Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary


San Luis Obispo, CaliforniaOver 100,000 comments were submitted in support of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (Chumash Sanctuary), according to an independent analysis of the publicly available comments submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The 60-day comment period, which was the last public comment period in the Chumash Sanctuary designation process, ended on October 25th. It began in late August with the release of the Chumash Sanctuary’s Draft Management Plan, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and Draft Proposed Rule. This comment period was specifically intended for NOAA to gather public input on the draft documents to inform the Chumash Sanctuary’s final designation documents. Final designation of the Chumash Sanctuary is expected in mid-2024.

“We saw an outpouring of support for the Chumash Sanctuary during this crucial moment,” said Violet Sage Walker, Northern Chumash Tribal Council (NCTC) Chairwoman and the daughter of original sanctuary nominator Fred Collins. “This was the final chance for our communities to show up and say exactly what we want the sanctuary to look like. The overwhelming majority of commenters are joining us in saying, ‘We need the Chumash Sanctuary to protect the entire Central Coast from Cambria to Gaviota now!’”

NOAA received 102,782 comments during this final and defining public comment period, including letters of support signed by tens of thousands of individuals, and hundreds of organizations and businesses. More than 99% of the comments indicated support for the Chumash Sanctuary. All statistics are according to a public presentation from NOAA in January 2024.

Support came from individuals on a local to global level, with strong representation from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Comments of support were signed and submitted by thousands of Central Coast residents and Californians, Central Coast businesses, local elementary, highschool and college students, and many local environmental and community organizations, chapters, and programs.

“This campaign has been a textbook example of what can be done when a community steps up together,” said Andrew Christie, Director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It's also a validation of NOAA's decision a decade ago to revive the process for the designation of national marine sanctuaries and invite nominations from the public. The main requirement of that process was a demonstration of broad support. I'd say that requirement has been met."

Tribes and Indigenous organizations voiced their support during the comment period, including, but not limited to the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, Brotherhood of the Tomol, Northern Chumash Bear Clan, Chumash Barracuda Clan of the Gaviota Coast, the Maui Nui Makai Network, North Coast Native Protectors Tribal Marine Collaborative, Northern California Osage Committee, the Norton Bay Watershed Council, and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe.

Coalitions and joint letters were submitted from partners of many backgrounds. Sign-on letters were submitted in support of the Chumash Sanctuary designation with over 100,000 combined signees, including from The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, Audubon, Environment California and Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, OnlyOne, Sierra Club, and Surfrider Foundation. 115 organizations across the United States signed a joint letter of support coordinated by the America the Beautiful for All Coalition in addition to over 75 letters directly from local to global organizations. Official letters were submitted from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, California Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Hundreds of scientists wrote in support, including the UCSB Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory, UCLA Center for Diverse Leadership in Science with 97 supportive signees from across California, a letter signed by 181 scientists, a letter from 16 academic researchers working in the Central Coast region, and over 20 individual letters from scientists and academics. The Aquarium Conservation Partnership submitted a joint letter of support from 13 US Zoos and Aquariums and the Monterey Bay Aquarium submitted an additional extensive letter of  support. Youth are also welcome to comment and they showed up in support, including a youth letter with 130 individual signees and 19 youth-led/youth-serving entities, a letter from 40 elementary school students, and letters from high school students. Religious leaders and organizations wrote in support as well, including from Hispanic Access Foundation’s Por La Creación Faith-Based Alliance, National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Creation Justice Ministries’ letter with 43 faith leader signees, Central Coast Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), St. Barbara Parish at Old Mission Santa Barbara, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Goleta, San Luis Obispo and Riverside. Other coalition letters included Environment California’s Offshore Wind Now Coalition, the Central Coast Clean Cities Coalition, Conejo Climate Coalition, The Healthy Ocean Coalition, Oceano Beach Community Association, SLO Climate Coalition, and many more letters of support.

Federal, state, and local elected representatives, government officials, and governing bodies shared their strong support, including Secretary Wade Crowfoot (California Secretary for Natural Resources), Senator John Laird (Senate District 17), Assemblymember Dawn Addis (California 30th District), Supervisor Bruce Gibson (District 2 Supervisor, San Luis Obispo County), Supervisor Jimmy Paulding (District 4 Supervisor, San Luis Obispo County), Supervisor Das Williams (District 1 Supervisor and Chair, Santa Barbara County),  Supervisor Joan Hartmann (District 3 Supervisor, Santa Barbara County), Christina Hernandez (Guadalupe City Council Member), Jan Marx (San Luis Obispo City Council Member), The City of San Luis Obispo, Cayucos Citizens' Advisory Council, and The City of Santa Cruz.

We are now in the final phase of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary designation process. NOAA will review the comments to inform their preparation of the final designation documents. The California Governor and Congress will have an opportunity to review and comment on the documents before designation becomes effective. NOAA currently estimates that the designation decision will be made by mid-2024.

Under the initially nominated boundaries, the Chumash Sanctuary will protect upwards of 7,500 square miles of ocean and 156 miles of coastline from Cambria to Gaviota Creek and will bridge the gap between the existing Monterey Bay and Channel Islands sanctuaries to create hundreds of contiguous miles of protected ocean. However, this contiguity is at risk of being lost, with NOAA’s recently released Agency-Preferred boundary alternative cutting out over 2,000 square miles of ocean, notably excluding the area from Cambria to Hazard Canyon Reef (Los Osos area). If the final sanctuary boundary excludes the area between Cambria and Los Osos, it will become the only section of unprotected waters in over 19,000 square miles of ocean protection extending down the California coast. The vast majority of public comments submitted to NOAA advocated for the full 7,500 square mile sanctuary.

The sanctuary nomination was submitted to NOAA in 2015 by Fred Collins, the late Chairman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, with the support of a local coalition of environmental organizations. This was a milestone as the first Tribally nominated national marine sanctuary in the United States. The efforts to designate a sanctuary off of the Central Coast date back more than 40 years.

Visit to learn more about the campaign to designate the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary led by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council.

More information about NOAA’s designation process for the proposed Chumash Sanctuary is available at

NOAA seeks public comment on Chumash Heritage sanctuary draft proposal, which if designated would be nation's 16th national marine sanctuary

A view of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary near Montana de Oro State Park in San Luis Obispo County, California.  (Image credit: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA)

Today, following input from tribal nations, state and federal agencies, Indigenous communities, and the public, NOAA released a proposal to designate a 5,617-square-mile area offshore of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in central California as Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Since day one, President Biden has launched the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history. This designation would advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative, which is supporting locally led conservation efforts across the country with a goal to conserve and restore 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. 

The agency’s proposed boundary for Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would stretch along 134 miles of coastline from Hazard Canyon Reef, south of Morro Bay, to an area just south of Dos Pueblos Canyon — the site of one of the largest historical Chumash villages along the Gaviota Coast.  This proposed designation is the first Indigenous-led nomination for a national marine sanctuary, reflecting the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to honoring tribal nations, respecting Indigenous knowledge and advancing co-stewardship. 

“Since taking office, President Biden has launched the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history. As part of this historic commitment, the Biden-Harris Administration is advancing collaborative conservation and collaborative management, and prioritizing the input and insight of tribal leaders during the development of this sanctuary proposal,” said U.S Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “In addition to protecting critical ecological and cultural sites, this proposed sanctuary would advance President Biden’s commitment to conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. ocean waters by the end of the decade.”

Map of the area off the coast of San Luis Obispo County, California, that NOAA is proposing to designate as the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. (Image credit: NOAA)

Under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would protect the area’s marine life, ecosystems, archaeological sites, and cultural sites. Its unique features — including rocky intertidal zones, a submarine canyon, and upwellings of cold nutrient-rich seawater — are teeming with marine invertebrates, massive kelp forests, sea otters, harbor seals, whales, dolphins, important bird rookeries, and other marine life. Importantly, the proposed sanctuary sits between existing marine protected areas, creating ecological connectivity and protected corridors for fish and wildlife. It would be the first new sanctuary since 1994 that would be managed for biodiversity conservation as part of the National Marine Sanctuary System.

“Chumash National Marine Sanctuary embodies the values of President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, and his commitment to supporting locally-led protections for cultural and natural sites across the country,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “The ocean is facing some of the most severe impacts from climate change, and under the President’s leadership we are taking action to ensure our waters and the marine life that call them home are protected for generations to come.”

In July 2015, a broad coalition of community leaders, organizations and businesses, led by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, submitted a nominationoffsite link to NOAA for a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. In 2020, during the five-year review of the nomination, then-Senator and now Vice President Kamala Harris joined her colleagues in the California congressional delegation in urging NOAA to move the proposal into the designation phase as soon as possible. NOAA began the process towards designation in 2021.

The proposed sanctuary management plan and regulations would guide community-based management and ecosystem-based management–including a framework for tribal and Indigenous collaborative management–  to balance marine conservation efforts with other uses, including renewable energy opportunities in nearby waters. The preferred boundary accommodates an area beyond the sanctuary where subsea electrical transmission cables from nearby development of offshore wind could be built, and includes a permit pathway to support additional cables within the proposed sanctuary. NOAA will continue to closely coordinate with  federal and state agencies to ensure that the sanctuary designation process aligns with the Biden-Harris Administration and State of California’s efforts to advance responsible offshore wind deployment. 

“The proposed sanctuary represents a momentous opportunity to involve, recognize, and celebrate Indigenous peoples’ values, knowledge, traditions, and modern day cultural connections to the area,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D, NOAA administrator. “It also advances the goals of the Biden-Harris Administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, which recommends expanding the National Marine Sanctuary System, as well as supporting Indigenous- and locally led conservation.”

A detailed description of the proposed sanctuary, as well as additional information about opportunities to provide public comment, can be found on the website for the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

“The proposed sanctuary is rich in marine life and includes kelp forests, rocky shores, sandy beaches, a globally-significant ecological transition zone and important offshore features that have been important to Chumash and other Indigenous communities for more than 10,000 years,” said John Armor, director, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “The sanctuary would also enhance conservation of numerous rare and endangered species that depend on this area, including snowy plovers, black abalone, southern sea otters, blue whales and leatherback sea turtles.” 

The nomination was crafted based on an earlier proposal from the 1980s from state and local leaders for a sanctuary in this region. The new proposal envisioned coupling NOAA’s standard sanctuary management framework with Indigenous knowledge to expand opportunities for marine resource conservation, economic development, marine research, educational programming, and community engagement. 

As part of this designation proposal, NOAA proposes a framework for tribal and Indigenous collaborative management that would integrate tribal and Indigenous perspectives from the community into the stewardship of key areas and cultural priorities. Tribal and Indigenous community members would have opportunities to join in sanctuary decision-making processes and cultural programming through the sanctuary’s advisory council, working groups of the advisory council, a new Intergovernmental Policy Council, and joint project agreements. Input from local area tribes and Indigenous communities was integral to the development of the draft framework, and NOAA will continue to seek their ideas and assistance during the next steps of the designation process.

The public can comment on the sanctuary proposal through Oct. 25, 2023, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. The docket number is NOAA-NOS-2021-0080. In addition, NOAA will host two in-person and one virtual public comment meetings during which members of the public can offer oral comments. To facilitate public understanding of NOAA’s proposed action, NOAA will also host two in-person informational workshops and one virtual informational webinar approximately two weeks in advance of the public comment meetings. Detailed information on the dates, times, and locations for public meetings is available at:

NOAA follows a well-established designation process for marine sanctuary proposals. After NOAA receives written and oral public comments, it will address and respond to those comments as it makes a determination if final designation of the proposed sanctuary is warranted and, if so, what NOAA program and management actions are necessary. A final action on designation is expected in the middle of 2024.

Originally posted by NOAA on August 24, 2023

Media contact

Vernon Smith,, (240) 638-6447

24 de agosto de 2023

San Luis Obispo, CA – El viernes pasado, 25 de agosto, comenzó la última oportunidad para que el público opine sobre la propuesta de Santuario Marino Nacional del Patrimonio Chumash de la costa central de California. Durante los próximos 60 días, la Administración Nacional Oceánica y Atmosférica (NOAA )aceptará comentarios públicos sobre el borrador del plan de gestión del santuario propuesto y Declaración de Impacto Ambiental, la cual determinará los límites finales, actividades permitidas y reglamentos generales del santuario marino.

"Estamos entusiasmados de ver avanzar la designación del Santuario del Patrimonio Chumash", dijo la nominadora del santuario y Presidenta del Consejo Tribal Chumash del Norte Violet Sage Walker. “Sabemos la importancia de proteger este tramo vital del océano para nuestra vida marina, nuestra pesca y nuestro patrimonio cultural. Los santuarios fomentan la participación local en la gestión de los océanos, y este santuario asociará a las  comunidades indígenas con la NOAA. El conocimiento colectivo de los primeros pueblos de la costa central, así como de otras partes interesadas, científicos y formuladores de políticas locales, creará una base sólida para tener una costa próspera para las generaciones venideras”.

La publicación de los documentos preliminares por parte de la NOAA es un hito fundamental en la campaña local de una década para establecer la primera nominación de un Santuario Marino Nacional liderada por una tribu .Más de 30.000 personas, incluidos Residentes de la costa central, funcionarios electos, líderes de justicia tribal y ambiental , negocios de ámbito regional y organizaciones conservacionistas locales, expresaron su apoyo al santuario marino durante el Proceso de determinación del alcance de la designación inicial de la NOAA en enero de 2022. Gracias al congresista Carbajal y a todos los partidarios del Congreso por ser defensores de los esfuerzos del Santuario del Patrimonio Chumash.

“La Costa Central ha buscado esta designación de santuario durante décadas, y mientras nuestros océanos y nuestras comunidades enfrentan desafíos sin precedentes debido a un entorno marino cambiante, este borrador llega en un momento crítico para nuestra región. Me alegro de que finalmente tengamos un borrador que ponga a nuestro alcance la aprobación final de este santuario”, dijo el Representante Carbajal en comunicado de prensa.

La nominación original al Santuario Marino Nacional del Patrimonio Chumash  propuso cubrir más de 7,000 millas cuadradas de océano, abarcando 156 millas de costa entre Cambria en el condado de San Luis Obispo y Gaviota Creek en el condado de Santa Bárbara. Mantener estos límites es vital para los recursos culturales y ecológicos. La región norte alberga el sitio sagrado Chumash Lisamu’, conocido como Morro Rock, la nutria marina del sur en peligro de extinción y muchos más ecosistemas clave.

“Este santuario cuenta con el apoyo de los gobiernos federal y estatal, pero más importantemente de las comunidades que han vivido en sus costas durante miles de años. Combinar el conocimiento ecológico tradicional con nuevos datos de la ciencia occidental es un viaje que enriquece nuestra visión del océano y de nosotros mismos”, dijo el Dr. Steve Palumbi de la Estación Marina Stanford Hopkins. El Dr. Palumbi se encuentra actualmente colaborando con el Consejo Tribal Chumash del Norte para combinar la ciencia indígena y occidental en las aguas propuestas del Santuario del Patrimonio Chumash.

Las aguas de la Costa Central incluyen características submarinas de importancia mundial, importantes hábitats para la vida silvestre y sitios Chumash sumergidos que datan de hace más de 9.000 años. El santuario marino propuesto abarca la vertiente occidental del banco submarino de Santa Lucía en la base de la plataforma continental, un cañón submarino de 3.000 metros de profundidad, tres importantes afloramientos de nutrientes, áreas de desove y colonias, y áreas de alimentación y rutas de migración para 13 especies. de ballenas y delfines.

Se ha estimado que un santuario marino nacional frente a la costa central generará al menos $23 millones en actividad económica y 600 nuevos empleos. También implementará un Consejo Asesor del Santuario para que las partes interesadas locales puedan asesorar directamente a los líderes del santuario sobre la gestión y más allá.

Joel R. Johnson, presidente y director ejecutivo de la Fundación Santuario Marino Nacional, dijo: "La designación del Santuario Marino Nacional del Patrimonio Chumash es un momento de transformación para nuestras aguas costeras de California y todos los administradores de nuestro océano compartido. Esta nominación liderada por indígenas promueve la justicia y la equidad oceánica al proteger las aguas ancestrales y brindar a todos la oportunidad de aprender de "el conocimiento tradicional de las tribus de la costa central y las formas de administrar los recursos marinos culturales y biodiversos. Las personas también se beneficiarán de muchas maneras, el santuario propuesto también es un vivero para especies de peces de las que dependemos comercialmente. Aplaudimos a la NOAA y a la Administración por promover este santuario. nominación y alentamos la designación final de estas magníficas aguas ancestrales".

A partir de 2013, el Consejo Tribal Chumash del Norte, anteriormente dirigido por el presidente Fred Collins, trabajó con activistas ambientales locales para preparar una nominación para el santuario. La nominación final se presentó en 2015 y se renovó en 2020. En noviembre de 2021, la NOAA anunció que la nominación sería considerada para la designación, apenas un mes después del fallecimiento de Collins. Su hija, la presidenta Violet Sage Walker, que trabajó estrechamente con su padre en el esfuerzo de nominación, ahora dirige el Consejo Tribal y la campaña del santuario.

"Este es el momento decisivo en la historia de esta campaña, que culmina un gran esfuerzo realizado por muchas personas durante muchos años", afirmó Andrew Christie, director del Capítulo Santa Lucía del Sierra Club. “Nos complace que el santuario marino sea una prioridad para la Administración Biden y sea parte del compromiso federal de proteger y conservar al menos el 30% de nuestras tierras, agua dulce y océanos para 2030”.

Los comentarios de este período final de comentarios públicos definitorios informarán el plan de gestión del Santuario Marino Nacional Chumash Heritage. Cada santuario se crea de manera única para satisfacer las necesidades de la región, por lo que la participación local es vital en esta última fase. Sin embargo, todas las voces, desde locales hasta globales, son bienvenidas a comentar; todos somos partes interesadas de nuestro océano.

En las próximas semanas, el sitio web de la campaña,, tendrá actualizaciones sobre la posición del Consejo Tribal Chumash del Norte sobre el borrador del plan de gestión y sugerirá puntos de conversación. Para recibir actualizaciones y orientación sobre la campaña, por favor Regístrese para recibir actualizaciones por correo electrónico en

Los borradores de documentos fueron publicados oficialmente por la NOAA el viernes 25 de agosto de 2023. El período de comentarios de 60 días está programado para cerrar el 25 de octubre de 2023. Puede enviar sus comentarios a la NOAA a través del Registro Federal, comentar en una audiencia de la NOAA o enviarlos por correo a:

Paul Michel

NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office

99 Pacific Street, Building 100F, Monterey, CA 93940

Información sobre cómo enviar un comentario:

San Luis Obispo, CA – Tomorrow begins the final opportunity for the public to weigh in on the California Central Coast’s proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. For the next 60 days, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will accept public comments on the proposed sanctuary's draft management plan and Environmental Impact Statement, which will determine the final boundaries, permitted activities, and general regulations of the marine sanctuary.

“We are excited to see the designation of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary moving forward,” said sanctuary Nominator and Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker. “We know the importance of protecting this vital stretch of ocean, for our marine life, our fishing and our cultural heritage. Sanctuaries uplift local participation in ocean management, and this sanctuary will put Indigenous communities in partnership with NOAA. The collective knowledge of the Central Coast’s First Peoples, as well as other local stakeholders, scientists, and policymakers, will create a strong foundation to have a thriving coast for generations to come.”

NOAA’s release of the draft documents is a critical milestone in the decade-long local campaign to establish the first Tribal led-nomination of a National Marine Sanctuary. More than 30,000 people, including Central Coast residents, elected officials, Tribal and environmental justice leaders, regional businesses, and local conservation organizations, expressed support for the marine sanctuary during NOAA’s initial designation scoping process in January 2022. Thank you to Congressman Carbajal and all the congressional supporters for being champions of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary efforts.

“The Central Coast has pursued this sanctuary designation for decades, and as our oceans and our communities are facing unprecedented challenges from a changing marine environment, this draft comes at a critical time for our region. I am glad that we finally have a draft that puts this sanctuary’s final approval within reach,” said Rep. Carbajal in today’s press release.

The original Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary nomination was proposed to cover more than 7,000 square miles of ocean, spanning 156 miles of coastline between Cambria in San Luis Obispo County and Gaviota Creek in Santa Barbara County. Maintaining these boundaries is vital for cultural and ecological resources. The northern region is home to the sacred Chumash site Lisamu’, known as Morro Rock, the endangered southern sea otter and many more key ecosystems. 

“This sanctuary has support from the federal and state governments, but most importantly from the communities that have lived on its shores for thousands of years. Combining Traditional Ecological Knowledge with new data from western science is a journey that enriches our view of the ocean and ourselves,” said Dr. Steve Palumbi from Stanford Hopkins Marine Station. Dr. Palumbi is currently collaborating with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council to combine Indigenous and western science in the proposed Chumash Heritage Sanctuary waters.

The Central Coast’s waters include globally significant undersea features, important wildlife habitat, and submerged Chumash sites dating back more than 9,000 years. The proposed marine sanctuary encompasses the western slope of the underwater Santa Lucia Bank at the base of the continental shelf, a 3,000-meter-deep submarine canyon, three major nutrient upwellings, spawning areas and rookeries, and feeding areas and migration lanes for 13 species of whales and dolphins.

It has been estimated that a national marine sanctuary off the Central Coast will generate at least $23 million in economic activity and 600 new jobs. It will also implement a Sanctuary Advisory Council so local stakeholders can directly advise sanctuary leadership on management and beyond.

Joel R. Johnson, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, "Designating the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is a transformational moment for our coastal California waters and all stewards of our shared ocean. This Indigenous-led nomination advances ocean justice and equity by protecting ancestral waters and giving everyone the opportunity to learn from the Central Coast Tribes’ traditional knowledge and ways of stewarding cultural and biodiverse marine resources. People will benefit in many ways too, the proposed sanctuary is also a nursery for fish species we rely on commercially. We applaud NOAA and the Administration for advancing this sanctuary nomination and we encourage final designation of these magnificent ancestral waters."

Starting in 2013, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, formerly led by Chairman Fred Collins, worked with local environmental activists to prepare a sanctuary nomination. The final nomination was submitted in 2015 and renewed in 2020. In November 2021, NOAA announced that the nomination would be considered for designation, just a month after Collins passed away. His daughter, Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker, who worked closely with her father on the nomination effort, now leads the Tribal Council and the sanctuary campaign.

“This is the defining moment in the history of this campaign, capping a lot of effort by a lot of people over many years,” said Andrew Christie, Director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are pleased that the marine sanctuary is a priority for the Biden Administration and is part of the federal commitment to protect and conserve at least 30% of our lands, freshwater and ocean by 2030.”

Comments from this final, defining public comment period will inform the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary’s management plan. Every sanctuary is uniquely created to meet the region’s needs, so local participation is vital in this last phase. However, all voices from local to global are welcome to comment; everyone is a stakeholder of our ocean. 

In the coming weeks, the campaign website,, will have updates on the Northern Chumash Tribal Council’s position on the draft management plan and suggested talking points. To receive campaign updates and guidance, please sign up for email updates at

The draft documents will be officially published by NOAA tomorrow, August 25th, 2023. The 60-day comment period is scheduled to close on October 25, 2023. You may submit your comments to NOAA via the Federal Register, comment in a NOAA hearing, or mail them to:

Paul Michel

NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office

99 Pacific Street, Building 100F, Monterey, CA 93940

Information on how to submit a comment:

Artist John Khus, right, and his assistants finish a mural on the heritage of the Chumash tribe on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, at the Post Office on Bridge Street in Cambria. KATHE TANNER

A dramatic new mural depicting Chumash tribal history and the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is brightening up a corner of San Luis Obispo County.

The vivid artwork by Chumash artist John Khus covers a large outdoor wall on the U.S. Postal Service building at 4100 Bridge St., in Cambria, near Center Street.

The mural, titled “Tomol Rides Wishtoyo,” shows images including the Milky Way and a Chumash elder in a traditional canoe known as a tomol watching human spirits pass over the rainbow bridge to join their ancestors.

Khus and his older brother and Bear Clan elder Michael Khus-Zarate were on hand when the mural was formally unveiled on Friday.

Also there were Northern Chumash Tribal Council chair Violet Sage Walker, former Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council chair Margaret “P.J.” Webb and Beautify Cambria Association founder Claudia Harmon Worthen.

The event featured a tribal ceremony, music and blessing, plus welcomes by various governmental representatives and postal officials and refreshments.

The Chumash council and the Beautify Cambria group collaborated on the mural project as a way to recognize SLO County’s First Peoples and emphasize the importance of protecting the area’s oceans and marine habitats.

The Chumash have lived along the Central California coast and Channel Islands for millennia, at one time occupying a territory from Malibu to Cambria to the west edge of the San Joaquin Valley.

Beautify Cambria’s name encompasses its mission — cleaning up the small coastal town and enhancing its appearance.

The group has added plants to Main Street medians, replaced trash receptacles with flower-topped wooden ones, spruced up a hillside near a major intersection and advocated for the reduction of light pollution as part of the dark sky movement.

The U.S. Postal Service office approved the mural and prepared the outer wall of the leased building by removing ivy, cleaning, repairing and painting.

Other supporters of the project include San Luis Obispo County officials, the North Coast Advisory Council and U.S. House of Representatives members Salud Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta.

While the mural has been under wraps since it was completed Sunday, some folks got a sneak peek over the weekend as Khus, Sage Walker, commercial artist Scott Kam and some volunteers put the finishing touches the artwork.

Cambria volunteers work in July 2023 to complete a mural on a wall of Re-Create Thrift Shop in Cambria. Courtesy photo


Cambria has other murals, including one finished in December that’s kitty-corner across the street from “Tomol Rides Wishtoyo” on the Bridge Street wall of Bob & Jan’s Bottle Shop.

The mural, which depicts the migration of monarch butterflies, was created by the owners of the Canned Pineapple design firm in San Luis Obispo, Christopher “Buddy” Norton and Shelby Lowe.

It was the first of three local murals commissioned by Visit SLO CAL, the nonprofit destination marketing and management organization for San Luis Obispo County. Others are located in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande.

Volunteers recently created a colorful floral mural on a long wall of Re-Create Thrift Store, 1601 Main St. in Cambria.

A community-created mural shepherded by the Cambria Center for the Arts adorns the side wall of a building at 555 Main St. in Cambria that houses the Once Upon a Tyme clock and doll shop and the Cuttrazzola Vineyards tasting room.

Fish-eating sea anemone live on the rocky reef off Point Estero, where NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and partners are listening to underwater sound inside the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Robert Schwemmer NOAA


In 2015, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary was nominated by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for designation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If approved, the sanctuary, which is the nation’s first tribally led nomination, would preserve marine and cultural resources in 7,000 square miles of the sea along 156 miles of the Central California coastline.

Waters to the north and south are protected by the Channel Islands sanctuary and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which ends at a midpoint of Cambria’s shore.

NOAA officials expect to release the draft designation documents within the next few months. The effort is getting national attention.

After the draft documents are released, NOAA will open a public comment period to allow community members to voice their opinions about the proposed sanctuary.

This story was originally published August 18, 2023, 5:00 AM in The Cambrian and was written by Kathe Tanner.

Morro Rock, a volcanic plug on California's Central Coast, could be included in the proposed marine sanctuary. Robert Schwemmer / NOAA

Travelers flock to California’s Central Coast to kayak, camp, surf, fish, walk on the beach and otherwise take advantage of the area’s rugged natural beauty. But, since time immemorial, the Chumash people have called this region home. The Central Coast encompasses numerous sacred sites, where the Chumash still go to hold ceremonies and pray.

Now, the Chumash are advocating for their ancestral lands and waters to be protected from development. They’re asking the federal government to designate a 7,000-square-mile swath of the Pacific Ocean as a national marine sanctuary.

They also want to work hand-in-hand with the government to manage the site. If they achieve those goals and the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary comes to fruition, it would be the first nominated and co-managed by an Indigenous group on the U.S. mainland. It would also be the largest national marine sanctuary in the continental U.S., reports NPR’s Lauren Sommers.

“The sanctuary is a reflection of who we are, our people and this land,” says Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, to the Guardian’s Lucy Sherriff.

As proposed, the marine sanctuary would encompass 7,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.  NOAA

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council nominated the region for the marine sanctuary designation in July 2015. Since then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been considering the site, which spans 156 miles of coastline in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

In addition to recognizing Chumash heritage and history, the sanctuary would also protect an “internationally-significant ecological transition zone” that’s home to a wide variety of wildlife, including many at-risk species, such as snowy plovers, southern sea otters, leatherback sea turtles, black abalone and blue whales, per NOAA.

The federal agency could release its final proposal for the sanctuary later this month. From there, NOAA would solicit feedback from members of the public, as well as industry that could be affected by the designation.

If all goes as planned, the sanctuary could be officially designated as early as next year. That would likely mean that oil and wind power companies could not initiate new projects within the site, but that commercial fisheries would be able to continue their work, though the exact rules and regulations are still up in the air.

If approved, the sanctuary would be massive—about six times the size of Yosemite National Park. That will make managing the site very challenging, as Stephen Palumbi, a marine scientist at Stanford University, tells the Guardian. But the Chumash are up for the challenge. Already, they’re working with researchers to establish a baseline for the ecosystem’s health, which they plan to monitor regularly moving forward, per NPR.

NOAA, for its part, seems eager to collaborate with the Chumash on the site. More broadly, the Biden administration has also tried to incorporate more Native American involvement into public land management, such as at Bears Ears National Monument, which is co-managed by five tribes. President Joe Biden also appointed the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary when he named Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, Secretary of the Interior. And the administration has also supported the return of ancestral homelands to tribes, including the 465 acres in eastern Virginia that were returned to the Rappahannock people in the spring of 2022.

Still, the 14 existing national marine sanctuaries, plus the Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments, had “very little, if any, tribal management at the time of designation,” says William Douros, West Coast director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, to NPR.

"We're kind of excited about what [tribal co-management] could offer in terms of a real diverse array of tribal involvement, reflecting the diversity of tribes that we have here along the Central Coast," he adds.

Sea otters are just one of the at-risk species that live within the bounds of the proposed marine sanctuary, along with blue whales, snowy plovers and others. Robert Schwemmer / NOAA

Before European settlers began arriving in the 18th century, an estimated 20,000 Chumash lived throughout Central California. But, like many other Indigenous groups, they suffered greatly because of colonization. Because of disease, forced laborbroken promises by the Mexican government and, later, California state-sponsored genocide and persecution, their numbers dwindled. Today, some 10,200 people claim some amount of Chumash ancestry, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Chumash are making strides to restore their heritage and reconnect with the coast. They hold ceremonies involving traditional plank canoes called tomol, and they have pushed back against proposed developments that would encroach on their sacred sites. This week, they also unveiled a large and colorful new mural that shows Chumash tribal history, as well as the proposed marine sanctuary, on the side of a U.S. Postal Service building in downtown Cambria, a small seaside village along the Central Coast.

The proposed national marine sanctuary designation and co-management plan are extensions of those efforts. If approved, the destination would give the Chumash people “access to the whole picture of what we’re about,” as Reggie Pagaling, a tribal elder with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash, tells the Washington Post’s Silvia Foster-Frau.

“Not just the land but the water itself, the ocean itself, the creatures above and below the water,” he adds. “Having that opportunity to regain that and to take steps to revitalize that whole maritime caretaking and participation is invaluable.”

Originally posted by Smithsonian Magazine on August 18th, 2023 and written by Sarah Kuta

For more than decade, members of the Chumash tribe have led a campaign to create a new marine sanctuary on the central California coast. It could include waters off Point Conception, a sacred site for the Chumash people.Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

The central California coast, with its rugged beaches and kelp forests, draws a lot of visitors for its scenic beauty. For the Chumash people, the coastline means a lot more.

"Almost all the places people like to go to are our sacred sites," says Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. "We've been going there and praying and doing ceremony there for 20,000 years."

More than 7,000 square miles of ocean there could soon become the largest national marine sanctuary in the continental U.S. It could also make history as one of the first federal sanctuaries to be spearheaded by a Native American tribe, part of a growing movement to give tribes a say over the lands and waters that were once theirs.

The campaign has spanned more than a decade, after Walker's father nominated the area with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2015. Becoming the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would mean the waters are largely protected from development, like oil rigs and wind turbines.

Walker and other tribal members are looking for more than just conservation – they want to be co-managers of the sanctuary. Under the Biden administration, tribes have been given decision-making powers over public lands in a handful of places, in an effort to repair centuries of exclusion and displacement.

"We are not wanting to be employees of NOAA," Walker says. "We are wanting to be separate and equal, so that we have autonomous decision making."

NOAA is expected to release details about how co-management might work in a few weeks, as part of a final proposal for the sanctuary, the last step before it's designated. But Walker is already getting started by helping set up an ecosystem monitoring program that involves both tribal members and scientists.

"It really is a way of showing this community is involved not just in the history of the place, but the future of the place," says Steve Palumbi, a marine biologist at Stanford University who is working on the project.

Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, wants to see tribal members as co-managers of the sanctuary, a reflection of those who originally lived there.Lauren Sommer/NPR

Reclaiming heritage through a connection to the coast

The history of the Chumash echoes that of many other tribes. When European settlers arrived, an estimated 20,000 Chumash lived in dozens of villages around central California. They were soon forcibly moved from their lands, and their population shrank from disease and displacement.

Walker says restoring their connection to the coast is a big part of bringing back Chumash culture. In the 1970s, tribal members built the first tomol, a traditional plank canoe, in more than a century, which are used in ceremonies today. When a liquified natural gas terminal was proposed for Point Conception, an angular piece of land that juts into the Pacific, they occupied the site to protest the project.

"We believe when all people exit this world, they exit at Point Conception," Walker says. "Protecting that site is a spiritual connection for us. The same as any other religion protects their icons, their religious symbols, that's ours."

When the federal government opened the nomination process for new national marine sanctuaries in 2014, Walker's father, Fred Collins, proposed an area known for kelp forests, sea otters and migratory whales. Walker had worked with her father for decades, but when he passed away last year, she continued the campaign.

He told me on his deathbed I had to see it happen," she says. "That was my dad's hope — was that we would walk and speak our language on our land again."

The country's network of marine sanctuaries exists today largely because of the environmental history in these same waters. In 1969, a massive oil spill covered the ocean off Santa Barbara, spurring the passage of a federal law that created the national marine sanctuary system.

Today, most marine sanctuaries are protected from oil drilling and wind power development in federal waters. Commercial fishing is generally allowed, and NOAA provides monitoring and management of the local ecosystems.

Biden administration considering the largest marine sanctuary in the continental U.S.
The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary could be the first to be created with a tribe as co-manager. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is analyzing proposals for the sanctuary’s final boundaries.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Credit: Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR

"This area is a very special place in terms of the ecological resources that are here, the maritime heritage resources of the last 300 years, coupled with the importance of this area to Native American tribes," says William Douros, regional director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for the West Coast. "And we often will have marine sanctuaries where there are threats to those resources, and there certainly are here in this area."

After almost a decade of waiting, Walker is eager to see the sanctuary become official, especially before the next election where leadership at federal agencies could change.

"We're not waiting for them to give us permission to be a marine sanctuary," she says. "We're already acting like we are."

Chumash tribal members are teaming up with scientists at Stanford University to do scientific assessments of the marine life nearby. The fishing rods capture DNA, shed by animals in the ocean. Lauren Sommer/NPR

Fishing in a soup of DNA

On a foggy spring morning, Walker and other Chumash tribal members gathered on a beach north of Santa Barbara to forge an uncommon partnership — one with university scientists.

Researchers at Stanford are doing an assessment of the ecosystem, creating a survey of marine species as a baseline for the future of the sanctuary.

"A sanctuary, it's a forever thing," Palumbi says. "And so we want to know not only what's here now, but how it's changing over time."

Traditionally, marine sampling can be expensive. Teams of scientists use research boats for multi-day surveys, and divers spend hours in the water documenting what they see. But new technology is changing that.

"This is one of our samplers," Palumbi says, holding up a fishing rod.

The rod is designed to catch something invisible to the eye: DNA. "There's little bits and pieces of organisms out there," he explains. "Scales from fish and little legs from sand crabs."

The ocean is essentially a soup of marine life DNA. The end of the fishing rod has a metal mesh ball that holds a piece of gauze. The team soaks it in the ocean and then brings it back to shore, where the DNA can be sequenced in a lab. That produces a list of all the organisms captured, providing a census of the life in the area.

Marine biologist Steve Palumbi helps Chumash cultural educator Mia Lopez with her fishing rod on a scientific sampling trip.Lauren Sommer/NPR

Palumbi says this ecosystem could be a bellwether for climate change. Species that live in warmer waters, like off Southern California, are expected to move north as the ocean heats up. These waters will be a key place to spot that change and how it will affect the entire food web.

Walker and Palumbi are working to train tribal members in scientific monitoring, hoping to eventually take traditional tomols on the water to gather samples, producing more data than a traditional scientific approach would.

"Scientists or government agencies do it once a year or at a certain time. But we're here all the time, and so we can monitor always," says Mia Lopez, a cultural educator with the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, as she casts the fishing rod into the ocean.

Lopez is also helping incorporate traditional Chumash words and place names into the project (there are several languages among the different bands of Chumash). Those names often reveal features in the landscape that are longer visible, like creeks or springs that were once found near the coastline.

"You can find things you're not looking for," she says. "It tells you so much about the land, just in that name."

Palumbi says it's about marrying the knowledge of both groups - the scientific community's methods and the traditional environmental knowledge of tribes.

"We're offering each other these different universes of science and trying to put them together," Palumbi says. "It's a discovery process."

The waters off Morro Rock could be a bellwether for climate change, since warmer water species may migrate into the area as the ocean heats up.Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

Turning the ship slowly

Later this month, NOAA is expected to release a final proposal for the sanctuary, including details about how co-management with different bands of the Chumash could work. The Biden Administration is seeking to involve Indigenous people in the places that were once theirs, both on public lands and in national parks. In 2022, President Biden restored the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and five tribes agreed to co-management.

"All the sanctuaries that exist today, even the monuments that exist today, had very little, if any, tribal management at the time of designation," NOAA's Douros says. "We're kind of excited about what that could offer in terms of a real diverse array of tribal involvement, reflecting the diversity of tribes that we have here along the Central Coast."

After decades of distrust and racism, Walker says the relationship with the federal government can still be uneasy.

"It's really tough to trust the federal government even with some of the highest seats on the federal government being Indigenous people," Walker says, referring to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. "When you turn the ship, it turns slow."

The upcoming sanctuary proposal will get feedback from the public and the industries that could be affected. A new wind project is being proposed in waters managed by the state of California, which could be affected by the federal marine sanctuary. The wind industry is seeking an exception for that, pointing out renewable energy is key to California's climate change goals. Walker says different bands of the Chumash tribe fall on different sides of the issue.

"Some people in our community — they support offshore wind or they support development," Walker says. "You cannot lump Indigenous people together."

After public comment, the sanctuary could be officially created sometime next year. Walker says she won't quit until her father's vision is realized.

"Our elder, Pilulaw, who has passed into spirit, she said that if you want to pray, you should put your feet in the water, because the water will take your prayers all over the whole world," Walker says. "And so I think about that. Basically every time we do this work, we're praying for a better world. We're praying that what we're doing is going to make a difference."

Originally published by NPR on August 10, 2023 by Lauren Sommer


San Luis Obispo, CA – August 1, 2023, Violet Sage Walker, Chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and nominator of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, was one of only 18 members appointed to the federal Ocean Research Advisory Panel (ORAP). She is joined by representatives from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, ocean industries, state, Tribal, territorial or local governments, and academia.

“I’m honored to be part of such a great team and to represent the California Central Coast in this federal arena. This is a critical time to uplift the importance of the Central Coast’s local voices and ecosystems in global ocean conservation. It is crucial to have our Indigenous voices represented in ocean policy, science, and more. This panel is a reflection of the current administration’s prioritization of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and meaningful Tribal consultation,” said Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker.

The Ocean Policy Committee (OPC) requested public nominations through a Federal Register Notice summer 2022. Members were appointed August 2023 by the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who co-chair of the interagency OPC.

“The ocean has never been more important – it regulates our climate and provides jobs, nourishment, recreation and respite. These experts will provide the Ocean Policy Committee with the technical and policy advice to support ocean health and a strong blue economy,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and co-chair of the OPC. “Their deep knowledge and diverse backgrounds will be invaluable in advancing the Biden-Harris Administration’s ocean priorities.”

“Formation of the Ocean Research Advisory Panel is a major milestone for U.S. ocean science and policy, and reinforces the President’s historic commitments to tackle climate change while creating good jobs, embracing environmental justice and basing action on science and knowledge,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Coming from industry, universities and civil society, the ORAP members bring depth of experience and diversity of perspectives on the ocean from across our nation. ORAP will help guide federal government efforts to tackle some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for our ocean, in conjunction with states, tribes, territories, communities, businesses and the broader marine community.”

The new ORAP members are:

  • Violet Sage Walker, Northern Chumash Tribal Council
  • Claudia Benitez-Nelson, National Academies’ Ocean Studies Board; University of South Carolina 
  • Derek Brockbank, Coastal States Organization
  • Jorge Corredor, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (retired)
  • Danielle Dickson, North Pacific Research Board
  • Tim Gallaudet, Ocean STL Consulting, LLC
  • Mary Glackin, National Academies’ Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
  • Eunah Hoh, San Diego State University
  • Sandra Knight, Marine Board of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board; WaterWonks LLC
  • Tommy Moore, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
  • Christopher Ostrander, Marine Technology Society 
  • Claire Beatrix Paris-Limouzy, Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric & Earth Science, University of Miami
  • Purnima Ratilal-Makris, Northeastern University
  • Edward Saade, Circum-Pacific Council; EJS Solutions
  • Ana Spalding, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Oregon State University
  • Amy Trice, Northeast Regional Ocean Council
  • Maria Tzortziou, The City College of New York, City University of New York
  • Kawika Winter, Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai’i 

“I am pleased to see the new advisory panel in place and ready to start tackling national ocean research priorities and helping improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the ocean sciences,” said Steve Thur, Ph.D., NOAA assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. 

The ORAP’s responsibilities include advising the OPC on:

  • policies and procedures to implement the National Oceanographic Partnership Program
  • matters relating to national oceanographic science, engineering, facilities or resource requirements; 
  • improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the ocean sciences and related fields;
  • national ocean research priorities; and 
  • additional responsibilities that the OPC considers appropriate.

ORAP management falls under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA Research’s Office of Science Support will support the day-to-day activities of ORAP and will carry out various statutory responsibilities for administration of the panel.

Congress directed the establishment of the ORAP in Section 1055(c) of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (Pub. L. 116-283), 10 U.S.C. 8933. The ORAP advises the OPC and provides independent recommendations to the Federal Government on matters of ocean research policy.

The ORAP is governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), as amended, 5 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., which sets forth standards for the formation and use of advisory committees. 

Visit the ORAP Webpage to learn more about ORAP and to follow its activities and accomplishments.

Media contacts: 

Gianna Patchen, Campaign Manager, Northern Chumash Tribal Council,

Monica Allen, NOAA Communications,, or call 202-379-6693

Happy Summertime!


Stay tuned: We anticipate the final and defining public comment period for the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will be coming soon.

The date is to be determined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Interested in getting involved? Sign up to volunteer, in person or virtually:
Click here to sign up for shifts!

Victoria, outreach lead at our Avila farmers market booth.

We expanded our community outreach, near and far. We are at the SLO and Avila Farmers Markets and our team has led over 25 presentations this year. Thank you to the volunteers and staff who make this possible!

What have we been up to? Check it out…

We are excited to announce the launch of our new Northern Chumash Tribal Council website! This will help us extend beyond the Chumash Sanctuary (CHNMS) campaign. 

The first week of June, our team went to Washington, DC for Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW). We went to a lot of meetings, including with CA Senator Alex Padilla’s Policy Advisors and CA Congressman Salud Carbajal.

Left to Right: Advisor PJ Webb, NCTC Chair Violet Sage Walker, Congressman Salud Carbajal, & Campaign Manager Gianna Patchen!

Left to right: Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, Chair Violet Sage Walker, Uncle Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala, Dr. Lola Fatoyinbo and the moderator Betsy Lopez-Wagner on the podium.

Violet Sage Walker, NCTC’s Chair, was honored to be on a Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) plenary panel titled “Building Resilience Through Ocean-Based Climate Solutions,” where they talked about equitable ocean solutions in order to create a thriving future for all people!

Congratulations Uncle Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala and Uncle William J. Ailā Jr. for being awarded The Sanctuary Wavemaker Award by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation! Thank you for all of your hard work.

Check out this Chumash Sanctuary article in the Guardian by Lucy Sherrif. It took off this summer bringing more attention to the sanctuary campaign!

Violet joined Natalia Vásquez of Heart in Brain Studios for a Latino Conservation Week interview for the 10th-anniversary celebration of LCW. Thank you to the Hispanic Access Foundation for making this possible!

If you're interested in chatting with us visit our weekly farmers market booths in San Luis Obispo on Thursday and Avila on Friday.

As always, thank you for your support and for making our work possible.


AVILA BEACH/TPAXTU, Calif. — When Violet Sage Walker stares out at the calm waters butting against the shoreline of her hometown, she sees what was once the largest northern village of the Chumash people, who fished from traditional canoes in the open water, viewed sea creatures as their ancestors and believed in a “Western Gate” farther south where their spirits went after they passed away.

“All that is where we all lived,” Walker, one of the leaders of the Chumash tribe, said recently.

That coastal California shoreline and the water it touches are at the center of a reclamation movement led by the Indigenous Chumash tribe to revive and restore its heritage, culture and land. There are about 10,200 people with some Chumash ancestry left, according to the Census Bureau. Their effort is part of a nationwide “land back” movement by Native Americans to reclaim sacred sites. The Biden administration has established national landmarks for Native people and appointed the first Native American to a Cabinet secretary position, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Haaland, as well as other members of the Biden Cabinet, has spoken in favor of a Chumash marine sanctuary proposal.

“We’re in a real period of cultural revitalization for Native tribes across the country,” said Shannon Speed, director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the Chickasaw nation. “It is a moment of change.”

The proposed boundary that NOAA used to initiate the designation process in November 2021. Source: NOAA

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council wants federal protection for 7,000 square miles of territory along 156 miles of central California coastline and stretching for miles into the Pacific Ocean. If approved by federal regulators, Chumash tribes would gain a unique leadership role over an expansive marine sanctuary, including the ability to block unwanted commercial development on the land and water within its bounds.

The proposed sanctuary “gives us a platform to grow our culture and history in a safe place,” Walker said. “The more people know about us, the less stereotypes and less misconceptions they have about us — the more they learn about us.”

The tribe’s biggest challenge may be the clock as it aims to get the hard-fought designation in place before the 2024 presidential election, when a new administration could take over and force them to restart their decades-long effort. A wind energy company is also pushing to install four floating wind turbines, which members of the Northern Chumash, one band of the tribe, oppose.

Violet Sage Walker, chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and Joseph Lopez, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

“It’s a sacred site. It’s an absolute no,” said Walker, who objects to that project as well as others she says could harm marine life in the proposed sanctuary.

Cierco Wind Energy, which is planning to build the turbines, says it supports the designation of the federal Chumash marine sanctuary, despite the criticism leveled by some tribal members. The state already has a rigorous environmental review to ensure the effort doesn’t cause significant ecological harm, said Mikael Jakobsson, chairman of Cierco Wind Energy. Not all of the tribe’s members oppose their wind turbines project, he added, pointing to the Santa Ynez band of the tribe, which confirmed to The Washington Post they do not oppose the project.

The Chumash’s campaign for the federal designation dates back at least three generations, as tribal members struggled to raise the money and political support needed for the huge endeavor. They also faced resistance from some local fishermen who expressed concerns that the sanctuary could harm their businesses, though the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations now says it wishes the Chumash well in their endeavor and that the sanctuary’s effect on the fishermen’s business depends on how well it is managed.

“It’s expensive to fight that kind of fight,” said Speed, the UCLA professor. “You need resources and you need lawyers and you need, generally, a team of folks to help wage a successful campaign to get that kind of thing done.”

Eva Pagaling and her son Antuk pack up the paddles for their tomol in Santa Barbara Harbor. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara bands take their tomol, Muptamai, out to sea at Santa Barbara Harbor. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

A breakthrough came in 2015 when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration accepted their application.

But during the Trump administration, the request sat idle for years, leaving tribal members in limbo.

President Biden’s election gave the movement new hope. The tribe’s application, which had languished for five years, moved into the next bureaucratic phase — designation — and NOAA began outlining the terms of the potential sanctuary.

Many tribal members rejoiced, but movement leaders say they remain cautious as the clock ticks closer to 2024.

“We have done everything they have asked us to do, plus more. We are running out of time,” Walker said.

Birds fly around in Morro Bay, known to the Chumash people as Lisamu’, a sacred site. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

Violence made them hide. Now, Chumash reclaim their history.

The Chumash’s effort to secure a federal marine sanctuary comes as many members are also attempting to reclaim other elements of their history.

Before European colonists arrived in the 1700s, the Chumash were a tribe of more than 20,000 people whose territory stretched from Paso Robles to Malibu, with traditions and spirituality that revolved around the water. They fished using traditional plank canoes, called tomols, ate clams, mussels and abalone, and passed down their history and spiritual stories through song and dance.

The tribe’s size started to dwindle after members were killed by diseases brought by European settlers and during grueling work building Spanish missions.

More tribal members lost their lives in the 1850s after then-Governor of California Peter Burnett said of the state’s Native people: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected.”

Many Native people in California began passing as Mexican American to avoid persecution, Chumash members say. The family of Slo’w Gutierrez, 76, a tribal chief, was among them.

Slo’w Gutierrez and his grandchildren Alilkoy and Adrian, members of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

He discovered he was not Mexican American but Chumash when he was 19. His aunt shared the family secret, he said, and it changed his perspective on his identity. He learned his grandfather spoke Chumash but chose to speak only Spanish or English to his grandchildren, probably out of fear of the consequences of being identified as Indigenous, Gutierrez said.

He changed his name to Slo’w, which means “eagle” in Chumash, and joined a group reviving the tribe’s traditional practice of building tomols and putting them out to sea. The canoes, among the oldest examples of watercraft made to traverse the ocean in North America, can be up to 30 feet long and are built from planks of wood, typically redwood trees, then sealed with a homemade glue or tar called “yop.” Gutierrez says he was one of the first to put a tomol in the water since the practice was ended 150 years ago.

“My purpose in life right now is to teach all the young ones dancing and our songs,” said Gutierrez, who teaches Chumash traditions at local schools. “It’s going to be lost if nobody teaches it.”

Outside a Mexican restaurant in Pismo Beach, Gutierrez and his family recently began to sing the Chumash song “Chechio,” which means “bear.” Alilkoy Cardenas Gutierrez, 15, his granddaughter, shook her to-go box of tortilla chips to create a beat. It’s Gutierrez’s favorite Native song and also the name of his late brother.

Alilkoy, whose name means “dolphin” in Chumash, has been performing traditional dances since she was 9 months old, she said. She spends her weekends making crafts for her regalia, using feathers and shells and other natural elements meaningful to the Chumash.

“The dances can carry stories of what has happened in the past, and it can also teach you about where you came from and what other things mean,” she said.

Slo’w Gutierrez, an elder member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, shows his regalia he has done himself. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

Members of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation have a chat around a fire in Arroyo Grande. They reflect on the day before, when they were admitted after more than 40 years to Point Conception, a sacred site for Chumash people. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

Other members of the tribe are also working to revitalize Chumash traditions. In inland Santa Ynez, where the Chumash band — or faction of the tribe — is federally recognized, a $32 million cultural center is being built. To the southeast around Santa Barbara, a group of tomol makers — known as tomoleros — are teaching their craft at local schools as a growing number take group trips along the nearby Channel Islands for spiritual rituals. And the Northern Chumash awarded their first environmental student scholarship to a tribal member who is working on revitalizing the language, using Smithsonian archives to make Chumash languages more accessible.

But the sanctuary represents the most ambitious effort yet to preserve the tribe’s history.

In the rolling mountains and wine country of the central coast, Reggie Pagaling, a tribal elder in the Santa Ynez band, dusted off his handmade tomol in preparation for their annual spring trip around the Channel Islands.

The marine sanctuary would mean “finally letting us have access to the whole picture of what we’re about, not just the land but the water itself, the ocean itself, the creatures above and below the water,” he said. “Having that opportunity to regain that and to take steps to revitalize that whole maritime caretaking and participation is invaluable.”

Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara bands take their tomol out to sea at Santa Barbara Harbor. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

The long road to protect California’s coast
When Fred Collins died in October 2021, his daughter placed his ashes on a tomol and pushed them into the ocean off Spooner’s Cove of Santa Barbara. He had spent years fighting for the sanctuary and attempting to persuade more tribe members to support the effort.

Walker promised her father that she would continue this work and clocked more than 30,000 miles on her car last year making the rounds to the dinner tables of local politicians, other tribal members and local nonprofit leaders. To succeed, she says she needs to show federal regulators that the proposal had the support of the tribe’s members.

“It took all hands on deck to convince our own people that the government wasn’t conspiring to take away our rights,” Walker said.

Mia and Rosemary Lopez, members of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. (Karla Gachet for The Washington Post)

The Office of Management and Budget and other agencies are reviewing and editing NOAA’s draft regulations detailing the proposed terms of the sanctuary. In the next couple of months, regulators will make the documents available for 60 days of public comments.

But that wouldn’t be the end of the process. If the sanctuary is approved, NOAA could take a year to incorporate the public’s suggestions, and Congress and California’s governor would also have a chance to weigh in.

“This is just another step in the long journey that started … with the Chumash as the guardians of mother earth and grandmother ocean,” said P.J. Webb, tribal adviser for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, who wrote the sanctuary’s application in 2015.

If the proposal is ultimately approved, NOAA could begin bringing the sanctuary to life in the next couple of years. That would come with increased government resources for ecological research, public education and outreach, and operating a visitors’ center to teach the public about the importance of conserving ocean waters, said Paul Michel, regional policy coordinator for NOAA sanctuaries’ West Coast region.

NOAA is also looking for unique ways to incorporate the tribe into its efforts, he said, including having Chumash translations on sanctuary signage and including tribal history in educational programming.

The significance of the proposed sanctuary would be told “through the eyes of the stewards of this coast for 10,000 years,” Michel said. “You put it in that perspective, and it gets people’s attention.”

And that may not be the end, he said. The tribe’s work on the proposed sanctuary has sparked interest from other tribes seeking to protect the land that was once theirs.

Originally published in the Washington Post. Article By Silvia Foster-Frau

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