California: project chronicles Chumash heritage

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Aug 31 13:32:31 UTC 2006

In Their Own Words: CLU project chronicles Chumash heritage

Story and photos by Joyce Gregory Wyels

When Beverly Folkes first shared her Chumash heritage with the children in
a local school, their response shocked her. Asked what they knew about
Native Americans, they replied, Theyre all dead! Other misconceptions
abound. There are still a lot of kids and even parents who think we lived
in teepees, like the Plains Indians, says Chumash storyteller Alan
Salazar. Now, in a 180-degree turnaround, the Chumash are telling their
own stories not only chronicles from their past, but stories of how they
live today, with individual responses to the challenge of integrating into
mainstream society while maintaining important cultural traditions. And it
was made possible through an initiative of CLU.

The concept took root when Sue Bauer, Ed.D., CLUs Director of Computer
Training, became aware of grants being offered by the California Stories
Uncovered campaign of the California Council for the Humanities. The
campaign organizers envision a kind of cultural dig, in which researchers
look beyond statistics and stereotypes to get a sense of the real people
who make up the states population. Bauer saw an opportunity for the
University not only to participate but also to provide a meaningful
experience for students. It was up to us to craft what we wanted our
project to be, she explains, so I thought of the indigenous people.
Chumash Indians have been the foundation of this areas heritage. We need
to know more about their roots, but also what life is like for them today.

Bauer, who served as project director, recruited history professor
Michaela Reaves, Ph.D., and Director of Educational Technology David
Grannis to collaborate on the project. Once the grant was awarded, the
History and Multimedia Departments went into action: students fanned out
to homes, workplaces, campus locations and the Chumash Interpretive Center
with lists of questions and recording equipment in hand. History students
interviewed while videography students videotaped 10 individuals of
Chumash descent. Interviewees readily obliged. I think its marvelous, says
Juanita Flores.  Were urbans we dont live on reservations so its an
entirely different way of living. Citing inaccuracies in books and
articles, Folkes says she appreciates being contacted by CLU. She believes
the videos will help counteract those inaccuracies. The completed videos
are destined for interactive kiosks to be set up at the Chumash
Interpretive Center in Oak Regional Park.

The students posed broad questions about family and growing up, history
and religion, and contemporary life. Though some topics notably religion
drew a range of responses, common threads emerged. My grandmother had the
final word, says Ted Garcia. If there was a problem, she would discuss it,
and she would say, This is how it is. Regina Washtigoligol notes that the
Chumash are considered a matrilineal, matriarchal society, Our tribe is
one of the only ones that recognized women. Many times there were women
leaders, women chieftains.

Listening to the Chumash describe their experiences growing up in and
around Ventura County, students got the impression that the Native
Americans were not much different from other Americans of their
generation. Washtigoligol, in her mid-40s, lists baseball, beachgoing and
hanging out with friends as her favorite youthful pastimes. Julie
Tumamait-Stenslie says she and her sisters used to dance to American
Bandstand. But both later decided to explore the Chumash side of their
heritage.  Regina adopted the surname Washtigoligol. Its my ceremony name,
she says.  I was not given a traditional name at birth, so I basically
earned it by going through many different ceremonies.

Julie takes pride in her traditional name of Tumamait. My great
grandfather, Juan de Jesus, took it as a last name, she says. Many
Chumash, like other California Indians, had Spanish surnames conferred on
them by the padres at the missions. Some families even today are still
finding out their ancestors had some Chumash blood, says
Tumamait-Stenslie. In the early days there wasnt a lot of acknowledgment
of Chumash heritage. There was a stigma attached to being Indian. My
father sometimes had to change his name to a Spanish surname to get work.
To culminate the Chumash Project in the spring, two audiences were treated
to the results of the collaboration. In the morning, fourth-graders from
nearby schools saw their California History curriculum come to life as
they viewed five of the completed videos and received a packet to take
back to school for further study.

The evening audience enjoyed additional highlights storytelling by
Tumamait-Stenslie, a presentation by retired National Park Service
anthropologist Don Morris, and a Chumash dance performed by Dennis Garcia,
with accompaniment by Denise and Ted Garcia. Those who attended the
presentations came away with greater understanding and knowledge of the
Chumash who have occupied parts of central and southern California for
generations, and these opportunities for increased knowledge will
continue. Thanks to the people who agreed to tell their stories and the
CLU students and staff who recorded them, visitors to the Chumash
Interpretive Center will gain new insights into Chumash oral tradition.

[Moderator's note: cf. also:]


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