One definition of culture, though hardly complete, states that culture is the care and cultivation of creativity. Culture is a bond between the living and the dead. Modern Chumash Dark Water Paddlers are performing more than a physical feat of cultural significance, they are showing that it’s possible to revitalize culture.
Paul bolted into the conference room like he was being chased by the wind. Four rectangular pink boxes were balanced on his left arm. We could hear the rain whenever the door opened. With hot coffee in a paper cup and a plain old-fashioned donut on a napkin in front of me I felt fortified against the weather and at ease with a room full of people I mostly did not know. A few familiar faces smiled, nodded.
This morning’s lecture, “Native Americans in the Santa Susanas,” is the first of twelve in a series called, “Simi Hills Naturalist/Hike Leader Training”. This is the fifth year of the program. I feel fortunate to be attending.
The organizing force behind these Saturday morning sessions is State Park Volunteer Elizabeth Harris, PhD. She has assembled educated, enthusiastic and, at times, humorous specialists in a variety of disciplines and subjects. Whatever the field, the speakers are emotionally invested.
Our hosts, Dr. Harris, the Boeing Company and Santa Susana State Historic Park make us feel like we deserve a donut.
Dr. Harris thanked Paul and Kamara, both from Boeing, for being gracious hosts, and the attendees for driving up Woolsey Canyon in the rain. Then she introduced our speaker, Chumash Tribal Elder Alan Salazar.
Mr. Salazar was born in 1951. At the age of six he ad his hair cut into a mohawk. “I was a wild and defiant little guy,” he tells us. His hair is now gray, or white, depending on the light. It falls to his shoulder blades when it’s not being lifted by the slightest breeze.
Mr. Salazar, a dark water paddler, explains to us what an honor (and challenge) it is to be part of something so symbolic of, and essential to, the Chumash maritime way of life; a cultural remnant from a vanished world. He introduced thunder and lightning.
“You know, a chief could be a woman. If a chief had two idiot sons and a smart daughter, then the daughter would be chief. Think about the Trumps.”
California was the most populated state before European contact. And the Channel Islands had the highest density of people living and thriving in California. “The Simi Hills, or Sky Valley, was important as a place to hunt and trade with other tribes and to observe the mysteries of the night sky. Winter and Summer Solstices were observed from special vantage points. The area was considered sacred.” A protected pictograph on NASA property bleeds light for a few minutes on the Winter Solstice.
The majority of Chumash villages from San Luis Obispo to Malibu, and the Channel Islands were within easy reach of good, plentiful seafood. The people of the Islands made shell bead money to trade for plants and larger animals not found on the Islands. Lobster and abalone feasts, warm sand and clear blue water, extended families and West Coast sunsets promised a way of life that would never end.
The beginning of the end began in 1542 when adventurer, explorer, conquistador Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo landed in San Diego. Using slave labor and sailors he built a 120-foot vessel called San Salvador. He sailed that ship up the coast of Alta California.
End of Part 2