Fernando Awards Foundation statue.

Fernando Awards Foundation statue.

A silver lining has emerged in the wake of the vandalization of the Native American obelisk at Warner Center Park during last May’s civil unrest: the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians will now hold a seat on the board of directors of the statue’s sponsors, the Fernando Awards Foundation.

“We need to give significance and recognition to the people who started the San Fernando Valley,” said David Honda, a longtime Fernando Awards Foundation director, who told the Business Journal Wednesday that the addition is to be made official Jan. 26 in a board meeting on Zoom.

Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians Chief Vice President Mark Villasenor will act as representatives of the local tribe on the board, Honda said. The chief is Rudy Ortega Jr.

Villasenor on Wednesday said, “The Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians is seeking entry to the Fernando Award board to provide local tribal representation within the traditional lands that the statue resides on. Through a meaningful relationship, we hope to bring awareness to the FTBMI and its causes, as well as other local tribes who call Los Angeles home. We look forward to working with the organization and the people in its outreach.”

The road to reaching indigenous representation on the board has its roots in the street protests that unfolded in Woodland Hills last spring following the George Floyd death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota.

“We have an Indian statue as representing the Valley as the indigenous people,” Honda said. “Back in May, they had that protest, and they spray painted the Fernando statue.”

In the midst of the unrest, the Business Journal published an opinion column that focused on the potential issue of Fernando’s use of the Native American symbol in light of the reckoning that had been taking place nationwide regarding controversial ethnic mascots such as the Washington Redskins and brands including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Eskimo Pie. That conversation penetrated the Fernando Foundation, and some members internally began weighing how to deal with its longstanding Native American symbol. Honda said he made moves to engage the local Native American representatives a dialogue.

“I needed to step back and think about 12 or 13 years ago the relevancy of an Indian representing the Fernando Award,” said Honda, who has spent the last few months trying to contact and engage with the leaders of the tribe.

The ancestral land of the Tataviam people spans the northwest part of present-day Los Angeles County and southern Ventura County, with its center in the upper basin of the Santa Clara River and the Santa Susana and Sierra Pelona mountain ranges. The Santa Clarita Valley lies in the center of Tataviam territory.  

In 1797, Mission San Fernando opened in the village of Achoicominga. Today, Ortega Jr. heads the Mission Indians’ tribal headquarters, which is located at 1019 2nd St. in the city of San Fernando.

After a couple of Zoom meetings, “he realized I was trying to do some real outreach,” Honda said of Ortega.  

It was then decided to devote a board seat for the indigenous tribe.

Honda, principal of the Woodland Hills-based contractor David Honda Construction, said that the Fernando’s Indian not only reflects the San Fernando Valley’s indigenous roots but “represents the leadership, loyalty and the comradery of the Native American.”

“They are our historic ancestors,” he added. “They represent the San Fernando Valley from the 1600s.”

In light of post-Floyd protests to remove statues of such figures as Father Junipero Sera locally, Honda said one of the points of discussion to come may be renaming Maclay Avenue in the city of San Fernando. Sen. Charles Maclay has been accused of illegally purchasing the 56,000-acre land grant in 1874 that became San Fernando Rancho and divorcing Tataviam leaders from the real estate in the process.

As for the Fernando statue, the person who vandalized it was never identified. However, Don Larson — founder of Northridge Beautification Foundation and first-ever recipient of the Fernando Impact Award, given for volunteerism, in 2018 — restored it over the summer.  

Thor Steingraber, long-running theater director of the Yunes and Soroya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts at California State University - Northridge, also is to be inducted as a Fernando board member Jan. 26.

The Fernando Awards is a local tradition going back 62 years. The annual awards gala was not held in 2020 but is scheduled to be an in-person event Nov. 5.