New Law Allows Native American Culture Teachers

Governor Brown signs bill to allow credentials for Native American culture teachers

Source: Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash IndiansSANTA YNEZ, CA – July 15, 2015 – Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill into law that extends the successfully implemented separate teaching credential for Native American languages passed in 2008 to include Native American culture.

The bill, AB 163, which was introduced by Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Carpinteria) and supported by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, was signed into law on Monday. Under the Native American language-culture credential created by this bill, applicants can be authorized to teach courses in Native American language, Native American culture or both in California public schools.

“Our tribe is all too aware of the importance of not only preserving our language, but our culture as well,” said Vincent Armenta, Tribal Chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “The passage of this bill will allow educators throughout California to become credentialed in Native American culture and share our traditions with children who have never been exposed to Native American life.”

In 2008, AB 544 established a separate teaching credential for the teaching of Native American languages in California schools. Federally recognized California tribes administered a test of their Native American language(s) to the teacher applicant, and those who succeeded received tribal sponsorship for a separate teaching credential from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing after passing necessary background and other checks. To date, 28 teachers have received such Native American language teaching credential statewide.

The Native American culture credential would be administered exactly the same as the Native American language credential by federally recognized California tribes and the state commission.

“This bill is a reminder of California’s incredible diversity, and the Commission is excited to help safeguard our state’s Native American heritage for future generations by placing qualified teachers of tribal culture in California’s classrooms,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, Ed.D., Executive Director of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The signing of AB 163 comes on the heels of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ recent success of its own education programs. The preservation of its language, “Samala,” has become a model for successfully reinvigorating tribal languages and culture through dedicated programs.

The tribe released “The Samala-English Dictionary: A Guide to the Samala Language of the Ineseño Chumash People” in 2008. The 600- plus-page comprehensive dictionary was the result of a multi-year project and collaboration with Dr. Richard Applegate, a linguist who had studied the tribe’s language more than four decades ago when he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley.

In 2013, the Santa Ynez Chumash began offering a Samala language program at its Education Center, one of 27 state-funded American Indian Education Centers in California. Students are now taught Samala words, sentence structure and pronunciation through the learning center’s after-school language program and tutoring.

Last year, the tribe partnered with The Family School, a preschool/K-5 school in Los Olivos, California to bring Samala into the classrooms. Samala teachers have their own classroom where they teach Samala language classes twice a week. The language classes go beyond just teaching Samala, they also offer students a chance to immerse themselves in the language and Chumash culture.

[View the full legislation here.]

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is located in Santa Barbara County. The tribe owns and operates the popular Chumash Casino Resort on its reservation and also owns two hotels and a restaurant in the nearby town of Solvang – Hotel Corque, Hadsten House and Root 246 – as well as two gas stations in Santa Ynez.

Feds hear about Indian tribe recognition proposal

Maura Sullivan, secretary for the Central Band of Chumash Nation, speaks about the proposed changes to federal acknowledgment regulations for Native American tribes Thursday in Solvang.
Maura Sullivan, secretary for the Central Band of Chumash Nation, speaks about the proposed changes to federal acknowledgment regulations for Native.American tribes Thursday in Solvang. Daniel Dreifuss/Staff

Federal officials heard testimony Thursday in Solvang on proposed changes to the process for Native American tribes to get recognized, a procedure speakers described as expensive, lengthy and burdensome.

July 26, 2013
Julian J. Ramos/

In June, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a draft of potential changes to its Part 83 process for acknowledging certain groups as American Indian tribes granted a government-to-government relationship with the United States.

At the moment, the U.S. has 566 federally recognized tribes, of which 17 have been recognized through Part 83. California has 109 federally recognized Indian tribes with between 70 and 80 seeking federal recognition.

The draft proposal, the subject of two sessions Thursday at Hotel Corque, is meant to give tribes and the public an early opportunity to provide input on potential changes to the Part 83 process.

Proposed revisions are intended to improve transparency, timeliness, efficiency, flexibility and integrity in the acknowledgment process, according to the DOI.

However, critics of the proposed rules are calling them the “Patchak patch,” a reference to Supreme Court decision last year in favor of David Patchak, a Michigan man who challenged the way the government takes land into trust for tribes.

They say the proposed rules are meant to drastically limit the uncertainties created by the Patchak decision by adding administrative barriers for potential litigants and rushing fee-to-trust acquisitions, which removes land from local jurisdiction and makes it part of an Indian reservation, under tribal authority.

Larry Roberts, deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, said the presentation during the afternoon public meeting was the same delivered during the morning tribal consultation session.

The public session Thursday afternoon drew between 60 and 70 attendees, including Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson, in the ballroom of the hotel, which is owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

Roberta Cortero of the Central Band of Chumash Nation speaks her concerns about the proposed changes to federal acknowledgment regulations for Native American tribes Thursday In Solvang. Daniel Dreifuss/Staff
Roberta Cortero of the Central Band of Chumash Nation speaks her concerns about the proposed changes to federal acknowledgment regulations for Native American tribes Thursday In Solvang. Daniel Dreifuss/Staff

Many of the speakers represented California tribes seeking recognition, a process they described as cumbersome, costly and very time consuming, or as Mona Olivas Tucker, tribal chairwoman of the Yak Tityu Tityu Northern Chumash in San Luis Obispo County, put it, something she doesn’t expect to be completed in her lifetime.

Valentin Lopez, tribal chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Coastanoan/Ohlone Indians in the San Juan Bautista area, said the acknowledgment process is getting more and more difficult, is too lengthy, should be moved out of the hands of the DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the burden of proof for recognition should revert to the BIA from tribes.

Michael Cordero, tribal chairman of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, said criteria changes could make it easier to be recognized and tribes, such as his, could benefit from the acknowledgment.

A “Letter of Intent,” which begins the acknowledgment petition process, has been submitted for the tribe, he said.

During a break, Cordero said the session had been helpful in clarifying some issues on the process and requirements.

Across San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation has about 2,500 enrolled members, Cordero said.

Under the proposal, reviews of a petitioner’s community and political authority — criteria for acknowledgment — would “begin with the year 1934 to align with the government’s negation of allotment and assimilation policies and eliminate the requirement that an external entity identify the group as Indian since 1900,” according to the DOI.

No More Slots attorney Jim Marino asked why 1934 is being used in the criteria. He represents several groups against more Indian gaming and land acquisition through the fee-to-trust process, which removes land from local jurisdiction and makes it part of an Indian reservation under tribal authority.

The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act represented a “dramatic” shift in federal policy toward self determination for tribes and the use of that year as a benchmark is meant to reflect that change, Roberts said.

To block attempts to annex property into the Santa Ynez Reservation, opponents of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians have questioned whether it’s legally a tribal government and thus able to take land into trust via the fee-to-trust process.

The battle centers on Chumash efforts to annex almost 7 acres they own across Highway 246 from the tribe’s Santa Ynez casino.

Members of Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) and Preservation of Santa Ynez (POSY) have presented documentation to the Bureau of Indian Affairs the groups believe prove the Chumash were not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, and do not qualify to take any land into trust.

By contrast, the Chumash tribe logo and flag says “Federally Recognized Tribe since 1901.”

Due to POLO’s continuing litigation, the group has been advised not to comment on the proposed rule change, POLO president Kathy Cleary said.

Other plans by the Chumash to annex property into the reservation, notably 1,400 acres they own about 2 miles east of the casino and an additional 5.8 acres in the casino area along Highway 246, have also been met with opposition.

Sam Cohen, legal and government affairs specialist for the Chumash, said the proposal is not applicable to the local tribe.

“The Department of the Interior has started to initiate the process of reviewing revisions to the federal acknowledgment regulations for Native American tribes that hope to be federally recognized,” he said in a statement. “Since the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians was federally recognized in 1901, the revisions don’t apply to the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe.”

Transcripts from both sessions will be available at, officials said.

The discussion draft is available for review at

Interior officials will accept written comments on the draft until Aug. 16 by email to or by mail to Elizabeth Appel, Office of Regulatory Affairs & Collaborative Action, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, NW, MS 4141, Washington, DC 20240.

Casino Powering Chumash Culture?

Anthropologist Paul H. Gelles Discusses New Book Chumash Renaissance

EYEING THE TRIBE: While working each summer for the tribe from 2003-2005, anthropologist Paul H. Gelles became fascinated with how much casino revenues had boosted the Chumash people’s cultural rebirth; so the Midland teacher spent the next few years researching and writing his academic study of that phenomenon.
EYEING THE TRIBE: While working each summer for the tribe from 2003-2005, anthropologist Paul H. Gelles became fascinated with how much casino revenues had boosted the Chumash people’s cultural rebirth; so the Midland teacher spent the next few years researching and writing his academic study of that phenomenon. Paul Wellman


Thursday, June 20, 2013
By Matt Kettmann (Contact)

After 200 or so years of subjugation, discrimination, and poverty, it only took about a decade for the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians to completely flip the economic and political tables of Santa Barbara County, where they’re now one of the largest employers, a major philanthropic force, and a lobbying heavyweight. Yet because that rise to prominence came on the back of the Chumash Casino ​— ​a large resort opened in 2004 amid much public outcry on the Chumash reservation at the center of the Santa Ynez Valley ​— ​the success story has never been without controversy. And with plans to annex land across Highway 246 for a cultural center, as well as desires to develop the recently purchased 1,400-acre Camp 4 property into tribal housing, the past, present, and future of the Santa Ynez Chumash will be at the forefront of Santa Barbara politics for years to come.

Against that backdrop comes Chumash Renaissance: Indian Casinos, Education, and Cultural Politics in Rural California, a new book from anthropologist Paul H. Gelles. After studying South American tribes and teaching at UC Riverside for many years, Gelles came to live in the Santa Ynez Valley in 2003 when he was hired by the Chumash as a cultural coordinator for their summer camp. He worked in that capacity for two more summers, and then ​— ​in between teaching classes at Midland School, where he remains a teacher ​— ​Gelles spent the ensuing years researching, writing, and self-publishing this first attempt to show how integral casino revenues have been to saving and restoring traditional Chumash culture.

“Chumash culture was there before the casino, obviously, but the casino revenues have helped the tribe revitalize it and even bring things back,” said Gelles, explaining that, among other triumphs, the Chumash hired a linguist to recover and teach them the old Samala language. “It’s so different from where I worked in Peru, where there was a very strong culture with very little money. Here is a tribe that has financial resources to focus on culture and reclaim what has been taken from them.”

Along with the cultural rebirth has come an educational revolution for the tribe’s 1,200 descendents ​— ​who can tap into college scholarships ​— ​as well as actual political power, too, which Chumash elders wield at local, state, and federal levels in ways that were unimaginable just 20 years ago. “For the 50 million indigenous people from the Americas, probably 98 percent still live in abject poverty and have very little economic or political power,” said Gelles. “It’s not like I love casinos, but the casino tribes are the only indigenous people out of all the Americas that have gained economic and political power.”

While the book looks very favorably on the casino’s impact, Gelles doesn’t give his opinion on future plans, and he agrees that people have a right to oppose development. But he believes that the opposition groups represent a “vocal minority” of mostly “elite, white people” ​— ​many of whom came to the valley in fairly recent times ​— ​and questions their tactics. “What I object to is the way in which they denigrate the tribal members in the process,” said Gelles. “They question authenticity, which is very insulting. It’s very different than what other developments face.”

Gelles believes that’s partly because modern society has trouble reconciling the image of pristine Native Americans with the reality of successful businesspeople. “We like to think of Native Americans as being representative of what we’ve lost as a people,” he said. “We don’t think about the living experience of flesh-and-blood people.” But in his South American research, particularly on a group of Peruvian migrants who traveled regularly between their Andean village and Washington, D.C., Gelles knows that 21st-century success does not wipe out tradition. “What you find are that social mobility and modernity can be compatible with indigenous identity,” he explained.

Gelles mostly hopes his book helps remind his neighbors that they live amid many different kinds of people, not just rich, white ranchers. “I’ve got a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old, and I want them to grow up in a community that respects cultural diversity,” said Gelles. “The public institutions haven’t done a good job of educating people about the diversity that exists in the Santa Ynez Valley. I’m hoping to force a dialogue and discussion about this, and tell what’s largely an untold story.”