D. Martinez / SFVS

Walking hundreds of miles from Northern California, traveling Mission to Mission, Caroline Ward Holland, her son and supporters in the “Walk For The Ancestors” are now walking to each Mission in Southern California.

Last Saturday, Oct. 24, they reached the San Fernando Mission which, with each step she described as a very personal emotional, journey.

After all, this Mission — El Rey de San Fernando — was on “her native land.” Where members of her tribe, her own ancestors, were “forced into slavery, lived  and died.”

“When I walked I could see how beautiful the land was where our village once stood, the hillsides and the terrain gave me peace. But then I also realized that I was taking those same steps where they once walked through the hills into the valley, but they were being forced to take that walk which led them into slavery [at the San Fernando Mission],” Ward Holland said.

When she arrived at the Mission in San Fernando, she had a pull to go into the Mission by herself to offer a private prayer to her ancestors but found that spiritual offering wouldn’t be so easy.

She was stopped at the Mission entrance and asked to pay.

“I had just walked [nearly] 500 miles from Northern California and was told I couldn’t go in without paying. I thought ‘this is the land of my people, it’s you who should be paying us rent.’”

It was at that moment, that her purpose and the determination for her walk was confirmed.

“They [Mission officials] were aware of our walk and our arrival and knew when we would arrive, and still I was treated this way,” she said.

After some insistence, she was allowed onto the Mission grounds.

Across the street at Brand Park other members of her tribe, the Fernandeno Tataviam band of Mission Indians, and their supporters began to gather.  Among them were members of other tribes including Chumash elders and a few members of AIM — the American Indian Movement.

After burning sage and “offering words,” the group lined up and walked into the Mission. They were given San Fernando Mission information printed on blue paper, that this time would grant them entrance.

They held a ceremony, danced and sang, and spoke.

“I remembered my grandmother always telling me, ‘You are native,’” said Ted Garcia.  “I came about learning my culture, though, late in life.”

Garcia is a well-respected artist who creates native sculptures carved from stones.

Tribal President Rudy Ortega Jr. led the group in several tribal songs. “It was beautiful,” said Ward Holland. “I was with my cousins, and we could have stayed there all day long singing and dancing.” 

The next day, as Holland Ward with her son Kagen prepared to continue the next leg of their 650-mile walk, she entered the Mission grounds again. 

At each stop, in addition to holding a ceremony, the walkers also document via photos and video how much public signage or documentation exists at each Mission that acknowledges Native American Indians’ historic presence. They have found a similar thread: there is little that appears that acknowledges the forced labor supplied by Native American Indians that build the Missions, or their lives or deaths.

Tribal leader Rudy Ortega Jr. said that a Mission priest spotted Carolyn and her  son wearing their Gray Tataviam T-shirts, and approached them as they were attempting to look for acknowledgement of Native people.

“He told them that the Roman Catholic Church actually saved indigenous people not only here but throughout Latin America,” Ortega said.  “He said that the conquistadors actually gave their lives so that they [indigenous people] could become Catholics and stop them from killing each other.”

 “We know that many of our ancestors are buried under the Mission Dining area, but we also believe that there are as many as 7,000 of our ancestors who are buried surrounding the Mission and are likely underneath structures and even homes,” Ward Holland said.