Tribal Chair Kenneth Kahn describes the Chumash Museum and Cultural Center as “a place for ancestors to come home.”
Blanca Garcia

After 14 years of planning, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians plans to break ground in November on the Chumash Museum and Cultural Center. The story of the Chumash will be not only inside the 14,000-square-foot facility but presented throughout the 6.9-acre property, said Kenneth Kahn, tribal chair of the Santa Ynez group.

Director of Museum Programs Kathleen Conti and an advisory committee are leading the $32 million project. The group visited museums across the nation, spoke with curators, and gathered more than 20,000 items, ranging from artifacts to vintage photographs. While the center will have traditional exhibits, it will also showcase interactive film and audio, cosmology, and workshops, as well as the “stories about population decline, sterilization, boarding schools ​— ​stories about survival and community,” said Conti. “For the first time, the Santa Ynez Chumash will be telling their own story in their own place.” The facility is expected to open in early 2021.

Seattle-based architectural firm Jones & Jones, whose designs have been recognized for honoring and respecting regional building traditions and native landscapes, were hired for the project in 2014 and have been working closely with the tribe and advisory committee. The orientation of the museum is also of importance to the tribe, added Kahn, as the Chumash are the guardians of the western spiritual portal. Architects will also be using local material for the building as much as possible, including stone from the Santa Ynez River.

The museum and cultural center will be located on land placed into federal trust for the tribe in 2014. While the tribe is expecting many tourists, “The museum is being created for [the tribe]” said Kahn. The Chumash have almost 9,000 years on the land spanning back 350 generations. “It will be a place for ancestors to come home for generations to come,” said Conti.


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