Violet Sage Walker
The author is chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribe
Editor’s note: Violet Sage Walker, the chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribe, is the nominator for the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
My father, Fred Collins, chairman of the Northern Chumash Tribe, recently passed into spirit. A passionate, kind, and loving human, with a voice like rolling thunder. He was a powerful local advocate for environmental justice and the protection of sacred Northern Chumash lands.
He was also the applicant for the proposed 140-mile Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
The proposed sanctuary would lie just north of the Channel Islands, an area that is filled with submerged Chumash villages and cultural heritage sites, both under the water and along the shoreline. Recent movement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the designation process has brought our people one step closer to making this sanctuary a reality, and now we need the Biden administration to get it over the finish line.
My dad had a lifelong vision for establishing the Chumash Heritage NMS. He said before his passing that it would be the greatest accomplishment of his life, pointing out that “Grandmother Ocean has been providing life to the Chumash Peoples for over 10 thousand years. Now is the time for all communities to work together and assist her in rebuilding her Vibrant Thrivability for all future generations.”
A few weeks ago, the community came together in a celebration of life for my dad. Family and friends traveled from all over California to send him on the last leg of his journey in a traditional way. Final farewells were said around a sacred fire. An ocean burial was his last request.
Bringing his Chumash people together in a sunrise ceremony on Chumash lands, hearing our songs, prayers, and memories, would have made my dad so happy. The support and commitment from our community over the transfer of leadership of the Northern Chumash Council from my dad’s hands into mine was humbling. I was told by two generations of Elders to protect this land and water; a National Marine Sanctuary would be the right fit for the community.
Successful designation of the Chumash Heritage NMS would protect ocean life and sacred Chumash sites; strengthen the local community; and serve as a model of environmental justice. My dad spent more than 40 years of tireless advocacy for ocean protection, with the Chumash Heritage NMS being the thing he wanted to see happen most.
At the heart of the matter is that the Chumash have lived on our land for millennia, but we have not always had rights, sovereignty or access to that land and cultural waters.
We are by definition the local experts and guardians of this area. I have been diving since I was 12 and have borne witness to ocean acidification in the Chumash heritage waters. Abalone has been a part of Chumash culture for millennia, and ocean acidification interferes with the abalones’ ability to form hard shells as they grow.
The changes happening in the ocean due to a rapidly warming planet are eating away at our land, water and culture. The Chumash must be allowed to protect that.
The designation of the Chumash Heritage NMS with accompanying Tribal co-management would exemplify the principles laid out in the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative, which recommends supporting locally led and locally designed conservation efforts; honoring tribal sovereignty; and providing support for tribal nation priorities.
NOAA recently published a Notice of Intent to advance the public process to designate the Chumash Heritage NMS. It was sadly 40 days too late for my father to see, but it is a crucial first step to getting this across the finish line. It is time to get this done.
Over the next month, NOAA will be hosting three listening sessions for the public on the designation of the Chumash Heritage NMS. As a community, we will be asking that NOAA designate the Chumash Heritage NMS and keep the name we have chosen, and in the spirit of the America the Beautiful Initiative’s tribal co-management commitment, we will also be asking for them to establish an office within the sanctuary led by the Chumash people.
The Chumash have been the guardians of the Central Coast of California since time immemorial. We look forward to working with NOAA and other partners to collaboratively steward this critical coastline for the benefit of the current and the Seventh Generation.
You can support Fred Collins’ vision of establishing the Chumash Heritage NMS by offering your voice at www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/11/10/2021-24609/notice-of-intent-to-conduct-scoping-and-to-prepare-a-draft-environmental-impact-statement-for-the.