Wishtoyo Foundation dismisses LA Times Controversy

Mati Waiya

The Los Angeles Times published an article in December 2019 revealing controversies surrounding whether Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation founder Mati Waiya is actually of Native American—let alone Chumash—heritage. Wishtoyo Board of Directors President Carole Goldberg said the controversies surrounding Waiya’s identity will not affect or change Wishtoyo’s role in the Malibu community moving forward. 

The foundation runs an education center in Malibu, the Wishtoyo Chumash Village. Waiya has served as a representative of Chumash culture in the city, hosting events through his foundation, speaking at the Malibu Rotary Club and swearing in current Malibu City Council Member Rick Mullen.

Both Waiya and his wife Luhui Isha declined to be interviewed for this story, directing questions to Goldberg instead.

“The LA Times has reported on disputes within our Chumash community for decades. Many of them are blown out of proportion and taken out of context,” Goldberg told The Malibu Times via email. “The recent claims are being made by a small, non-representative subset of Chumash people who aren’t well-informed about Wishtoyo and its leaders, and who regularly dispute any cultural practices that differ from their own.”

Goldberg gave a similar statement to the LA Times, dismissing the Chumash that criticize Wishtoyo.

“Carole Goldberg called us a ‘subset.’ Well, what the hell does that mean?” Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, chairwoman of the local Chumash tribe known as the Barbareño/Ventureño band of Mission Indians, said, referring to the LA Times piece. “That’s the biggest disrespect from a non-Native person. It was amazing that she would say something like that and dismiss us that way.”

Tumamait-Stenslie is the daughter of the late Vincent (Beaver) Tumamait, a Chumash elder and spiritual leader known for helping revive Chumash culture in the region.

In response to the LA Times piece, Wishtoyo Board of Directors Chair Deborah Sanchez wrote a post on the Wishtoyo website titled “I am the expert.”

“Mati Waiya is Chumash. Who am I? How do I know? Because I am a community member. I am the expert. Not the anthropologist. Not the DNA professor. Although newspapers and others would lead you to believe that those others are the experts. They are not the experts. We are the experts. We are the community,” Sanchez wrote.

According to Tumamait-Stenslie, those with indigenous ancestry are not given the benefit of the doubt—they repeatedly need to prove their Native blood to the government and other institutions.

“People say that blood doesn’t matter,” Tumamait-Stenslie said. “All you people who don’t have to identify who you are say that. Yes, blood does matter.”

Tumamait-Stenslie said that she and her brother had to prove Native ancestry when applying for colleges and scholarships. 

“All of us have proof of ancestry, proof of villages that we come from,” Tumamait-Stenslie said.

When asked about the recent article challenging Waiya’s ancestral claims, Mullen—who was sworn into office as a Malibu City Council member in December 2016—said he had not read the article. Mullen said he does not currently keep contact with Waiya. 

He asked Waiya to swear him into office, Mullen said, because he thinks it is important to honor those that have been in Malibu longer than European settlers have.

“Since the Chumash have a local lineage that may go back as far as 13,000 years, Mati’s presence at the ceremony made all those present mindful of those who have lived in Malibu long before we came,” Mullen said. “I am very grateful to Mati for bringing the appropriate level of serious to my assumption of responsibilities as a representative of the people of Malibu.”

Tumamait-Stenslie said she wants people to understand that they have an ability to ask questions, and not to follow what they assume to be authentic.