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What Role Should the Chumash Indians of California Play in Planning for the Gaviota Coast National Seashore?

The Gaviota Coast: Have the Feds Fail to Adequately Assess the Chumash Factor?

(Commentary by Dr .John Anderson)

The National Park Service is involved in a two year study of a seventy six mile coastal area, located west of Santa Barbara, California.

A primary topic of consideration is a proposed national seashore. I remain an advocate of this seashore proposal as long as it includes setting aside a large part of this land for a long-overdue home for the Santa Barbara Indians.

"People closely following these hearings recently contacted me, asking if I could provide them with current information about the role of the Santa Barbara Chumash in this study.

Do they want a reservation on this coast, and are the local Chumash willing to work closely with environmental groups to establish policies that would guarantee environmental protection of resources and wildlife for any land agreement they might sign? I could not immediately answer these questions. And I am concerned that these hearings have progressed to date without adequately exploring the coastal reservation option.

I maintain a large number of web pages on the Chumash, including many that describe sacred sites in this study area, propose returning island lands to the Chumash, as well as advocate setting aside lands for a religious sanctuary for the Chumash at Point Conception. But as important as these issues are, they pale in comparison to the imperative of acting now to set aside coastal lands for a federal reservation for the Santa Barbara Chumash.

The study area for the National Parks Service contains the last best hope for the native peoples of the Santa Barbara coast to obtain a homeland. Yet this option is not even on the agenda, as far as I can determine, though protection of the sacred areas near Point Conception does appear to be a serious agenda item.


It remains my impression that little progress has been made over the last few years to expand the federal government's consulting base, to fully incorporate non-reservation Chumash. [See Jonjonata for related discussion].

It is encouraging to see that the Coastal Band is actively pursuing federal recognition at this time. But the political reality is that the federal government continues to deny them legal recognition, as it denies legal recognition to various other local Chumash groups such as the Barbareno Council which has not yet initiated federal recognition procedures. The process of legal recognition is time consuming, expensive, and frustrating. It takes years to complete [decades would be more accurate]. In the meantime, the feasibility study moves forward for the Gaviota Coast. Will the federal government lock up its options without seriously addressing the reservation issue, nor inviting any of the Santa Barbara Indian factions as serious players at to the bargaining table?" [John Anderson, May 18, 2001]

For a map of the Gaviota Coast Study area see: Map

Who Sits At the Planning Table?

"One issue underlying the public debate over the future of the Gaviota Coast is the difficult question of who is morally responsible for seeing that the various factions of the Santa Barbara Chumash get a fair deal in these hearings?

Should the Santa Barbara City Council take initiative, for example, if the federal and state governments fail to include all of the local Chumash groups as major participants in this dialogue? Surely the city of Santa Barbara has a special moral responsibility, since it played a key role in selling off the Kashwa reservation lands, thereby throwing the local Chumash literally out of their homes at Cieneguitas [Hope Ranch].

And if the city council failed to act, should the County Commissioners intervene? And if they failed to act, should the local churches not intervene? Surely, the Catholic church has a unique role in this potentially diastrous federal hearing process which could lock up ownership of the Gaviota Coast, denyiing a coastal landbase for the local Indians . And should environmental groups join together and insist with one voice that higher priority be given the Indian homeland option, if the churches remained silent about the native issue?

The labyrinthine relationship between the Chumash and the above groups, and local, state, and federal agencies has developed over generations. The Chumash themselves do not even agree on all issues. Reservation and non-reservation Chumash are at odds on many issues. Unfortunately many people in Santa Barbara county have put aside Chumash issues as beyond understanding, involving irreconcilable dilemmas and constant guilt feelings. But continued avoidance only masks an unjust situation. The need is stronger than ever for acting to rectify the absence of federally protected land for these native families.

One Chumash group, the Coastal Band, actually owns a small piece of land in the study area and therefore should be stake holders in any dialogue about their ancestral lands. But what about the other Santa Barbara families, who have chosen to affiliate with a different Chumash council or to stay independent of any organization: are they to be ignored because they lack a landbase? And what about the San Luis Obispo and Tejon Chumash councils, whose members also lack federal recognition and a landbase.? What role should they play, especially in the discussions over protections for Point Conception as a sacred site?

There is still time to open up the federal hearing process to these and other Chumash issues. Local, state, and federal governments need to reconsider their policies toward the non-reservation Chumash. It will not be enough to turn to the Santa Ynez Chumash Reservation for consultation. Clearly the Santa Barbara coast is a distinct cultural area from the Santa Ynez valley where the only federally recognized land base is located. A separate reservation is needed for these unique people of the Santa Barbara coast, who do not want to be part of the existing reservation in the Santa Ynez valley.

An effective alliance between environmental groups and the non reservation Chumash is still a possibility. If this cooperation grows into an articulate voice advocating a meaningful role for native Americans in managing natural resources on the Gaviota coast, then I think the public will gain a much better education on Chumash related issues.

The next step will be to bring in leaders of regional churches, whose moral weight could prove pivotal in the months to come." [John Anderson, May 26, 2001).

For responses to this commentary, see UPDATE

You can learn more about existing Chumash groups at Chumash You can learn more about the old Santa Barbara Indian reservation at Kashwa You can find the official National Park Service web page on the planning process at National Seashore You can learn more about the Gaviota Coast Conservancy a Conservancy

This web page represents the views of the author, and does not necessarily represent the views of the Chumash Indians, either individually or in a group. Specifically, my comments make no claim to represent the views of the Santa Ynez Reservation Chumash whose partiicipation in the National Seashore debate or advocacy for a separate reservation for the Santa Barbara Chumash is unclear to me at this time. (May 18, 2001)

Earth Island Journal: Article on the Vandenberg Spaceport Within the Study Area
Federal Recognition for the Chumash
Point Humqaq (Conception) As a Sacred Site
Return Island Land to the Chumash?
Dos Pueblos: Need For Cooperation Among Tsmuwich Indians