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Point Conception:
The Chumash Western Gate

Point Conception:<BR>The Chumash Western Gate
[Commentary By Dr. John Anderson]


The Samala Chumash historian named Maria Qiliqutayiwit reported to John Harrington, of the Smithsonian Institution, that Point Conception was a sacred place for the ancient Chumash. It was, she said, a gateway for the souls of the dead to enter the heavens and begin their celestial journey to paradise (Similaqsa).

Qiliqutayiwit's statement can be read in December's Child, which was edited by Thomas Blackburn and published by the University of California Press in 1975. In the quarter of a century since the publication of this book, a great deal has happened at Point Conception as it has become a point of contention between many competing factions trying to influence the development or non-development of this relatively pristine part of the California Coast.

Point Conception As the Chumash Western Gate?

Qiliqutayiwit described a "gate" associated with Point Conception, which is one of the westernmost points of land in the ancient Chumash territory. Many contemporary Chumash call Point Conception the "Western Gate" and believe that this region deserves to be kept from development, because it is a holy place linked to the souls of the dead. In fact, many traditionalists believe that it is one of the most sacred places in the Chumash territory, deserving of the same protection of other sacred places such as Iwihinmu (Pine Mountain), Toshololo (Frazier Mountain), Wasna, Zaca lake, and other holy places.

But not all American scholars agree with this assessment, nor the many economic interests which have tried to develop the Point Conception area for economic reasons. Early developers included Spanish and Mexican cattlemen awarded land grants in the vicinity. Later came the American railroad (now called the Southern Pacific) that built a coastal line immediately next to the point, along with the federal government which built a light house on the point and confiscated the nearby lands.

In time, other development schemes were proposed for this region including wharfs, an oil line, and a massive liquefied natural gas facility. It was the gas facility which sparked the first major protest from traditional Chumash, who came to the Point Conception area to protest its desecration in 1978.

Need for a Chumash Religious Sanctuary At Point Conception?

After the development plans for the liquefied natural gas facility was dropped, the Point came pressure during construction of a oil pipeline. Various real estate interests proposed housing developments, golf courses, and other planned community schemes for the area. And in more recent years, it has been impacted by the development of a commercial California Spaceport nearby on the Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Spaceport facility proved a quantum jump in potential negative impacts on the Greater Point Conception region, which the Chumash call Humqaq. I became concerned about the potential negative impact of a the commercial spaceport if it grew to even a fraction of the size its backers predicted, so I published an article in the Earth Island Journal [Fall 1998] documenting the powerful coalition of state and local politicians, aerospace interests, Air Force, and local chambers of commerce which were working to promote the spaceport. I questioned whether the coalition had done an adequate job of bringing all of the various Chumash factions into the consultation and planning process, especially the Traditional families who did not live on the nearby Santa Ynez Reservation (Anderson, 1999).

Impact of a National Seashore?

Nathan Post maintains a web page on the proposed National Seashore, which would protect the remaining relatively undeveloped portion of Santa Barbara County including the Point Conception area. This federally protected coastline might, according to some advocates, stretch from Goleta to Point Conception. See Seashore for more information on the proposed federal seashore. This webpage states: "It is important to remember that Point conception is a highly reverenced Chumash Indian site. The Chumash believe that this is where the souls of their dead ancestors depart for the spirit world."

The Gaviota Coastal Conservancy, founded by Bob Keats, is an advocate of the National Seashore plan, citing the fact that the Gaviota Coast represents the last significant stretch of relatively undeveloped coastal land of its magnitude remaining in Southern California. For additional information, you can reach Nathan Post at

Private Landowners

One of the concerns expressed by Nathan Post on his National Seashore web page is that the owners of large private estates in the Point Conception area may not want to abandon any potential development rights without expensive public compensation. One of these large landowners is the Hollister Ranch, and the other is the Cojo Ranch, which is located immediately at Point Humqaq and includes a number of important Chumash sites located nearby.

Kuta Teachings

In 1997, Dr. Brian Haley and Larry Wilcoxon published an article in the journal of Current Anthropology, which discussed the role of Point Conception in the traditional religion of the Chumash Indians. They concluded that Point Conception was not a pan-Chumash religious site as many contemporary Chumash claim. They instead proposed classifying it as of importance only to the local Chumash. This article was very critical of the views of other scholars who had written about Point Conception, and these scholars responded in a August/October 1998 issue of the same journal. You can read more about this heated debate at Haley.

Out of interest in the many issues being raised about the role of Point Conception in the traditional Chumash religion, I returned to an earlier draft of a short book on the Chumash Path of the Dead. This book is yet unpublished, but you can read more about this book at Kuta.

The Point Conception Occupation

Many members of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation participated in the Humqaq Occupation. See Mike Khus' News From Native California article on the 1978 occupation of the Point Conception area by Chumash and other native Americans trying to save it from development by a liquified natural gas company.

Western Gate More than one 'gate' (opening, portal) into the celestial world is described in surviving Chumash narratives. Other gates include Iwihinmu mountain, Wasna mountain, and Zaca lake. What makes Point Conception special to the Traditional Chumash is that it is the only one in which an elder explicitly identified as a "gate" used by the souls of the dead! And since it was located in the westernmost area of the Chumash lands, it came to be called the Western Gate.

Point Conception See Point Humqaq

Point Humqaq The Traditional name for Point Conception is Humqaq, which means the Raven comes. In Kuta Teachings, the role of the Raven in Chumash mythology includes giving the souls of the dead their 'celestial eyes' needed for traveling on the Path of the Dead. Only by discarding the 'earthly eyes' of their previous lives, can the souls of the dead reach the heavenly paradise from which they are reincarnated.

Point Humqaq: Greater Religious Area In Kuta Teachings (unpublished), I will present the argument that Humqaq was not a single site but rather a religious 'complex' that included a number of features located away from Point Humqaq itself (the exact point where the modern lighthouse is located today). This text will also discuss whether documented religious sites located near the California Spaceport are part of this larger religious complex (Anderson February, 1999).

Raven See Point Humqaq.

More On Point Conception As the Western Gate

This web page presents the views of the author, and does not necessarily represent the views of the Chumash Indians, either individually or as a group

Jonjonata Townsite
Chumash Indians & California Spaceport
Kuta Teachings
Nation Seashore Study