San Luis Obispo, CA – On the anniversary of the late Chief Fred Collins’ birthday, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council announced their inaugural distribution of the Fred Collins Environmental Warrior Student Scholarship. In honor of Chief Collins’ legacy, this scholarship will be awarded annually to a student pursuing a career in environmental and cultural stewardship. Each year on his birthday, December 31st, the honored recipient of this award will be announced. This scholarship is an opportunity to uplift the next generation of fierce environmental justice advocates.
Chief Fred Collins was the Lone Wolf of environmental protectors, a strong voice for the voiceless. He faced many battles to protect his ancestors and the places the Chumash call home. He is well known as the original nominator of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, but his stewardship did not end there. He accomplished dozens of wins for environmental justice, including securing the first resolution in the US by the County of San Luis Obispo recognizing and adopting the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Fred was a fierce advocate for the protection of Oceano Dunes, Carrizo Plain National Monument, and Lisamu’ (Morro Rock). He worked towards the concept of thrivability, emphasizing that it is not enough to merely survive, but that if we are good stewards of our lands and waters, we can all thrive. His legacy is carried on in many different ways by his community and it will continue on for many more generations to come.
This year’s recipient is Maura Sullivan, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and a Ph.D. student working on her doctorate in linguistics living in Bulbancha, the unceded homelands of our southern relatives including the Atakapa- Ishak, Houma, Chittimacha and many other coastal tribes of what is now known as Louisiana in New Orleans at Tulane University. Language and culture are deeply intertwined. Working towards language revitalization is an important aspect to expressing our sovereignty as Chumash people. Maura’s research took her to the unceded homelands of the Piscataway, Pamunkey, and Mattaponi relatives, in what is now the settler colonial capital of Washington D.C., to work at the Smithsonian archives. She has continued her work in language and culture revitalization for the last ten years. She is a Chumash woman, enrolled with the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, and tied to the community surrounding the tomol and other ancestral practices.
Maura got her B.A. at U.C. Berkeley in History of Art and Native American studies, a double major which allowed her to think more deeply about our ancestral artistic practices in dialogue with western notions of art. She remained passionate about the Chumash language and looked to study linguistics as a way to learn more about our languages and try to help others as well. She started graduate work in 2018 and received her Master’s in Linguistics from Tulane in 2022, becoming ABD (all but dissertation) in late 2021 with her research proposal “Redefining our Record: Chumash Inquiry in Smithsonian Archives” looking to research our language from our own Chumash cultural lens. Currently, her research has included creating videos and working to revitalize archival materials into usable materials for language and culture learning. Ultimately, her dreams are to create more ways for Native speakers to access the Chumash languages and to keep building her own skills as a speaker.
Maura Sullivan reacted to her award of the Scholarship in honor of Chief Fred Collins.
“Fred was so passionate and knowledgeable about coastal ocean heritage and willing to share and speak up for our ocean and her relatives. He brought so much joy to people on the island when he was singing loud and proud our Chumash songs to bring the tomol in. It was so beautiful to see an elder, especially our men, expressing that joy and beauty and pride in being Chumash.
Our paths would cross doing ocean advocacy work. His work putting forth the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary has been very inspiring and a great example of what we can do to try and work within the colonial systems to protect our ancestral homelands and homewaters.
His enthusiasm and response was always appreciated, he was so excited about my journey with our languages and I feel that support now with receiving this gift of a scholarship in his name. I’m grateful for this opportunity and say a big heartfelt kaqʰinalin to the NCTC and our whole community for the ongoing support with my language journey. “