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New Chumash Exhibit Opens at Creekside Park

Tribal members performed traditional dances and shared their cultural history at the public event.

Visitors gathered at Calabasas Creek Park Saturday to walk among a replicated Chumash Village and hear singers and storytellers share the history of one of the oldest tribes in California.

Called a “California Tribal Gathering,” the event was hosted by the and featured cultural displays, handcrafted Chumash jewelry and vendors in addition to tribal stories, songs and accompanying dances.  

Attendees had the chance to take a glimpse back to a time before European influence changed the face of California’s lands and rediscover the story of Chumash.

The gathering is a reason for Chumash people to come together to share their songs and stories “the way we used to for thousands” of years, said Alan Salazar, Chumash storyteller and author.

“It is important for people to hear the Chumash story from Chumash people,” he said. “It always amazes me how people don’t know the true story, what happened to the Chumash people, what it was really like at the missions in the early 1800s, what it was like to be a Chumash person living in small village on the island of Limuw–the Island we now call Santa Cruz island.”

A lot of information is left out of history books, “things that just weren’t important enough but they are important to us,” he said.

The village site will give future visitors a peek into the life of Espiritu Leonis, a Chumash Indian who was the wife of the adobe’s original owner, Miguel Leonis.

Many are surprised to hear that the Chumash and the Tongva/Gabrielino Indians, were the only two tribes in California that built ocean-going canoes, Salazar said. These tribes were building plank canoes for 4,000 to 5,000 thousand years and dugout canoes for up to 10,000 years, said Salazar, who also led the attendees on an informative lecture on the history of his people.

The Chumash’s territory once stretched from Malibu to Santa Barbara at a time when their population is estimated to have numbered at around 22,000.

The presentation also included performances by Gil Unzueta and Jay Unzueta, a father and son team that showcased some of their people’s traditional Chumash songs, dances and stories.

Gil Unzueta told the audience the legend of the rainbow bridge, a creation myth that explains the migration of the band from Santa Cruz Island to the coastal mainland of California.

According to legend, a goddess named Hutash was displeased when the island became crowded as Chumash villages began to grow.

“They were getting really loud and noisy. . . . And the old lady in the sky became annoyed,” Gil Unzueta told the audience.  

To solve the problem, she decided to build a rainbow bridge but told her people to not look down because they might risk falling. However, some of the people did look down and subsequently fell into the ocean, and began to drown, he said.

“This is not what she wanted so she turned those people into dolphins. . . .This is why, today, the Chumash people say that dolphins are our brothers and sisters,” Gil Unzueta said, finishing his tale before sharing many more.

"I came here just because I'm interested in Native American issues and it's kind of a grand opening of a new village, so I'd like to support it and see what's going on," said Mark Dubrow of Pacific Palisades. 

"We lead an over-consumptive way of life and here we have a model of people living sustainably, and we slaughtered them," Dubrow said. "I like to see [their culture] alive still--it's a fine thread going back in time."   

The Chumash Village is a permanent exhibit that’s also part of a grander project set to include a Victorian rose garden and mission-era huerta garden.

Calabasas Creekside Park is located right next to the Sagebrush Cantina. The village will be open to visitors and school tours.  For more information, click here.

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