The Lone Woman

Juana Maria

of San Nicolas Island

"The song that I will sing is an old song, so old that none know who made it. It has been handed down through generations and was taught to me when I was young. It is now my own song. It belongs to me." --Geronimo
The Lone Woman 26x34 Oil By Holli Harmon  See the painting at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

The Lone Woman 26x34 Oil By Holli Harmon See the painting at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

 Imagine growing up on remote San Nicolas Island during the nineteenth century. Children there, like everywhere, learned songs and stories about the world around them. On the island, these stories were likely about their ancestors or about the animals of their island and ocean world. The children were familiar with ocean tides and seasonal variations, and with the night sky. They knew the best places to collect kelp and sea lettuce, mussels and abalones. They knew how to fish. Perhaps a few of them even had dog companions.

On the clearest days, one can catch a glimpse of the mainland—60 miles from San Nicolas. The Nicoleños had trade relationships and social interactions with other islanders, including those from Santa Catalina. Other visitors to the island during the 1800s included American, Russian and Native Alaskan fur traders and hunters who captured sea otters for their pelts.

San Nicolas Island is where Juana Maria was born and lived for most of her life. Several historic events had a profound impact on her life. In 1814, perhaps close to the time that she was born, a group of Kodiak hunters came to the island and fought with the island men, killing most of them. Juana Maria must have grown up in a community that remembered this catastrophic incident and grieved for their loved ones. In the 1830s, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Soon after, in 1835, the small remaining community, just eighteen people, was brought back to the mainland as directed by the Mission fathers. As the story goes, Juana Maria stayed behind when she realized that her son was not on the ship. She later recounted that the child did not survive. And so, that is how she came to live on the island alone. For the next eighteen years, she would continue to make her subsistence-based living on her island home without contact from the outside world

On the mainland, these years were a time of great change. The Mission era saw the drastic decline of the Indian population, in part due to disease. After the Mexican War of Independence in 1822, Spanish rule ended and California became a Mexican territory. With Mexican land grants, cattle ranching became a way of life for many families. The Mexican American War of 1846-1848 ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The California Gold Rush began in 1848, and California achieved statehood in 1850. The City of Santa Barbara was founded the same year, with some 2,000 residents.

In 1853, Captain George Nidever, sailed to the island at the request of the Mission to find her. According to Nidever’s accounts, he and his small crew encountered Juana Maria and also spent several days there hunting otters. They found her to be in good spirits, living with her dog companions.

When Nidever brought her to Santa Barbara, few of the local Chumash may have been familiar with her language.The Nicoleños who had left the island eighteen years earlier were taken to San Pedro and they dispersed in the Los Angeles area. They may not have known of her rescue from the island. Today, researchers believe that her language was related to language groups found to the south. Genetic evidence suggests there was intermarriage between groups of the northern and southern Channel Islands as well as the mainland.

In Santa Barbara, Juana Maria lived with Nidever, his wife, Sinforosa and their children. Juana Maria was baptized and received the name that we know her by today; her Indian name is unknown. By all accounts, she happily welcomed her transition to life in Santa Barbara. She shared her songs and had many visitors, including the mission padres, who always found her to be in good humor. However, after only a few weeks of living on the mainland, she became ill and passed away. She is buried in the mission cemetery.

Her life story is unique and remarkable; she survived on her island alone for nearly two decades. As one of the last surviving Indians of San Nicolas, she is also symbolic of the decimation of a culture.

Researchers today continue to learn more about nineteenth century life on San Nicolas Island through archaeological evidence and the detective work of searching through historical records. Recent excavations by archaeologists on San Nicolas Island have revealed the large cave shelter where Juana Maria most likely lived. Two redwood boxes were also discovered that may have belonged to her and contained items such as abalone pendants, knives and fishing implements, and small stone carvings of animal figures.

 "I am an old woman now...and our Indian ways are almost gone. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I ever lived them."--Waheenee, Hidatsa

To learn more about San Nicolas Island and Juana Maria there are several resources: The National Park Service Blue Dolphin site includes links to information about the Scott O'Dell book, Island of the Blue Dolphin, as well as information on recent research. Absalom Stuart’s 1880 article, A Femal Crusoe, recounts conversations with George Nidever.  Research on what happened to the Indians who left San Nicolas Island in 1835 is available in a paper by Morris, Johnson, Schwartz, Vellanoweth, Farris and Schwebel: The Nicoleños in Los Angeles: Documenting the Fate of the Lone Woman's Community.

See the painting at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Lone Woman Exhibit.jpg

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Chumash Indian Hall Open everyday 10-5pm.

 

The Portrait Painting Process

Holli became increasingly intrigued with the story of the Lone Woman after conversations with archaeologist Steve Schwartz. Schwartz discovered the large cave shelter where it is thought that Juana Maria lived. In creating her painting of Juana Maria, Holli began by drafting a series of sketches based on first hand descriptions of the Lone Woman. She also conferred with anthropology and historian colleagues who discussed different characteristics including facial structure and variation in facial characteristics. The depiction of Juana Maria’s clothing is based on descriptions by Nidever of the feather cloak that she was wearing at the time of his visit to the island. 

By Katherine Bradford

Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

“The word is powerful. It can evoke emotion, it can tell about a rock, or a tree. It can be used to instigate anger, to quell anger, to lament love, to give love; it touches you in the heart. Whether spoken or written it conveys how you feel. You may not even be the poet but [it resonates] with what you bring to it, your experience.”   --Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, Poet Laureate, Playwright, Environmental Educator and Peace Activist

Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, oil on canvas, 26x34" by Holli Harmon

Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, oil on canvas, 26x34" by Holli Harmon

Poet Laureate

Sojourner reflects on Percy Shelley’s famous quote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” She says, “The implication is that we’re speaking truth. What we observe—we try to get to the essence of it.” From a young age, she has continually reflected on the impact that poetry can offer. 

Sojourner’s poetry stems from her remarkable experiences. Much of her work clearly is rooted in our region and its beauty, however her life’s journey has also given her a unique perspective as a social activist.  

Her love of the natural world is heard in a multitude of poems she has written over the decades, and she takes pride in her role as a poet of place and as an environmental educator. This passion has been recognized by her community where she has served as a Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, as well as a Poet-in-Residence at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. 

She has also received many accolades including being named a Local Hero by the Santa Barbara Independent; Outstanding Woman of Santa Barbara County by the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women; American Riviera Woman Entrepreneur of the Year; and a Commendation for Community Service by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

“I truly appreciate being the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response of the community. This is a community that loves poetry.”

 

Santa Barbara

“When I first came to Santa Barbara I loved going to the Bird Refuge, East Beach and Ledbetter. I love the natural environment here, up and down the coast. Every place I’ve lived in California has felt like home.”

 

Nearly four decades ago, Sojourner and her beau, Rod Rolle, made a road trip from their home in North Carolina to California. Their initial destination—an aunt’s home in Lompoc. Sojourner was headed to law school at Berkeley, and Rod—after two years had passed—to the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. Three years after graduating from law school, Sojourner joined Rod in Santa Barbara. Celebrating 30 years of marriage, they are among Santa Barbara’s most prominent creative couples. “We each are able to pursue our own lives as artists and, we also have dinner together [almost’ every night].”

 

In Santa Barbara, Sojourner discovered a close-knit community of poets and participated in variety of poetry activities. During those early years, she helped to organize festivals and regular readings featuring poetry andbegan teaching poetry workshops in the schools. “I became more of a poet than I’d ever been before. I decided that I wanted my life to be about the arts”  and she served for ten years on the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.”   On her path to becoming Poet Laureate, she has taught poetry to generations of young people, published critically received articles and commentaries on subjects ranging from the environment and civil rights to love and time.  She has seen her work performed on the theatrical stage.  

She served as producer and host for the public access television show “Outrageous Women,” beginning in 1989 and continuing for 7-8 years, interviewing fascinating guests from diverse backgrounds. It was about this time that, at the invitation of the such entities as the Independent, Arts & Letters, and The Lobero Theater ,  she began conducting interviews with notable artists who came to town.  These have included such luminaries as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Odetta and Hugh Masekela….

Sojourner has continually served as a community activist—a peace activist. Her renowned contributions to civic poetry are a vital part of her work, however she is also engaged in mediation, and she has made critical contributions in her work as a civil rights activist—our interview takes place on the day after she has participated in the Women’s March in Los Angeles. Millions of women participated in cities all over the world. “It was one of the most glorious days—you knew you were sharing in a historic moment.” Her life-long activism has been inspired by her family and community.

“We hold in common a dream of harmony. What binds our hearts is our hope for peace and our vision of a shared humanity.” –SKR in The Task of Our Time.

Early Life and Work

Sojourner was born in Marion, North Carolina, and, from age five, lived with her grandmother who was active in their church and in the community. With a deepened appreciation of African-American history, she added “Sojourner’ (after suffragist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth)) to her name at age 30. The influence of her family, especially her grandmother’s influence as an community leader continues in her life today. “I attended a segregated school in North Carolina during the fifties. My early memory is of not starting first grade on time because my grandmother and others were boycotting the school until the school board fired the principal. For the most part, my family protected me from face–to-face encounters with racism. Nevertheless, it was unavoidable. I've written about some of these encounters in my story subtitled, ‘Growing Up Colored in the Segregated South.’”

Her experience with poetry began at a young age. “At one assembly, like a talent show, my grandmother urged me to recitea poem I knew by heart.. .I was five years old.   At my church, as well,  I would regularly hear and recite a poem to the congregation. Most of the Black schools taught Speech and were famous for oratory competitions.  In eighth grade, she participated in her first oratory competition at a regional Sunday School convention. “I recited from memory,  ‘On Democracy’  by Arnold J. Toynbee. I didn’t win but I did give my speech!”  

It was also in eighth grade that she had the lead in the class play.

Sojourner carries her southern culture with her. It is a way of viewing the world. “When I meet other southerners we have many common references, including references from the bible and folklore.”

Her growing up years included time with her mother in New York as well as time with her father abroad. I grew up in a military family. From first to eighth grade I lived with my grandmother in Marion. In ninth and tenth grade , I lived with my aunt’s family in Fort Bragg and I went to E.E. Smith High School . Then I moved with my dad and his new family to Germany where I graduated from Munich American High School. 

“Living overseas, we read magazines like Ebony and Jet to try and keep up with what was happening ‘‘back in the world’,’ as we called the states. It was in a photo on the cover of Jet that I recognized a guy from E.E. Smith sitting-in at the Woolworth’s\lunch counter in Greensboro.   I thought, ‘ that’s what I’d be doing if I were home.’ I wanted to be a part of the movement against segregation and discrimination. My grandmother had set that example for me.”

Now iconic photos and film footage depict the sit-ins of African American students who protested ‘Whites only’ policies by sitting at Woolworth stores’ lunch counters. The first sit-in took place in Greensboro, attracting a storm of national media attention, and was replicated by students and others throughout the south, resulting in the store changing its policies, as well as many other institutions. The impact of the Greensboro sit-ins contributed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Other historic events made an impression on Sojourner as a young woman, such as the murder of Emmett Till, the 1963 March on Washington , and the bombing of the the Birmingham Baptist Church, to name a few.  “I was also influenced by Charlayne Hunter-Gault—hers is a famous civil rights struggle. She integrated the School of Journalism at the University of Georgia as one of the first two black students to attend.” Decades later,  Sojourner interviewed the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist on her local public access show, "Outrageous Women”.

“To me, I didn’t see much future in the south in our little town (now our town has grown.) I embrace it. I was on the train to New York on my 18th birthday. A few months later, I got a job at the New York Public Library, where I worked with many college students. They encouraged me to continue my education.” 

In the late 1960s she moved to D.C. and worked for as a receptionistat a radio station. She was working there when Martin Luther King was killed.  That experience became a subject for one of her plays.  That experience also led her to volunteer for the Poor People's Campaign. Moving back to Brooklyn, she later worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a staff member. “From that time on, I feel that I was on the path for the lifelong struggle for civil rights. My grandmother had set that example for me.” She continues today as a board member of the local Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.

After 30 years in the military, Sojourner’s father retired to start a business in their hometown. She moved to North Carolina to help him and to eventually attend UNC Charlotte. She had become involved in the children’s rights movement and majored in criminal justice with an emphasis on juvenile delinquency. Her intention was to attend law school and wasaccepted at UC Berkeley.

“In law school, I was disappointed with the world of legal practice, and even asked for a leave of absence to consider my future.  My Dean told me, “you need to decide whether you want to be a crusader or a lawyer.” She eventually chose poetry and peacemaking. Subsequently, Sojourner worked for 20 years with City At Peace, a theatre group that specialized in the arts and conflict resolution.

“A friend invited me to read a poem for her college graduation.” This resurrected her lifelong journey into poetry and marked her emergence into public expression. “Now I call myself a public poet.”

Song of Place

A part of Sojourner’s living legacy during the past two decades is her gift to young poets through the Song of Place Poetry Project. Her work has included teaching poetry in the schools and she has inspired a multitude of young poets to share their worlds. She invites poets of all ages to write about their surroundings and has emphasized that. She considers herself a poet of place. “Place is the backdrop for every poem or story and informs both the exposition and the narrative.”  

To experience Sojourner’s wit and wisdom, catch her at a poetry reading, check-out her Facebook page and find her on the world wide web, or go to the library or bookstore and immerse yourself in her songs of place found in her celebrated books. You may be inspired to write a poem yourself!

--Katherine Bradford

Where the Hum Begins

 

I am in a place
where water rolls across the stones
rippling in ranges
too high for human tones to mimic

It is a place
where mountains loom over land
so low it is almost level with the sea

In the distance
I can hear water falling fast
from a high plateau
brushing the slope of the solid earth
at sharp angles, diving
into the flow
where it falls, a continuous splash issues

It is at this place I dwell
between calm and tumoil,
between yang and yin
between memory and amnesia

between today and tomorrow
between sate and want

In the magic hour
when the tide changes
In the right moment
where each second becomes the next
in the pull of the moon
while the water ebbs and flows

In this place, I stand
on land rocky like a river
land where boulders abide
deep within the soil

It is a place of peace
even as on the billowing sea
 
--Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

Erik and Hans Gregersen

“I feel people will adapt to the changes taking place. Hirschman’s principle of the ‘Hiding Hand’ applies here: We tend to underestimate the emerging issues, but we also underestimate our ability to resolve the issues. ”
— Hans Gregersen
Erik and Hans Gregersen, Mixed Media Triptych, 24x42

Erik and Hans Gregersen, Mixed Media Triptych, 24x42

Originally from Denmark, Jens Gregersen was one of Solvang’s founders. As a pastor, he helped to establish the town’s first Lutheran Church. Little did he know that his American grandsons would return to Denmark as children, travel the globe for work, and finally settle on the family ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

Brothers Erik and Hans Gregersen always knew that they would someday return to the valley. Having worked around the world, Hans reflects, “The Santa Ynez Valley is the best place to live; the people here are wonderful and the scenery is gorgeous.” 

 

EARLY LIFE AND CAREERS

Their father was a petroleum geologist who was involved in the discovery of the Cuyama oil fields. Their mother was one of the first women to obtain a Ph.D. at Yale, and later worked as a librarian at the Huntington Library. Immediately after World War II ended, Gulf Oil was looking for a U.S. trained geologist to manage its oil and gas exploration program in Scandinavia. Their father was picked to do this job and they moved to Denmark in August, 1945. As schoolchildren in Denmark, Erik and Hans became fluent in Danish and enjoyed Danish holiday traditions, food and music. This was the beginning of their global perspective. Living in a country recovering from the ravages of WWII gave them a unique experience, not only to appreciate their American heritage but to continue to grow as universal citizens. After returning to the U.S. for high school and college, they each embarked on careers that took them abroad again. 

Erik studied engineering and business, earning an MBA from Harvard. He spent 15 years in various management assignments with  FMC Corporation, which specialized in commercial machinery related to the food and agricultural industries. He worked in the U.S., England, and South Africa. With this background, he and a friend from England started a produce labeling business after acquiring manufacturing and marketing rights to the patented labeling system that was invented in Ventura. “We had 85% of the market worldwide.” After a 30 year career in the food and agricultural machinery industry, he chose to return to the family ranch in 1997.

Younger brother, Hans, studied forestry, social sciences, and economics, earning a Ph.D. in Economics of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan. While still in graduate school, he began working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. As a professor at the University of Minnesota, he developed a program in international natural resources policy and continued lifelong work with the UN, the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, and many other international groups. After early retirement from the Universityin 2000, he served on the Science Council and headed the impact assessment Unit of the World Bank-chaired Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).   “The CGIAR is a major entity that does agricultural and natural resources research to benefit the less developed countries and the poor around the world. It has centers all over the world.  I visited and worked with all of them, including centers in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Syria, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and other countries. The centers have made and continue to make major contributions to global agriculture, food security and natural resources management and conservation.”  Erik and Hans exemplify what it means to be global citizens. “You learn how to deal with different kinds of people, with different languages, cultures and customs,” observes Hans. 

Reflections on the Santa Ynez Valley 

Changes in recent decades include growth of the wine industry and commercial development by the Chumash tribe. Hans reflects, “There were no vineyards in the early days; cattle ranches are less common now and the cost of land is high. Normal young people can’t afford to purchase land here anymore.” 

The Gregersen brothers retired from their highly successful careers and moved with their wives to Solvang where they enjoy their families and grandchildren who live both locally and farther afield. It is interesting to note that both of these men made their careers in agriculture and land management. These are the same motivators that brought a large group of immigrants from Denmark to the U.S. and eventually Solvang. Although their career paths deal with agriculture and land management at the international level, land is still a resource that plays a significant role in their lives today. Their respective industries (agriculture and land management) have new millennial challenges. The cost of land and availability of water threaten agriculture as development outpaces the economic return from growing food and availability of water.

Erik and Hans have a “world” of experience between them and continue to use their knowledge both in service of their immediate community and the global community. They are heavily involved with improving the quality of life locally and globally.  Today, Erik runs the ranch and is involved with non-profits, including the Elverhoj Museum, “I’m passionate about preserving the history of the Danish community.” He is also active with The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and the California Rangeland Trust. “Our grandparents had 2200 acres, cattle and also beans and barely. When they passed, there were too many heirs and taxes soour parents’ generation was forced to sell. If we had the ability [at that time] to put a conservation easement on it we could have kept it together. That’s what The Land Trust allows.”

Hans continues to work with various groups on deforestation and global forest policies, and is currently working on global forestry contributions to the new UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. When asked about the challenges facing the Santa Ynez Valley, Hans reflects, “I feel people will adapt to the changes taking place. Hirschman’s principle of the ‘Hiding Hand’ applies here:  We tend to underestimate the emerging issues, but we also underestimate our ability to resolve the issues.  ”

 

By Katherine Bradford

 

ElseMarie Lund Petersen

I didn’t have to change when I came here. I think California allows you to be who you are.
— ElseMarie Lund Petersen
ElseMarie Lund Petersen, oil on canvas 18x24 by Holli Harmon

ElseMarie Lund Petersen, oil on canvas 18x24 by Holli Harmon

ElseMarie Petersen

ElseMarie came to Solvang as a tourist from Denmark in 1987. On that trip she met Aaron Petersen, who she married one year later. Aaron’s family has deep roots in the Santa Ynez Valley. Together they have raised four children there and have built several successful businesses, including Chomp and the Greenhouse Cafe. "We like to eat dinner together as a family but sometimes it's hard when you run two restaurants."

When their children were young, ElseMarie and Aaron made time for extended travel in Europe. They spent two months each in Denmark, France and Italy, and the children gained an appreciation for their own family history as well as for other cultures. They learned new languages and skills that have been useful in their lives and professions.

Growing up in Denmark, ElseMarie heard many stories about Solvang from her father who participated in a farm exchange program; he worked for two years on an Alamo Pintado property in the 1950s. They discovered her mother had relatives in Solvang when her family first visited Solvang together when she was a teenager.

Reflecting on the differences in life between Denmark and Solvang, she observes, “Denmark is a little more traditional. You always wish you could slow things down here. We had dinners that lasted until 1 or 2 a.m. Here, people leave at 9:30 or 10:30.” ElseMarie remembers long dinners and chatting with friends in the kitchen; after the dishes were done, conversations would continue over dessert long into the night.

In addition to working with her family's business, ElseMarie has recently become the manager of Copenhagen House. She is passionate about Danish design. "Danish architecture and designs are used all over the world." The Lego Group, Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chairs, and Louis Poulsen lighting designs are all examples of a Danish aesthetic that focuses on functional design and clean lines. This aesthetic was influenced by the Bauhaus school and extended to building design as well as furniture. Famous examples of Danish design in modern architecture are the Copenhagen Opera House and Sydney Opera House.

ElseMarie notes, "In Danish houses, the walls are often white; maybe this is because it is often dark or rainy outside. Danes have a fondness for hyggeligt; the translation to English is like coziness indoors." This is sometimes described as a feeling of conviviality, such as that found in fireside chats or over a shared meal. She observes that here in Solvang her family likes to spend time outdoors too. She is also a road cyclist and observes, "The Santa Ynez Valley is the most beautiful place," a sentiment echoed by all of our Portrait subjects that call the SYV home.

Thinking back to her first memories of Solvang in the seventies, she remembers, "There wasn't as much tourism.” Although most visitors come from southern California, Solvang is known around the world, and has over a million visitors each year. Many of the towns of the central coast depend on tourism as an industry. “Even though there's more traffic now we embrace tourism but we still have a small town feel. We have a lot of families here; people are involved in their children's lives. There is a nice sense of community.”

She shares pride in her adopted hometown of Solvang and the organizations that work to promote Danish culture in our region, such as the Danish Sisterhood. "I didn't have to change when I came here. I think California allows you to be who you are."

To experience Danish culture close to home, from learning about pioneers in the valley to sampling delectable baked goods, fine beers and savory meals to demonstrations of artisanal crafts, music and dance, visit Solvang during Danish Days, or anytime!

 

 By Katherine Bradford

Mike Lopez & Kathleen Marshall

 

Samala Chumash Siblings, Santa Ynez Valley

"Now we can give back."
Portrait of Mike Lopez, oil on canvas, 36x36

Portrait of Mike Lopez, oil on canvas, 36x36

Portrait of Kathleen Marshall, oil on canvas, 36x36

Portrait of Kathleen Marshall, oil on canvas, 36x36

 “In our native language, we are called Samala.” The Santa Ynez Valley is home to the Samala people, historically known as the Ineseño Chumash. Siblings Kathleen Marshall and Mike Lopez are leaders in the Samala community. In their personal stories, we can glimpse the development of the modern Samala in terms of economic prosperity and cultural renewal. Kathleen is a gaming commissioner and a credentialed teacher of the Samala language -- she carries the stories and traditions that are central to Samala history and identity. Her brother Mike serves as a business committee member.

 Their family has always been part of the Santa Ynez Valley. Their ancestral villages include Kalawshaq, which was located near the current reservation, and Soxtonokmu, on Figueroa Mountain. Their great-great-great-great grandmother was Maria Solares, who worked with anthropologist J.P. Harrington to record the Samala language, including many stories and the names of village sites.

The stories many of us tell may be meaningful to our friends, and perhaps to our children. It is inspiring to think that the stories and language of Maria Solares, recorded so long ago, continue to resonate in the community of her descendents.

Kathleen and Mike have warm memories of visiting their grandfather's house on the Santa Ynez Chumash reservation. "We were here all the time; we'd play in the riverbed and eat meals together." They participated in many cultural events at the old tribal hall and made frequent field trips to Zaca Lake, a place that is central to many Chumash stories.

"Our house was built next to my grandfather's house." Kathleen and Mike were raised on the reservation during the 1970s. Their memories include challenges as well. Like other families on the reservation, they experienced poverty and racial discrimination.

During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Samala language was nearly lost. Natives were told to assimilate, to fit in, not only by outsiders but often by their own family members. Many natives were sent to boarding schools where they were forbidden speak their own languages. With cultural renewal movements in the 1960s to regain tribal rights, many Indian communities made inroads into improving conditions for their communities. In today’s generation, appreciation of cultural diversity continues to increase, but there is still a lot of education that needs to take place.

For the Samala people, economic conditions improved with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which recognized tribal sovereignty and allowed gaming on federally recognized reservations. The Chumash Casino was established in 1994, and expanded into a new facility with an entertainment complex in 2003.  Resort operations also include the Hotel Corque and several restaurants. Revenue generated from the casino and related enterprises has helped the Samala people grow their business interests, and in turn they are also able to give back to the community.

“We’re an economic leader; we give to places that helped us, now we help them,” Mike observes. The tribe supports dozens of causes in the community including Cottage Hospital and the Unity Shoppe. Gaming revenue also helps to support education efforts, including Kathleen’s work to sustain traditional culture.

Kathleen has studied the Samala language and is now credentialed to teach the language. “A group of us began working with linguist Dr. Richard Applegate several years ago. He helped us to learn our language.” In turn, Kathleen is bringing the language and traditions to a new generation, and uses Samala with her own children at meals.

“We also have Camp Kalawshaq which is held every summer for tribal children. The tribe holds language and culture classes for their youth twice a week.” Kathleen enjoys teaching non-native kids too, “Some of them think we live in teepees.” She also serves on the museum advisory committee. The tribe is in the process of designing a museum to share their culture.

Cultural pride extends to community events and ceremonies. The tribe sponsors an inter-tribal pow-wow each year, which is attended by Indians and others from all over the country, and Chumash Culture Days, which provides an opportunity for Santa Barbara area neighbors to become more familiar with the Chumash and other California natives. Among the highlights of the year are preparations for the tomol crossing; the rowing of a traditional plank canoe to Santa Cruz Island.

 “We’re a big family; some people are involved in education, business, investments…,” shares Mike. There is also an environmental and sustainability council. When asked what is unique about their community, Kathleen and Mike both mention the land. Zanja de Cota Creek runs through the middle of the reservation and is a constant reminder of their connection to the land. At the head of the creek is a spring near which the old village was located; it is called Kasaqunpeq’en (where it stops).

Chumash heritage today includes the legacies that people like Kathleen and Mike are building, from the classroom to the boardroom. Kathleen and Mike are representative of the modern Samala. They are each working hard to ensure the economic vitality of their community and the continuity of Samala traditions.