People of Native American ancestry from all over California converged in Solvang last week to take part in a hearing hosted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is updating its process for how tribes become federally recognized. Among other tribes speaking out for a more transparent, streamlined, and affordable process was the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, a group with about 2,500 members from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties that formed in the early 1980s and has been working toward federal status ever since.
The band’s tribal chair, Michael Cordero, a retired teacher who can trace his lineage all the way back to the West Beach village of Syuxtun, said that the band filed a “letter of intent” decades ago and has been working to prove each member’s status since. “It’s quite expensive,” said Cordero, noting that they must hire archaeologists, anthropologists, and other experts to establish their case. “Basically, they want the tribe to have genealogical records of their members completed to show that they can prove their descendancy.” He said that’s particularly challenging in California, where many indigenous peoples were shuffled around and/or grouped together during the mission period.
Though some of last week’s speakers had things to say about the status of the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians — the tribe that achieved recognition more than a century ago and now operate the Chumash Casino — the Thursday afternoon hearing did not deal with their status. “Since the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians was federally recognized in 1901,” said the tribe’s government affairs officer, Sam Cohen, “the revisions don’t apply to the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe.