Oral Histories

Interview of Ernest Ortega

Member of the Tataviam tribe. Great-grandfather, Antonio Maria Ortega, was the last of the line to speak the Fernandeno dialect of the tribe.
The American Indian Presence in Southern California: Those Who Were Already Here
American Indian History
Biographical Note:
Member of the Tataviam tribe. Great-grandfather, Antonio Maria Ortega, was the last of the line to speak the Fernandeno dialect of the tribe.
Coates, Julia
Ortega, Ernest
Persons Present:
Ortega and Coates.
Place Conducted:
Ortega's home in San Fernando, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Julia Coates; interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., American studies, University of New Mexico; assistant professor, Native American studies, UC, Davis; and visiting professor, College of Liberal Arts, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Citizen of the Cherokee Nation and served on its tribal council. The interviewer did extensive interviewing of Cherokee Nation citizens as part of her dissertation and post-doctoral research. Coates prepared for the interviews by speaking at length with Wendy Teeter of UCLA's Fowler Museum.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Ortega was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
2 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series the American Indian Presence in Southern California: Those Who Were Already Here survey the experiences of unrecognized tribes at one extreme and gaming tribes at the other. Southern California is the homeland of numerous tribal peoples indigenous to the region. Following the genocidal state policies of the 1800s, which left less than 20,000 California Natives still living (from an original population of more than 300,000 previous to European contact), the peoples of California tribes have been largely invisible to the outside world for much of the twentieth century. The advent of tribal gaming has put California tribes on the radar once again, but the century’s policies also resulted in a loss of federal recognition for still others, including those indigenous to Los Angeles County.
Recollections of grandfather and uncle – Earliest perceptions of the word “Indian” – Three brothers in father’s generation – Rudy Ortega Sr.’s first investigations of tribal genealogy and history – Reactions of father and others in the community to these early efforts – Used to make Indian belts and jewelry – Ortega's birth – Father served in WWII – Mother’s family background – Lives in grandmother’s house during the war – Languages spoken at home and school – Father’s personality – Memories of childhood activities – Parents’ employment – Family life as a youth – Discussion of requirement to re-register with tribe – Thoughts about Tataviam federal recognition effort – Where family lived in years after father returned from the war – How parents met and married – More about father’s employment and his own – Experiences of going to school – Wife’s family – Recollections of racism and prejudice – Mother’s personality – Fiestas and other activities in the town – Experiences with the Catholic church as a child and an adult – Father’s experience with the mission – Thoughts about spirituality – Employment after high school – Brother’s employment – Has numerous cousins – First marriage and family – Summer vacations as a child – Activities as a teenager – Activities as an adult after his first marriage ended – Second marriage lasted seventeen years – Being Indian has given Ortega and his daughter an advantage in getting jobs – Uncle went to Mormon records to investigate the tribe – discussion of how records were kept previous to literacy – Ortega and his family become engaged in Indian identity as his uncle investigates – First activities as part of recovering an Indian identity – Tataviam’s federal recognition process – Comments about the tribe’s overall progress – Repatriation efforts – The loss of the family’s land in Encino – What tribal re-organization means to him – Comments about dad’s autobiography and his own.
Grandfather killed by a bear – Father tried to get a Spanish land grant – Father had his birth certificate amended – Describes the burial of a relative – How burial practices have changed – Tribe sometimes has group pictures – Mission damaged during an earthquake – Doctor used to come from Los Angeles – Feels that gaining federal recognition would help to get more people involved in the tribe – Difficulty in communications to the tribe – Participates in tribal government until becomes mother’s caretaker – Interactions with the tribal government – Used to make Indian jewelry – How recognition would impact tribal members – Comments on blood quantum issues – Changes in tribal members' standard of living – Changes in tribal members' educational achievement – Sees other tribal members at tribal functions and funerals – The value of federal recognition – Value of college in relation to trade schools – Changes within his family’s activities in the past 30 to 40 years – Comments on intermarriages – Hopes the tribe receives federal recognition – Plans to get re-involved in the future.