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Chumash Historical Sites On Wimat Island

Chumash Historical Sites on Wimat Island

[Commentary by Dr. John Anderson]


Out of respect for the Chumash generally, I have complied with this individual's demand for censorship of information about Chumash sites on the island.

The contested content that has been removed from the web page involved information on Wimat island towns and their history, based on information that has been widely available to the public in journals, magazines, newspapers, and other sources including a standard reference book published by the Smithsonian Institute.

REINSTATED TEXT: After a preliminary assessment, including exchange of views with some Chumash, I decided to replace the following segment of the original web page, so web users can understand some of the issues involved in this censorship request. Note that the text describing specific island towns remains off-line (March 30, 1999).

"For thousands of years, the Chumash Indians occupied the island called Santa Rosa, which lies off the coast of Southern California. They called the island Wimat, which refers to the redwood logs which drifted in large quantities from northern California onto the island beaches.

Redwood lumber is ideally suited to construction of the highly efficient Chumash 'plank' boats, enabling Wimat to became a boatbuilding center in the era before the Spanish invasion of California.

This web page provides information on the Chumash names for their ancient seaports on Wimat island, whose skilled shipwrights brought economic prosperity and considerable socio-political influence at nearby mainland ports, such as Cojo (Point Conception), Kasil (Refugio), and probably even as far east as Mikiw (Dos Pueblos), and Shyuxtun (Santa Barbara).

The 'Politics of Placenames'

"If you search the web for information on Wimat island, you will find few sites using Chumash placenames. Wimat appers on a minority of web pages, so you have to search for information using the European name "Santa Rosa" [and try adding +Chumash +California].

And in the many pages that your search engine lists under "Santa Rosa", you will not find many discussions of the legal process by which the Chumash have been banned by the federal government from reoccupying their ancestal islands. What you will find, instead, are many web pages basically devoid of information on the Chumash placenames and repatriation issues. Many of these historically 'sterilized' pages [i.e. they provide little or no Native American information] are funded by state and federal agencies, as well as commercial enterprises with tourist interests on Wimat island.

This information vacuum is not only disappointing, it is also economically self-defeating. California residents who might want to visit Wimat island, would be more interested rather than less interested if native history and placenames were offered to enrich their understanding of the island.

The prevailing argument against using native placenames for sites on Wimat island and other federally controlled lands is that hiding these placenames helps protect archaeological sites from vandalism. Similar arguments are often presented as a rational for not developing public history displays explaining the native history of a specific canyon, beach, hilltop, mountain pass, etc. But this policy has been taken to an extreme in many state and federal programs in California. Seldom is such a rational used to keep the public from learning the Spanish and Mexican names for a place!

I join others in wondering how much damage it would do for future visitors to refer to this island as Wimat instead of Santa Rosa, or to sail into Xicwin Bay instead of Beechers Bay, or to visit the pygmy elephant fossil beds in a creek with a Chumash name instead of Arlington. Perhaps the use of such place names would give visitors a sense of the rich native history associated with the island, and this in turn may cause them to pause before disturbing an archaeological site. Nameless sites, lacking public histories do not move the heart, nor encourage understanding of the great struggles of the Wimat islanders to cling to their ancestral home against a series of brutal and unsympathetic colonial invaders." (J. Anderson, March 1999)

Isn't it Enough To Return Land on Santa Cruz Island?

"In a recent discussion about Wimat island, I was asked why I bother to address the issue of returning lands on Wimat island when the best possibility for getting lands for the Chumash is on Limu (Santa Cruz) island?

Response: "It is true that the Nature Conservancy is in a position to return lands on Limu, without getting involved in the entangled politics of federal programs for native American affairs. What will have to be addressed, in any assessment of this situation, is the relationship between environmentalists and native Americans. And I now consider this a topic of hopeful developments, as more and more environmental groups have begun to work more closely with native peoples.

Environmental and native American politcal alliances are a fascinating subject of discussion at this time. But the primary reason that I maintain this web page [about transfering land on Wimat to the Chumash, instead of focusing solely on land transfer issues on Santa Cruz island] is that the histories of the two islands are quite distinct. The residents of Wimat and nearby Tukan island considered themselves separate from the Limu islanders, who were oriented to nearby Ventura county seaports. Many Limu islanders immigrated to the island from the population center at Mugu, after plagues decimated the older island families.

So by the time of the Spanish invasion of the mainland and the construction of the Chumash production centers ('missions'), Wimat and Tukan islanders considered themselves distinct from the newly powerful Limu islanders. They did not want to join them into exile at the Mitskanaka production center (Ventura mission). Instead the Wimat and Tukan families preferred separation, and many chose to surrender to the Spanish production centers in western Santa Barbara county. These include Alajulapu (Santa Ynez), Amuwu (Purisima), and Taynayan (Santa Barbara).

In short, the Wimat story is distinct from that of Limu, and I believe it deserves attention as a unique land claim issue." (J. Anderson, March 1999; see Wimat As Place of Beginning link, below, for related discussion).

Ongoing Discussion

Commentary from Sipish: the Park Service staff person who requested removal of information from this web page. She is a Barbareno Chumash, whose ancestors are from the seaport of Syuxtun (Santa Barbara). After the above text was placed back on the web page, the following correspondence arrived: "I have no objection at all to your using Chumash place names when referring to the island or villages. What I specifically object to is revealing their exact locations. Specifically locations that are not easily protected. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I have been lobbying for name changes for some time now. I would love to see our islands called their names by all who learn about or visit them. But, I will not give them a map or directions to certain villages that I know for a fact are not IMO eaily protected because of logistics" (Email from Sipish (Barbareno Chumash, village of Syuxtun), April 11, 1999).

Response to Sipish: "I will continue to keep the original 'site' information off of this web page, until we have time to further explore the issues at stake. The politics of native American place name use are complex. Actually, we agree on many points and have the same primary goal before us, which is to present Chumash history in a public forum with minimal damage to the archaeological and religious sites on the islands.

Actually, the use of specific site information has been a standard practice among American scholars and government agencies for generations [but admittedly not consistent in application in California, where Spanish and American names have been favored] . Specific site data continues to be a standard practice today, as can be seen by the new research being done on Wimat island which suggests that the oldest known burial in America may have been discovered at Arlington Springs.

Dr. John Johnson, curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, has not avoided identifying the specific location of the skeleton of the Arlington Spring Woman, whose remains may be 13,000 year old. Information about the Arlington Springs Woman is being reported widely, and it is doing much to educate the public about the importance of this Wimat island site. See Arlington for ABC News web page on this topic. The Los Angeles Times and other regional newspapers provided similar coverage. The bones were uncovered in 1959 on Wimat island, but were only recently dated as perhaps the oldest known human bones on the continent, according to Dr. Johnson. It is important that the location of the burial be identified as on the islands, since an island location suggests the possibility that the earliest settlers may have come to North America by boat instead of overland. See Steen for an general introduction to early human occupation of the Chumash lands. And see First-Americans for an excellent overview of the latest academic findings in this area of research. The citation on Dr. John Erlandson, who has worked on a Tuqan (San Miguel) island cave site is particularly interesting. Erlandson cites evidence of a maritime-oriented culture on Tuqan, which is at least 11,600 year old. Are they ancestors of the contemporary Chumash? How have the Chumash been involved in policies governing the research on these sites?

The revelation of site information has been a common practice, not only for the islands but also for the mainland Chumash sites. But note that, in my original web page information, I deliberately used 'general' (not specific) site information for the various Wimat seaports. My purpose in giving general site descriptions was to educate the public about the unique geo-social history of the seaport of Nawani. My contention is that all of the major archaeological sites on the islands can be located by ill-intended visitors, regardless of any attempt to censor information about the town. best policy for protecting the sites is the presence of island staff and public education about the sites. For many people, desecration of a known historic place is much harder than desecration of an unknown site they stumble upon in their wanderings on the islands. I acknowledge that there are legitimate views in opposition to my own, and I welcome continued dialogue. (John Anderson, April 14, 1999).

Response From Mike Khus: "Thanks for the information regarding attempts to censor your work [writings about Wimat island]. I do not agree with these allegations, because it is important for people to know that significant sites exist on the Islands as well as elsewhere. Their exact locations remain as confidential as they were, before your web page came online, so there is no damage.

... Also, you might refer them [readers interested in the proper use of placenames in writing ethnohistory] to other Native scholars - namely, Vine Deloria for instance - whose policy is not to reveal any cultural information which has not been previously published elsewhere" (email from Mike Khus, Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, April 1, 1999).

Invisible History: In my web page called The Invisible History of the Chumash Islanders I addressed a related issue: "Let me mention a specific example of the damaging impact of the current lack of native historical presence in the park's web information. On one web page, visitors to the park are told that the archaeological sites of Chumash seaports are "middens (trashdumps)." Nothing is said to give the visitor a sense of the different sites, the drama of history that was played out in that cove or beach or the surviving mythology linked to that site. It would not be surprising, therefore, if a visitor felt free to 'trash' an archaeological site in their ignorance of its socio-historical importance." See Island for additional commentary [John Anderson, May 5, 1999].

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

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