It's Time for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary
My dad introduced me to the ocean. When I was too young to swim, he had me hold on to his back, and he would swim way out past the breakers… so that I knew what it meant to be with the ocean because we are Ocean People. -- Pilulaw Khus, Chumash Elder
Chumash people have inhabited California's Central Coast region over 20,000 years, stewarding our ancestral waters. For the last 40 years, Chumash leaders and allies have fought to protect the extraordinary cultural and natural values of our home against new and harmful industrial development. President Biden now has an opportunity to honor this history by moving forward with the designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. He should act now.
"With plentiful oil and natural gas reserves located offshore, the area remains at high risk of future fossil fuel development and devastating oil spills like the one recently occurred right off of Southern California."
The proposed Sanctuary along the shores of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties would cover 140 scenic and culturally significant miles, and extend into the ocean -- to the edge of the outer continental shelf -- where ocean waters cover submerged Chumash villages and cultural heritage sites to this day. From estuaries, kelp forests, and deep water submarine canyons to undersea mountains, rocky reefs, and sandy beaches -- the Central Coast's diverse habitats support endangered whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals, swordfish, seabirds, shorebirds, and so much more. This place, along with its waters and wildlife, has deep cultural significance to Chumash peoples and our ancestors who came before us.
Convention on Biological Diversity: The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, July 9, 2021.
Center for Western Priorities: Why America must protect 30x30 (w/ Sen. Tom Udall, Dr. Enric Sala), June 18, 2020.
With plentiful oil and natural gas reserves located offshore, the area remains at high risk of future fossil fuel development and devastating oil spills like the recent one in Southern California. At the southern end of the proposed Sanctuary is Point Conception -- Humqaq to the Chumash peoples -- our "Western Gate" and one of our most sacred sites, as it is believed to be the doorway to the afterlife. We consider ourselves guardians of the point, battling to safeguard it since before I was born. In the 1970's, Chumash Elder Pilulaw Khus was one of several leaders to occupy the area in protest of a development of a massive gas refinery, ultimately and successfully preventing the project. Establishing the National Marine Sanctuary would ensure protection of our sacred lands, waters, and heritage sites by providing ecosystem-based management of the area, foreclosing new oil and gas development while allowing for clean renewable energy from carefully sited offshore wind farms.
"Chumash culture -- like indigenous cultures throughout the world -- respects linkages between the past and future, and recognizes that each person's path has an integral connection to those who have come before and those yet to come."
The proposed Chumash Heritage Sanctuary exemplifies the principles laid out in the Biden Administration's May 2021 Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful report, which recommends the support of locally led and designed conservation efforts; honoring tribal sovereignty; and providing support for tribal nation priorities. Additionally, the Sanctuary would bolster efforts to protect thirty percent of land and ocean by the year 2030 (an effort often referred to as 30x30).
Chumash culture -- like indigenous cultures throughout the world -- respects linkages between the past and future, and recognizes that each person's path has an integral connection to those who have come before and those yet to come. A year ago this month, Pilulaw passed into Spirit. Just a few short weeks ago on October 1st, my father, Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairman Fred Collins, followed. These elders spent their lifetimes in advocacy for environmental justice and the protection of lands and water sacred to the Chumash people. While I wish Pilulaw and my father were still here to see their work come to fruition, I have pledged to continue their legacy. I look forward to President Biden following through, designating this sacred coast, and celebrating a new national marine sanctuary that honors the legacy of all Tribal elders who fought so hard and long -- a sanctuary that will serve as a much needed beacon of hope for the future.