Reconnecting to the natural world through Chumash village

A sunrise ceremony and blessing took place Nov. 16 at Nicholas Canyon beach to bless the commencement of construction of a Chumash demonstration village and interpretive center.

A “living” Chumash demonstration village will be constructed at Nicholas Canyon county beach where people can learn about Chumash culture and the people’s connection to the environment.

By Greg Sidor / Special to The Malibu Times

For many, Native American culture may not come to mind when they think of Malibu, but an enterprising nonprofit foundation is aiming to change that.

Ventura-based Wishtoyo Foundation held a sunrise ceremony last week to celebrate the start of work on a Chumash demonstration village. Actor Beau Bridges, whose family has a home in Malibu and who has been a longtime Wishtoyo Foundation board member, attended the ceremony Nov. 16.

The Nicholas Canyon county beach site is set to be transformed into a working village, complete with people who trace their roots back to the Chumash, who called the area home before Europeans arrived.

Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo’s founder and executive director, said the foundation hopes to provide visitors with a place they can learn about Chumash culture and the people’s connection to the environment.

“We’ve evolved into a technology world,” said Waiya, who is a ceremonial leader and descendant of the Santa Clara River Valley Chumash Turtle Clan.

He said he hopes to reconnect people with the natural world that they still depend on so much, sometimes without even realizing it.

“We’re blind to the fact that these things aren’t there to have everything you want,” Waiya said. “The message is connection to resources, the environment and people.”

Eight prehistoric Chumash archaeological sites were found within a half-mile of the village project and artifacts were also discovered throughout the area after the Wishtoyo Foundation commissioned a literature review and archaeological assessment of the village site. Prehistoric artifacts and burials indicate that the Chumash occupied the area as early as 4000 to 6000 B.C.

The scenery has changed, however, and work now must be done to transform it into a living example of native culture in the California of the past.

To that end, Wishtoyo is restoring Nicholas Canyon Creek by removing invasive, nonnative plants and replacing them with indigenous greenery. The project is being done in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which owns the site.

The group plans on building 10 aps, or dwellings, using traditional methods and materials such as tule, a reed. There will also be tomols (Chumash canoes) and demonstrations of basket and bead making.

Seeing people produce things by hand from the natural world is part of the overall theme, Waiya said.

The objects aren’t a “dime a dozen,” because each “has meaning and spirit because you took the time to do it” by hand, he said.

The site itself will provide solace and inspiration to visitors, Waiya said. It’s a place where people can “enjoy a time and place and peace,” he added.

When completed, school groups and the public will be able to explore the village and hear speakers talk about their cultural values and what makes them distinct. Tours will explain a typical day in a Chumash village, and ceremonial leaders, through song, dance and storytelling, will explain the Native American’s reliance upon and respect for the natural surroundings. Solstice and other celebrations will be marked by special ceremonies done in the ancient way of the Chumash and performed by Dolphin Dancers from the Santa Clara Valley River Chumash Turtle Clan.

The village is set to open in 2007, and natives from Hawaii, who are related to the Chumash will be making a trip to the West Coast from their home island to visit the site.

The project has received funding from various sources, including the state, environmental groups and the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians. Waiya hopes that Malibu residents will help out as well.

“My dream is a lot of people living where our ancestors lived will be generous,” he said. “People in Malibu can make it happen. Everybody’s going to benefit.”