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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 6:28 pm | Mostly Cloudy 64º


Ron Fink: Is Opposition to Chumash Annexation Racism?

The Chumash History website tells us: “Our people (the Chumash) once numbered in the tens of thousands and lived along the coast of California. At one time, our territory encompassed 7,000 square miles that spanned from the beaches of Malibu to Paso Robles. The tribe also inhabited inland to the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley.”

In 1901, their population, significantly reduced by disease, was “given” a small reservation to live on in Santa Ynez by the government. This small patch of arid, untillable land was difficult to live on with no running water or electricity.

For generations, the Chumash have been given the dirty end of the totem pole when they have tried to negotiate with the governing authority. But the band survived and ultimately developed their property into the prosperous business that exists there today.

Some people object to their success.

In 1901, the Santa Ynez Valley was decidedly rural with large ranches and small town sites punctuating the landscape. Today, it is a much different situation with the land having been subdivided into large parcels for the horse ranches and getaways for the rich and famous.

The water to nurture this valley was systematically confiscated by the elite class in Santa Barbara but it hasn’t stopped development.

The town sites have grown and are now occupied by folks who seek to escape from the big city. However, in the process, they have created development that is rapidly exceeding the capacity of the local infrastructure system (roads, water, etc.).

The Chumash wanted some space to create their own getaways; so, they bought the 1,390-acre so-called “Camp 4” property. The previous owner also wished to develop the property into ranchettes but Santa Barbara County placed so many obstructions in the way of his proposal that his estate finally sold the property.

The tribe started discussing the potential to develop their property with the county several years ago, and met with stiff resistance. No matter how many concessions they made, it was never enough.

Local activists, fueled by cash from those who live on subdivided properties in the valley, vowed to fight the tribe tooth-and-nail with frivolous lawsuits and by applying pressure on elected officials.

This seems hypocritical to me: Why would people who live on land that once was the hunting grounds and supported the agricultural needs of the tribe object to allowing them to build houses just like they live in on land the tribe bought back?

If this were another ethnic group, would this same group of obstructionists claim the complainers were racist by showing a “feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races” and by denying the historical right of the tribe to use land their ancestors originally settled?

I don’t think this same group of folks would tolerate that level of insensitivity to other segments of the population. Maybe they watched too many cowboy movies of the 1950s and '60s to appreciate the contributions Indian tribes have made to the fabric of America and Santa Barbara County.

For a while this strategy worked, but the tribe had another plan. In a Noozhawk story on Jan. 25, reporter Brooke Holland writes: “The tribe began the steps of placing the land into federal trust by taking the administrative route in 2010, shortly after it purchased the land from the Fess Parker estate.”

Now, seven years later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs finally affirmed the tribe's request to annex the property into their reservation. I can only guess that local activists are furious because now the tribe can move ahead with development plans without county approval, otherwise known as “interference.”

In typical obstructionist fashion, the Board of Supervisors voted to support a challenge to the BIA decision. I was surprised to find out that 4th Dist. Supervisor Peter Adam, who is usually a property-rights advocate, supported this action.

This seems like a waste of time and money; the BIA is the government agency whose mission it is to enhance the quality of life and promote economic stability for Indian tribes. It seems the BIA is fulfilling its mission with this decision.

It is time for Santa Barbara County and those who have spent many thousands of dollars to obstruct and resist the Chumash to realize they cannot win this battle. The tribe has fought off disease and an oppressive government for generations, and they don’t give up.

In the end, the Chumash will build their long-deserved dream village and continue to prosper on reservation land once thought to be useless.


— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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