Are prejudice and envy involved in the continuous assault on the Chumash and their casino in Santa Ynez? Probably. Are there legitimate issues between residents of the Santa Ynez Valley and the casino? Absolutely.
The Chumash have contributed millions of dollars to various charities and organizations in Santa Barbara County. How many other donors give that kind of money to local charities?
Is either side 100 percent right? Not really. Both are right and wrong.
Some important considerations come to mind about this unhappy situation:
From their perspective, the Chumash are tired of being abused. Government has treated Indians like second-class citizens for generations, while they have been robbed, cheated and ignored by an indifferent public. After finally achieving significant financial success, the Chumash perceive themselves continuing to be on the receiving end of disdain, now heightened by envy.
Doesn’t everyone want a business as profitable as the casino?
Meanwhile, Santa Ynez Valley residents now live with the behemoth of a facility on Highway 246 that is still opposed by many.
Unfortunately, suspicion has become an issue on both sides — perhaps the issue.
The Chumash apparently believe that the demands being made of them are more about prejudice, envy and money than anything else, that it’s primarily about others trying to extract dollars from them.
Considering the history of racism they have experienced for so many years, it’s understandable if they see dollar signs reflected in the eyes of their critics, while the opposition see themselves as trying to preserve the rural character of the valley and ensure that the Chumash pay for the impacts caused by their huge facility.
The dispute over the liquor license is a good example. After forcing the casino to accept the most restrictive limitations on its license in California’s history, opponents continue to appeal its approval every time it comes up for renewal.
It’s worth noting that the specific license involved was not new, but had existed in Solvang for many years. The casino merely bought it from a defunct restaurant and moved it to its location. Furthermore, a TV newscast reported that the casino only serves drinks to guests who order meals in its Willows restaurant. Somehow, this fact seems not to have penetrated the fog surrounding the argument over approval of the license.
The battle continues to rage back and forth, fueled by suspicion on both sides about the motives of the other.
While the conflict may make for interesting political theater, it is also a senseless waste of energy and resources.
Perhaps the protagonists should cool down and stop attacking one another — before the community becomes poisoned with a legacy of bitterness that may never go away. Is that what they want?
Frances Snyder, who was the tribe’s public relations director, wrote an article titled, “Santa Ynez: Charming or Chilling?” in which she related an experience that occurred when she was entering a local market. She was verbally assaulted by a man who was so threatening that she became frightened to the point of calling the Sheriff’s Department for help.
That should have been a wake-up call for all residents of the Santa Ynez Valley who are concerned about the ongoing strife over the Chumash casino.
What the casino’s opponents have managed to accomplish with their aggressive opposition is to create a schism in the community that has become a divide that cannot be bridged. It has poisoned relations between those on opposite sides of the issue. The increasing trend toward aggressive confrontation still exists and should concern everyone who lives and works in the Santa Ynez Valley.
At Santa Ynez Valley Union High School’s program to dedicate the new football stadium, which the Chumash made possible with a $3 million gift, Vincent Armenta was booed by some of the people in the audience. In addition, some of those in attendance threw the “spirit rags” the Chumash had provided to the ground, which had both the high school logo and the tribal seal on them.
Even in the face of such offensive behavior, the Chumash continue to support local charities and institutions.
Unfortunately, the community is still polarized by a group of activists, even after all these years.
At a recent meeting of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, a number of women attended and disrupted the meeting by continually interrupting the presentation to complain about the Chumash and the money the members of the tribe receive from the casino.
I have lived in the Santa Ynez Valley for almost 30 years, and I am troubled by the open hostility that often dominates relationships with the Chumash in the community.
Unfortunately, because of strident opposition, many people do not recognize that there is also a broad base of support for the Chumash and the casino among the general population. Many of the people I know and meet support them and think that their opponents are often unreasonable.
— Harris Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.