Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

November 27, 2011

Bookshelf: A California Chumash Woman

By Brenda Norrell

Censored News

The ways of living life in balance with the earth, along with the 1978 occupation of Point Conception in California and a chapter on Nuclear Energy in Native America, are shared in a new book, Earth Wisdom, A California Chumash Woman, by Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez and Pilulaw Khus.

Now, as Indigenous Peoples around the world gather in Durban, South Africa, at the UN climate summit COP 17, the book offers insights into the struggles of the Chumash occupations, while sharing the guiding wisdom which is at the foundation of the global movement to protect Mother Earth and live lives in harmony with the earth.

"We are all spirit beings masquerading as physical beings right now," says Khus, Chumash activist, in the chapter on Chumash Resurgence, which documents the struggles in the 1970s to save sacred lands and burial places.

Located north of Santa Barbara, Chumash call Point Conception, "The Western Gate." It is an entry way into the spirit world, of those who have gone on to the spirit world.

Discussing the Chumash Resurgence, Khus' narrative details why it is important to protect these lands and its creatures. "Baby pronghorns are amazing because they can completely disappear. People who are knowledgeable and very accustomed to being around pronghorns and other animals have told me that they have walked right by a baby pronghorn and didn't even know it was there. The babies can disappear. They have to have that ability, but they also have to have the grasses growing at a certain height in order to be able to hide."

In the chapter Indigeneity and Earth, there is more on keeping the earth in balance.

"Our stories talk about how the mountains here in Chumash country came into existence. They talk about how the rivers came into existence. These things are sung about. They're told about. And this is our relationship. This is how we know what is our area."

Development gets in the way of those natural rhythms, and even the flow of weather patterns.

"The Indigenous people carry a lot of these life wisdoms with them. We carry instructions concerning our responsibility to this land. We have these understandings. But most of all, we have directions from Spirit that we carry within each cell of our being, each cell our flesh, our blood, our bones, our minds, and our eyes and ears."

In closing, Khus speaks about carriers of medicine. She describes how colonization and the choices that individuals make, in regards to living material lives as compared to spiritual lives, impacts the lives of medicine people.

"To carry medicine refers to a state of being within a person. It's a quality that the person has. If that quality is within a person, it is very important for that person to have certain teachings within their lives."

There is also this final passage, the words of Khus.

"The truth is that when I go into that next stage of my life, I will not be here in this physical form. But I will be here when the breezes blow, when the ocean birds and the songbirds fly and hunt, when the mammals run, when the plants grow, when the sea mammals swim. I will be here. I will always be here. I have always been. Hopefully, I will continue to live within your heart and your memories. That will create a channel of communication between us."

Earth Wisdom, A California Chumash Woman, is published by the University of Arizona Press, 2011.
From the publisher:

Pilulaw Khus has devoted her life to tribal, environmental, and human rights issues. With impressive candor and detail, she recounts those struggles here, offering a Native woman's perspective on California history and the production of knowledge about indigenous peoples. Readers interested in tribal history will find in her story a spiritual counterpoint to prevailing academic views on the complicated reemergence of a Chumash identity. Readers interested in environmental studies will find vital eyewitness accounts of movements to safeguard important sites like Painted Rock and San Simeon Point from developers. Readers interested in indigenous storytelling will find Chumash origin tales and oral history as recounted by a gifted storyteller. 

The 1978 Point Conception Occupation was a turning point in Pilulaw Khus's life. In that year excavation began for a new natural gas facility at Point Conception, near Santa Barbara, California. To the Chumash tribal people of the central California coast, this was desecration of sacred land. In the Chumash cosmology, it was the site of the Western Gate, a passageway for spirits to enter the next world. Frustrated by unfavorable court hearings, the Chumash and their allies mobilized a year-long occupation of the disputed site, eventually forcing the energy company to abandon its plan. The Point Conception Occupation was a landmark event in the cultural revitalization of the Chumash people and a turning point in the life of Pilulaw Khus, the Chumash activist and medicine woman whose firsthand narrations comprise this volume. 

Scholar Yolanda Broyles-Gonz├ílez provides an extensive introductory analysis of Khus's narrative. Her analysis explores "re-Indianization" and highlights the newly emergent Chumash research of the last decade. 

In the world of book publishing, this volume from a traditional Chumash woman elder is a first. It puts a 20th (and 21st) century face, name, identity, humanity, personality, and living voice on the term Chumash.

Dr. Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez is professor in the Mexican American and Raza Studies Department at the University of Arizona. She legally challenged the unequal payment of women and minority professors within the University of California in 1996. She was honored at the White House for the struggle of equal pay for women in 1998.

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