Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: The Chumash of California

The Chumash of California: The Library of Native Americans, Jack S. Williams, The Rosen Publishing Group Power Kids Press, New York, NY, 2002
The Chumash inhabited the coastal areas of California, around Santa Barbara.  They also inhabited the Channel Islands.  The different clans spoke the same language, and had similar customs, but were also their own groups with different accents and some unique traits.  The story, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” is likely about such a group of Native Americans, and how most of the people were evacuated to a mission, with a couple of children left behind.  This is how it was for many of the Chumash.  For many years they had lived in this area, they had developed an ocean going canoe, they took food from the sea and land.  Their dwellings looked like big straw stacks, they made a frame of wood, and then this was covered with bulrushes.  They would weave mats with which to cover the framework of poles and were able to make a rain-tight dwelling.  They left a hold in the center for smoke to escape, which they would cover during the rain.  Their artwork included rock art in caves.  The fashioned fish hooks from abalone.
As the Spanish mission system arrived, many Chumash became involved with the missions.  Building four or five missions in the area including Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Buenaventura and La Purisima.  The native Americans were divided on their acceptance of the missions.  Things took a turn for the worse when Mexico gained its independence.  The Mexican government was no long interested in the mission program and the missions were secularized.  Many Mexican coveted the property and homes of the Chumash.  The property rights of the Chumash were ignored.  There was a battle, which was not joined by enough of the Chumash to gain victory.  Many of the Chumash ran to the mountains, were killed, or mixed with the local population.  Things did not improve when the United States conquered the area.  In fact, the police of the United States and California was to exterminate the Native Americans. 
It took several years for the Americans to begin to accept native Americans.  In 1924 all Native Americans were granted citizenship.  There are about 1500 Chumash in the Santa Barbara area.  There is a reservation, Santa Ynes with 350 residents.

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