The early inhabitants of the Channel Islands were caught off guard when Cabrillo and his soldier/sailors with their strange language, and conquistador costumes suddenly sailed into their lives on tall imposing ships. But that didn’t keep the Chumash from being good hosts. The two cultures got along for a while.
Cabrillo was on a quest for gold and glory. He brought God, pathogens and genetic material from Spain and Portugal to share with his hosts.
In 1543, only one year into his California expedition, Cabrillo slipped on a wet rock on San Miguel Island. He may have been weak from scurvy or involved in a skirmish. His right arm hit hard when he fell. Gangrene developed. He died a short while later. He found glory. Don’t judge him too harshly for the culture shock he brought to the innocent islanders. Had he not found California someone else probably would have. Now less than 500 years later California is the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world.
The damage caused by first contact with the Spanish had little effect on the Chumash or it was tragic, depending on who you listen to. There is much less argument when it comes to the harm done by the missionaries.
Mission creep and Black Mustard came to dominate the landscape along the Camino Real in the late 1760’s. Native people and plants were displaced.
“By 1769 the Mission system was established. Livestock, especially cattle, introduced diseases the Native population just did not have any defense against.” Our speaker, Mr. Salazar, did not have anything good to say about the Missions. “It was slave labor.”
The mustard was green with yellow flowers that resemble a cross; hence the Latin name, Cruciferae. The seeds are black, like the plague.
“People died in those Missions on a large-scale.” Mr. Salazar recommended a book An American Genocide, by Benjamin Madley. “It’s a very hard read. I usually can only read five pages at a time.”
The Missions had a use for the Chumash and many other tribes in California at the time. The first Governor of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett, however did not have any use for the Native population. “He pledged to eliminate Indians from the State. Government paid a bounty on our people. Five or ten dollars for proof of a slain Native; man, woman or child. In 1830 there were about 140,000 Indians in California, but by the time of statehood that number was cut to 20,000.”
“Remembering heritage or culture, ceremonies, language or any reference to our ancestral past was frowned upon, punished, prohibited throughout the land, and it was even more oppressive at the Missions.”
“The use of labels can be a very effective device for dehumanizing humans.” Myths can be used to manipulate emotions, color perception, tolerate immoral behavior. “We were called savages, war-like and cannibals.”
The rain let up. We all went out to breathe fresh air. Recently blackened chaparral and new green sprouts told the stories of the fire and rain.
We hiked up a small canyon and heard the story of Coyote and Lizard, which explains why our hands are like the thoughtful lizard who has the dexterity to perform delicate tasks, not like Coyote who is full of himself but limited in his ability to clean his nose.
“There was this one guy who kept saying, ‘You people were cannibals, right?’ and I said no! He said, ‘Back in the day, you used to be cannibals!’ No, never, did not happen. ‘But I heard…’ No history, no stories. Never part of our heritage. ‘Come on, you can admit it!’ So, I invited him for dinner, as I checked the meat on his shoulder.” Mr. Salazar was smiling, holding his pointed toyon walking stick up high, like it was proof of a deep truth.
Then Paul from Boeing said, “That reminds me of people who insist that we used to launch rockets from up here. I tell them we tested rocket engines, never launched anything. But they keep insisting. I used to hear them. No, no launches ever. But…some people just won’t let it go. Their minds are made up.”
We walked back to the conference room. Tribal Elder Alan Salazar talked about native plants, development, love of the natural world, and how important it is to protect it, especially with the latest assault…climate change.