Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, the Chumash Indian reservation has undergone vast change since its first known habitation 13,000 years ago. The Chumash Indians were one of many coastal California Indian tribes. Like most, they were a loosely banded group, spread over a large area. The Chumash were divided into many villages, many running along the coast or along Mission Creek, which runs through the heart of Santa Barbara. The Chumash people were famous for a form of bead money. The beads were made primarily from the shell of the Olivella, a marine snail. The word Chumash means “bead money makers.”
The diet of these coastal people mainly consisted of fish. In fact, over a hundred types of fish, not to mention shellfish like abalone, clams and mussels. They hunted using spears and harpoons, and as early as 1,500 years ago they began to use the bow and arrow. To navigate the sea, the Chumash used a plank canoe, called a “tomol.” Perhaps the most useful tool to the Chumash people, these canoes were up to thirty feet long and were used for ocean fishing and to travel to the Channel Islands, which were also inhabited by the Chumash.
The Chumash had many myths and legends. Like many native tribes, they had stories to explain all facets of nature. The stars are sparks thrown out from the sun’s torch at the end of his daylong journey lighting the world. The phases of the moon are explained by the idea that the great eagle of the sky spreading his wings.
The last known full blooded Chumash Indian, Fernando Librado Kitsepawit, died in 1915 in Santa Barbara. Some decedents of the Chumash are still around, and the Chumash Reservation is now the home of a casino. It’s safe to say that the area has changed drastically. A row of gas stations and a store line the exit off the highway. The casino and resort are always aglow with flood lights, which penetrate the darkness of the Santa Ynez Valley. The casino is relatively new, and is beautiful. It has an enormous hotel attached to it and a large arena. The arena attracts large acts, like Bill Cosby, and hosts numerous boxing bouts. Genuine Chumash artwork adorns the walls of the casino and hotel lobby. Pots, paintings, and baskets are on the walls and around the lobby. At the resort-casino, little other evidence exists of the ancient civilization that was once there. There is a museum nearby which was closed when I visited the casino. Inside the casino is like any other, with the stench of cigarette smoke and the familiar “ding ding” of slot machines. The Chumash casino is a nice trip, if you don’t mind losing your money, but if you want to learn about the Chumash culture, I suggest you bypass the casino and find the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.