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[Commentary by John Anderson]


The purpose of this webpage is to present additional comments on an article mentioned in my main webpage on the California Spaceport. This article, written by Brian Haley and Larry Wilcoxon, is called "Anthropology and the Making of Chumash Tradition." It appeared in the journal of Current Anthropology in December 1997.

Some of the authors' statements have proven quite controversial, both among scholars and among Traditional Chumash Indians whose continuity with the ancient Chumash culture is challenged by the authors.

Quotes from this article have been used by local California newspapers to raise questions in the public's mind about the legitimacy of many Chumash families to participate in legal hearings about ancient Chumash sites. These same newspapers have also used Haley and Wilcoxon to raise questions about the legitimacy of Point Conception as a recently used 'gate' leading Traditional Chumash souls into the heavens (Anderson, 1998).


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Haley and Wilcoxon discuss in some detail the mechanisms by which university trained scholars like themselves have been used by California governments, often to the exclusion of contemporary Chumash people, as the designated judges of Chumash traditional culture (page 765; they use the phrase "delineators of identity").

The guidelines for the National Register of Historic Places, used by government to evaluate traditional cultural properties, was written in 1990. "The guidelines empower anthropologists," they wrote, to serve as "judges of the genuineness and authenticity of tradition and thereby positions them as gatekeeping identifiers and objectifiers of heritage and delineators of identity" (765).

I wrote in my Jonjonata report to Caltrans, the California department of transportation, that I no longer have confidence in the state practice of hiring a single company or individual scholar to write ethnohistories of sites selected for development hearings. The traditional role of university-trained researchers has changed dramatically in recent decades, and the field of Chumash Studies is currently in a state of turmoil as can be seen in the Wilcoxon/Haley article.

"Wilcoxon/Haley do not resolve any of the problems, because their article only 'mirrors' a long-standing disfunctionality that persists in Chumash anthropology and archaeology." Any solution, I concluded, will have to incorporate a wide spectrum of interest groups (serving as delineators of Chumash identity) including disputing academics and the many Chumash sub-groups or bands whose ancestral sites are threatened by development. For more information see: Jonjonata

In the conclusion to their article, Haley and Wilcoxon claim that anthropologists have had an "intense impact" on the formation of Chumash cultural identity (790) This may, or may not be the case. The problem is that Haley and Wilcoxon (like the rest of us) are simply speculating, without hard evidence because no systematic survey of all living Chumash has ever been conducted. And even if one were funded and undertaken, I seriously doubt that all Chumash descendants would cooperate fully with such a study, given the deep distrust that exists within this population and white academics and government officials.

Haley and Wilcoxon question the validity of existing federal laws protecting native American sites. "We explicitly state our concerns about the traditional-cultural property guidelines," they write, "including the authority they grant to anthropologist" (790) They also "acknowledge the expertise on various parts or versions of Chumash tradition of Maria Solares, Fernando Librado, Kitsepawit, contemporary Traditionalist, non-traditionalists, and others" (790). But even with these acknowledgments, critics of Haley and Wilcoxon, continue to question how they can become advocates for a strong role for the Chumash in future negotiations over their heritage sites, when Haley and Wilcoxon continue to argue that all Chumash are "modern" and "constructed" (790). As a consequences of these academic disputes, Haley/Wilcoxon persist in presenting a tough critique of other academics who they charge with "promoting Chumash Traditionalism" (761).


I can confirm from the contents of my phone calls and emails over the last half year since Haley and Wilcoxon published their article, that they upset a number of people, both native and non-native, when they concluded that ALL Chumash Indians hold "modern" beliefs which are discontinuous with their ancestral religion and culture(790).

An underlying issue, in any discussion of the California Spaceport and the rights of native people to contest its development, may be the political/economic impact of charges that all the Chumash are so modern that their identities are less then fifty years old. If less than fifty years old, then they might not qualify under the National Register of Historic Places guidelines to initiate litigation against developers seeking permits for projects like the spaceport which could potentially have a negative impact on ancient Chumash historical sites!

Haley and Wilcoxon acknowledge the uncertainty of federal guidelines in their article. They write, for example, that: "if a property's traditional use has been revived or revitalized within 50 years of its evaluation after a prolonger period of disuse, it may still qualify as a traditional cultural property" (765). At issue is whether some or all of the contemporary Chumash claims about historic sites are "spurious" (765) or "invented" (766) or "obstructionist" (766; designed to stop development projects).

I have exchanged numerous emails with Brian Haley over these issues. This dialogue has been constructive, in editing my webpages and expanding our understanding of each other's writings and our differing views.

Haley's views on academic objectivity, for example, are a major area of disagreement between us. He approaches this topic as an academic trained in the social sciences, and I approach it with a training in philosophy. I believe that the evidence collected in the past by Spanish, Mexican, French, Russian, and American observers of the Chumash is incomplete, fragmentary, culturally biased, seemingly contradictory, and therefore forever open to interpretation and dialogue. I therefore remain skeptical of claims made by a long line of white scholars, government officials, military officers, and Christian church leaders who state with certainty that all (meaningful, legal, significant) continuity with the old Chumash culture and religion has ended.

In the mission days, colonial government officials could have ordered the military to round up every family with suspected Traditionalist beliefs and kept them confined until they revealed their hidden beliefs. Or colonial church authorities might have used intimidation to extract confessions of religious deviancy. Obviously, none of these government interventions into personal lives is acceptable in contemporary California. And as a result, American scholars will have to content themselves with speculation about the continuity of Chumash cultural beliefs. The public should, to do justice to the situation, therefore take Haley and Wilcoxon's proposed classification of all Chumash as modernly "constructed" as only speculative. The moral background to all of these academic discussions is the California Holocaust, and anyone who doubts the depth of religious distrust among native Traditional families in California is underestimating the task ahead of us in healing the wounds of the past.

My recent commentary on the Chumash and recent Spaceport developments has been based on the belief that the public should move beyond the technically legal issues of "authenticity of tradition" and "objectifiers of heritage" and instead focus on the higher moral issues involved in further desecration of ancient Chumash sites. Voters in the State of California need to consider the justice, not only the legality, of policy options at Point Conception and other documented area of cultural significance near the spaceport.

I am not convinced as of this date that the Air force, the California Spaceport corporation, or the state government of California took adequate steps to ensure justice in their rush for development. What is missing from this narrative is substantiation that the Spaceport coalition showed respect for the basic human rights of the contemporary Chumash, and judiciously invited all of the Chumash bands to participate in consideration of the evidence about disputed sites. If a wide spectrum of Chumash groups were included in a meaningful way in the evaluation of these numerous sites, it would be helpful for the Spaceport coalition to present better documentation of that fact so that all factions in the debate can have a better understanding of the briefing process (November 15, 1998).


Haley and Wilcoxon conclude that the immediate vicinity around Point Conception qualifies as "a traditional cultural property." By implication, they are proposing that the larger area within view of Point Conception (including any expanded spaceport facility that might later be located within "the larger area within view from Point Conception") should not be protected under current historic preservation guidelines (766).

If the Chumash, under existing American law cannot establish historic use of the greater Point Conception area, then developer might be in a good position to ensure the expansion of the operations of the California Spaceport. The federal guidelines on revitalized use of Traditional sites apparently remain unclear on this issue. I do not agree with Haley and Wilcoxon's conclusions about the greater Point Conception area. My objections are not solely based on the Traditional beliefs about the greater area being used by the souls of their dead, nor on the physical occupation of the Point by Chumash during the recent LNG protest, but also on my interpretations of Harrington's field notes. I remain concerned, therefor, that the Haley/Wilcoxon findings may be used at a later date by the Spaceport coalition to block Chumash efforts to protect Point Conception (and other Chumash sites located near the spaceport).


For those of you who want to use the web to expand your understanding of the above issues, the following citations may help you in your computer search.

A number of individuals were acknowledged by Haley/Wilcoxon to have assisted in development of this article, with the leading acknowledgment to Dr. John Johnson who is responsible for anthropological research and displays at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. "We thank John Johnson who has followed our project from its inception and provided advice, references, and unpublished data and reviewed earlier drafts" (footnote one, 761). Mary O'Connor is also cited in this footnote as having made beneficial "suggestions" for the article (761). O'Connor was the principal investigator of the 1980's Chevron oil pipeline project built through western Chumash lands. She is often cited as a key player in related debates over the authenticity of contemporary Chumash Traditionalism. Other scholars who provided suggestions include Eve Darlan-Smith, David Cleveland, Tanis Thorne, Don Brown, Richard Handler, Richard Fox, Janice Timbrook, Linda Agren, Gilbert Unzueta, Donna Sheeders, Susan Davidson, and Hallie Heiman.

More hints on searching the web. Scholars who were criticized by Wilcoxon and Haley in their January 1997 article include: Chester King, Diana Wilson, Robert Gibson, and Steve Craig. Scholars who wrote comments printed with the article include: Michael Brown, Jonathan Friedman, Richard Handler, Jean Jackson, Joanne Kealiinohomoku, Klara Kelly, Anders Linde-Laursen, Tim O'Meara, Andrew Spiegel, and David Trigger.

For additional commentary, see: MORE

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Dr. Haley emailed me after he read an earlier version of this webpage, to suggest editing changes and to bring me up to date on new publications covering the Chumash authenticity issue. I appreciate his thoughtful critique, and have cited the following comments for the reader's consideration.

Haley stated that he and Wilcoxon did not claim that Pint Conception was never a gate to the afterworld, as the Ventura Star newspaper article charged. "We allege that some Chumash peoples probably did believe this prior to colonization."

Haley questioned my wording in an earlier version of this webpage, stating that he and Wilcoxon do not dismiss Point Conception as an insignificant Chumash religious site (Sept 8, 1998). In a later article in he clarified this statement to say that only the Point and "not the larger Western Gate area" should be made eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places as a traditional Chumash cultural property ( Aug/Oct 1998 edition, page 507)

I speak a good deal about religious issues in my webpages and recent articles on Point Conception and the Spaceport (my graduate work is in philosophy). Haley wrote to remind me to clarify that, while a good deal of space is taken up in his article in discussion of Point Conception as a religious site, current American law does not provide legal mechanisms for effective protection of native American spiritual sites from development. Thus the legal struggle to protect Chumash use sites near the spaceport (including the greater Point Conception area), should the Chumash decide to go to court, would take place within the context of laws protecting historic sites.

This is a correct assessment, and I am editing my webpages to make this issue more clear to my readers. To understand the legal issues involved, one has to go back to the passage of the Religious Freedom Act and the decision of the conservative U.S. Supreme Court to neutralize this act in 1990. The Supreme Court overruled the historic 'compelling interest' doctrine which had previously proved effective in protecting native American sacred sites. Then in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed by the congress and signed by the president, restoring religious freedom to native peoples (along with people of Christian faiths). But in June of 1997, the Supreme Court once again intervened, declaring the new act unconstitutional and thereby cutting short four years of temporary protections. Judge Scalia authored the ruling that recognized all "generally applicable" statues constitutional if they conflicted with religious practices.

Throughout California native tribes have been stymied by this restrictive ruling. It has been very frustrating for Traditionalist leaders, as many of the theological issues which matter most to them continue to be ignored by the currently hostile conservative Supreme Court.

Haley and Wilcoxon acknowledge that "the American Indian Religious Freedom Act has proved ineffective"(765; they cite Parker & King's 1990 article as a reference, but they do not have much to say about the Supreme Court's ruling against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its repression in 1997).

The reader can be sure that they will learn more in the future months about the inadequacies of American laws protecting native sites, as other California Indians join the Chumash in protesting the ethical fairness of this situation. Chris Peters ( a Pohliklah/Karuk Indian) is raising many similar issues, for example, concerning native religious sites in northern California. Peters characterizes the U.S. Supreme court decisions which denies religious protection to native sites as acts of "physical and cultural genocide." I will be addressing this issue of cultural genocide in an article in the Earth Island Journal (Fall 1998).

This web page was entered November 15, 1998

Jonjonata Controversy
California Spaceport Controversy
Point Conception
Critics of Civilization?
Haley Criticizes Radic'/Anderson
Modern Chumash Cultural Identity