While the large celebration for LA’s first Indigenous People's Day was underway at downtown City Hall, the locally based Fernandeno Tataviam tribe was taking action to “correct history” in the City of San Fernando.
Through the tribe’s efforts, the City of San Fernando was the first city to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day prior to LA’s vote last year.
Now members of the tribe gathered on the front steps of their office building on Second Street as they announced their plans to begin the process to change the city's main street from Maclay Avenue to the name of their ancestor, Rogerio Rocha Avenue. A man they described who had great dignity despite the injustices and cruelty assaulted on him.
Rudy Ortega Jr., president of the tribe, pointed to the Maclay street sign that was just steps away as members of the tribe spoke of their history and the great harm that Charles Maclay has caused to them.
“This is the next step, to replace Maclay Avenue to Rogerio Rocha Avenue. It’s a big milestone, a big huge step for us. We’re trying to correct the history, and prove who we are as indigenous people,” Ortega said.
It’s the incorrect reporting of historical facts that have placed huge obstacles in the way of the tribe in receiving federal national recognition, Ortega maintains.
Maclay continues to be credited to be the founder of the City of San Fernando, although Ortega said the tribe are natives to the land that covered what is now known as the Northeast San Fernando Valley.
“We are ‘pre’ this city, ‘pre’ this community; our community of villages have lived in Los Angeles and the City of San Fernando — and as well as the Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley. The name Maclay, has shrunk our history and has blocked us from federal acknowledgement and caused us to struggle to prove our indigenous heritage.”
An elder of the tribe, Beverly Salazar, recounted the dark past that is associated with Charles Maclay. She said she heard the stories as a young girl with the street sign just outside her door.
“The story of Rogerio Rocha, could have been of my grandfather, for he was about the same age and a Mission Indian. He tended to his adobe house with great pride. A local reporter said that when he interviewed Rogerio, he conducted himself with admirability and poise,” Salazar said.
“However, at the age of 84, he, his wife and three other elderly women were robbed of the land that he had called home for over 60 years. They were left in the rain with all of their belongings beside them. This horrific theft of land occurred as a result of acts conducted by Maclay, and other elected officials.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of pain,” Ortega said. “My great-great-grandfather Antonio Ortega was one of the six people charged with a lawsuit from Maclay. He had to pay $50 a month for a year, plus $500 as well as move off the land, [which in those days was an impossible amount of money to pay].
“Not only were they traumatically depressed, they faced charges and had to work off the debt [by becoming] servants to Maclay and all the other ranch owners in the San Fernando Valley.”
Maclay was a retired senator and a California assemblymember and well versed in politics and legal wrangling.
“He had the county’s strength and power, and also that he knew more of the language than our ancestors did. So he was able to maneuver and craft up a resolution, and craft up an ordinance to move people off the land,” Ortega said.
Rocha, who was evicted with his elderly bed ridden wife, was dumped in the canyon. His wife died. Their possessions and chickens were put in sacks and left in torrential rain in the street.
Cast away to live in a canyon in poverty,
Members of the tribe and other supporters of the name change are aware that for many local residents that negative history doesn't sway them and the Maclay street name is what they are used to. Many long time residents are very resistant to change.
Many residents have also already pointed out that money could be better spent on making improvements in the city.
But, for members of the tribe, seeing the name Charles Maclay is a daily reminder of injustice.
Caroline Ward Holland, a tribal member, said having the name change is “critical for healing for all people, not just indigenous people,” and history should be accurate.
“That pain is alive today for indigenous people, for myself, for people who see the name ‘Maclay Avenue’” Ward Holland said. “For us as indigenous people, it’s a rubber stamp that whatever he did was okay. And it wasn’t okay. Today it would not be okay. We went through the proper process to keep the land for all Tataviam people. And [because of Charles Maclay] we still lost.”
City of San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin said after learning more about Charles Maclay, she supports the tribe’s effort to rename the street.
“The story of Charles Maclay really broke my heart. I do not understand why you would name a street, a building, a city, after anyone who would cause such atrocities to other people. It makes no sense to me,” Ballin said.
“I do know there is going to be some resistance from the business owners and residents on Maclay Avenue, and we’re ready to hear from them. We do need to have community meetings. It’s not gonna happen overnight. There has to be a discussion. But we will open our hearts peacefully, and we’re willing to have those discussions.”
Immediately after the announcement was made by the tribe, the descendants of Charles Maclay contacted Ballin to request a meeting. Ballin acknowledged that there are many others like Maclay with questionable histories that have buildings and streets named after them.
She and Ortega also acknowledged that the name change would require a process that the city has yet to establish.
Meanwhile, members of the clergy have come forward to offer support, including Rev. Sandie Richards, pastor of First United Methodist Church, San Fernando, the same church that was founded by Charles Maclay.
“We are here to say we support this move to rename the street. That we support our brothers and sisters who pre-date us. And we want the history to be the full history, not partial history. I want to say it is my humble honor to speak on this day of Indigenous People’s Day, to be invited by the Tataviam people to speak on behalf of their desire for balance and community.”
Rev. Gregory Douglas Pastor of the Native American Methodist Church accompanied Rev. Richards and “offered thanks to the tribe for speaking up. It's important to tell the entire history.”
If the tribe is successful, the city will be the first in the State of California to remove street signage to respond to injustice caused to native people.
“The significance of what he’s [Maclay] done to us has caused huge, traumatic damage to our families and our tribe today. So this will be the first step in all of the state of California, and here in Los Angeles county, as we did with Indigenous People’s day. The City of San Fernando will be the first to correct history, tell the truth, and replace Charles Maclay Avenue with Rogerio Rocha.” said Ortega.
“The Valley was way established before Maclay came. Before it was the City of San Fernando, before it was the San Fernando Valley, it had a name it had villages. There were villages throughout the Valley. One of our villages was even established in Encino that we had a land grant to. So many historical villages are here. And our ancestors lives are here with our children, our relatives, our blood, DNA and all these trees and soil, are who we are as people. And we’re here forever,” Ortega said.
Ward Holland said just as people had incorrectly learned in school about Christopher Columbus, they have not learned the whole truth about Charles Maclay and correcting street signage is as important as correcting history books.
“Some people say I live in the past, but I live in the future for truth and justice for everyone and for all of our children,” said Ward Holland.