The 16th annual Chumash Culture Day returned to the Santa Ynez Indian Reservation for the first time since 2019 on Saturday. The festival featured California-style Native American singing, dancing, food and games.
“It feels healing. We are really excited to see old friends and celebrate California Native American culture and bring in dance groups. It is also a time of remembering those who have passed from Covid or have passed because we have not been in person for three years. It’s a healing time,” Nakia Zavalla, cultural director of the Chumash Tribe, told the News-Press.
The event was open to all ages of the community. Activities included arts and crafts vendors, food booths and basket-making demonstrations. The event began at 1 p.m. with an opening prayer and was followed by an honoring of the elders. California-style Native American singing and dancing took place from 2-5 p.m. and again following a dinner break from 6-9 p.m. A traditional handgame tournament began at 5 p.m., with teams competing for prize money. The first place winner was awarded $1,000, second place $750 and third place $500.
“The atmosphere is fun and celebratory, with a lot of people seeing each other. If it weren’t for the pandemic it would be like a reunion. There are families coming out together. It’s a wonderful feeling, like a gathering,” said Ms. Zavalla.
Chumash Culture Day is sponsored by the Tribal Elders Council and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ Culture Department. The Tribal Elders Council is a division of the tribal government that is responsible for preserving cultural resources and maintaining the tribe’s heritage, history and traditions.
“The purpose of the event is to honor and celebrate different California Native American cultures. Our ancestors had gatherings thousands of years ago and we are following in their footsteps. The event brings people to dance, sing and celebrate culture,” said Ms. Zavalla.
The event featured a food truck serving Indian fry bread and 23 different Native American vendors which highlighted California Native American style jewelry and art.
“We try to bring as many as we can in. We have over seven different tribes represented which will come out to dance, sing and share their culture,” said Ms. Zavalla.
The Santa Ynez Indian Reservation is located in Santa Barbara County and was established and officially recognized by the federal government on Dec. 27, 1901. Today, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians remains the only federally recognized Chumash tribe in the nation. The tribe is a self-governing sovereign nation and follows the laws set forth in its tribal constitution.