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed near Mission San Fernando by Col. John C. Fremont and Andrés Pico, signaling the surrender of Alta California to the United States. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War, honored the land grants that had been given under the Mexican government; however, a legal process was required for confirmation. Only a few of those Indians who had been given grants were able to afford the expenses to bring their claims before the Board of Land Commissioners. Although the rights to continue to sow crops on land near the mission had been given to Indian families under the administration of Micheltorena, the grant of the ex-mission lands to Eulogio de Celis was patented without acknowledging the San Fernando Mission Indians’ prior tenure.
The Catholic Church attempted to hold title to two thousand acres of land, called the Mission reserve; however, the court awarded all but about one hundred acres of mission buildings and orchards to the counter-claimants Eulogio de Celis and Andrés Pico. As long as the Celis and Pico families held title, there was no interference with the Indians’ living on the land and farming to support themselves, but this was to change after the Celis holdings were in 1873 acquired by Charles Maclay, one of California’s senators. The following year, Maclay became partners with Benjamin F. Porter and Gorge K. Porter. These men divided the former Mission lands among themselves and began systematically to institute legal proceedings against all Indian families settled on their lands. Finally in 1886, Rogerio Rocha, the chief of the San Fernando Indians, was evicted from his home with other Indians who lived with him. Rogerio had been one of the original Indians who had been given rights to the land by in 1843. The injustice of his eviction brought an outcry from concerned citizens in Los Angeles and San Fernando, and his case was brought to national attention by the Indian agent for southern California, Horatio N. Rust, and Charles C. Painter of the Indian Rights Association in Philadelphia. Among the court documents pertaining to land proceedings in the vicinity of San Fernando is a map showing the home of Joseph Rice, who had married a San Fernando Indian woman named Trinidad. Trinidad’s grown son by another marriage was named Dolores Cooke, who was father of Fred Cooke, leader of the San Fernando tribe in the first half twentieth century. As related by his daughter the late Lydia Cooke Manriquez, Fred Cooke vividly recalled the eviction of Chief Rogerio, which occurred when he was a boy.
During the struggles over the land near Mission San Fernando and elsewhere, some Indian families moved into the upper Santa Clara River Valley. Others, who were half-Indian in their ancestry, were able to homestead land (full-blooded Indians were not allowed homesteads). Dolores Cooke, who had married a half-Indian wife, was one of the San Fernando Indians who acquired land in the area. His son Fred Cooke later purchased a home in Newhall after his marriage to Frances García, who was San Fernando Indian on her mother’s side. Fred Cooke and Frances Cooke had a large family, and their family connections to other San Fernando Indians made them the leaders for surviving members of the tribe who still lived in the region. They were the ones who arranged for other tribal members to be enrolled under the California Indian Jurisdictional Act of 1928. Other San Fernando Indian families settled in the Newhall area, which became the center for the tribe during much of the twentieth century. San Fernando Indian families gathered together periodically at each other’s families and homes in the area and there was intermarriage between the families and with other Indians, indicating continuation of the tribal community and continued consciousness of their Indian identity. Following the deaths of Fred and Frances Cooke, the San Fernando Indians began holding meetings at Hart High School in Newhall. In 1962, under the urging of the California Indian Rights Association, the tribe formally chose the name “San Fernando Mission Band” and elected Charles Cooke, grandson of Fred and Frances Cooke as their first president. A list of 78 tribal members was drawn up at the time.
Charles Cooke, in his capacity as tribal leader, served as a delegate in California Indian Rights Association meetings held in Los Angeles and later was one of the founding members of the California Indian Legal Services. He served on the board of California Indian Legal Services between 1968 and 1988 and served on the Native American Advisory Council for the California Department of Parks and Recreation between 1980 and 1995. Cooke was not the only San Fernando tribal member to become politically active in California Indian Affairs. Louis Valenzuela, a first cousin once-removed of Cooke was a principal founding member of the Candelaria American Indian Council in Ventura County. This organization was founded initially to serve California Indians native to the area, but later was expanded to become a multi-tribal organization to provide economic assistance and vocational training to any Indians. The namesake of the organization was Candelaria Valenzuela, whose parents were born in the ranchería of El Escorpión and raised at Mission San Fernando. Candelaria was Louis Valenzuela’s aunt on his father’s side. Louis Valenzuela was succeeded on the Candelaria Board by his nephew Leo Valenzuela.
By 1996, serious efforts were underway to obtain tribal recognition for the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians. A committee was formed to create a role of tribal members and a constitution was adopted by a vote of the membership. John Valenzuela, Jr. was elected as tribal chairman under the new constitution in 1998 and served in that capacity until his death in 2017. Valenzuela was re-elected as Tribal Chairman continuously since 1998 leading, teaching and protecting the history and culture of the eight hundred tribal members enrolled with the San Fernando Band of Mission Indians. Valenzuela was an advocate for Native American rights and cultural preservation and particularly sensitive to issues concerning the California Indians.
The current tribal chair is Donna Yocum, great granddaughter of Fred and Frances Cooke. Yocum has also served in a leadership capacity since 1998. Yocum along with the other leaders of the tribe continue the efforts to preserve, protect, and promote the culture and traditions of San Fernando Band of Mission Indians.
Garcia Cooke Olme Family
Josephine Leiva & Isadore Garcia
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