This year’s Oscar ceremony gave an unexpected and a huge recognition to San Fernando’s local tribe.
As writer, director and actor Taika Waititi stood onstage to accept the industry’s most prestigious award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his film, “Jojo Rabbit,” he made Oscar history.
Facebook pages lit up and happy screams came from the living rooms of tribal members as they heard Waititi announce:
“The Academy would like to acknowledge that tonight we have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash. We acknowledge them as the first peoples of this land on which the motion pictures community lives and works.”
It was the first time a land acknowledgement speech was given at the awards ceremony. And while it’s a cultural practice of respect among native people and more aware countries, it was the first time in the 92-year history of the awards show.
And it gave a breath of needed fresh air for the Oscars, which continues to be criticized for its lack of diversity.
“I wasn’t watching the Oscars at the time. I was actually at the movies with my family,” said Rudy Ortega, Fernandeño Tataviam tribal President. “But my phone started to ring right after he made his speech and everyone from our tribe was so excited.
“Everyone’s Facebook page lit up as they shared the video. Our tribal offices are in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and we don’t often get the attention and recognition as first peoples,” he said.
The Tataviam Fernandeño tribe has painstakingly documented their history and have been pressing for federal recognition for several years.
“The Maori people do know us. Last October, they asked our tribe to welcome them to Los Angeles. They have a consulate here and their farmers were introducing their wine and other products to LA.”
During his time on stage, Taika also thanked his mother for giving him the 2004 novel, “Caging Skies,” to read. Waititi is both Jewish and Maori.
He concluded his remarks by encouraging indigenous children to follow their dreams as the “original storytellers.”
“Thank you for being my mother and … for giving me the book that I adapted. This film wouldn’t have existed without you doing that.” He later said he had no plans to go up on stage to thank his lawyer and a long list of people but he chose instead to dedicate the award to “all the indigenous kids all over the world who want to do art and dance and write stories. We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well.”
“I think his words went far to bring inspiration to our indigenous youth, including my nephew Timothy Ornelas and my son Tomiear Ortega who have a strong interest in film,” said Ortega. “It also gives encouragement to those in the entertainment industry in our community like Tonatzin Camelo who is Tongva and Heather Rae who is a film producer and Bird Runningwater who is Director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program. It gives us all a warm heart.”
Ortega said Waititi’s remarks on the Oscars’ stage, broadcasted around the globe, carries strength for understanding that indigenous people like Waititi can create and work in every genre of film whether it’s comedy, or action or adventure.
“We shouldn’t be viewed as only producing work with indigenous themes, we should never be stereotyped. We can do it all,” Ortega said.