The wisdom of our tribal elders

2014-01-16T00:30:00Z The wisdom of our tribal eldersNakia Zavalla/Commentary Santa Ynez Valley News
January 16, 2014 12:30 am  • 

A centerpiece of our Chumash culture is that tribal elders should be admired and honored for the knowledge and experiences they've gathered over their lifetimes. Our elders, and the ones before them, have endured so much for us to stay together as a tribe.

For example, our reservation in the valley did not have running water until 1969. Some of our ancestors were sent away to boarding schools where teachers tried to stamp out our language and traditions.

As cultural director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, I wanted to spend some time in this column discussing the role of elders in our community. Our tribal government has elected leaders and a general council. Our government also has numerous divisions, from our health clinic to our fire department to our environmental office, that provide vital services to Chumash families and others in the community as well.

Our Tribal Elders Council has a special place within our tribe. The council is made up of tribal members age 50 and older. The council has a governing board of seven members.

The Elders Council’s main responsibility is to protect and preserve our cultural resources. These are some of the activities and projects that its governing board helps to oversee:

  • Relocation of human remains and religious artifacts.
  • Organization and oversight of culturally sensitive dig sites through monitoring services. The council works with our monitors at development sites. Those interested in our monitoring program may contact the Elders Council office at
  • Organization and oversight of recovered artifacts and pictographs.
  • Coordination and collaboration with historical, local, state, national and international societies and museums.
  • Coordination and collaboration with other individuals and entities concerning recognized sensitive sites.
  • Building and nurturing of relationships with outside agencies, tribes and others that share our same preservation beliefs.
  • Creating strong bonds with our younger generations.

Our Cultural and other departments work closely with both our elders and youth to build such bonds through events and programs on our reservation.

Our elders also help plan and organize community events, such as our annual Chumash Culture Days on the reservation, held each fall. These events allow the general public to learn more about our Chumash traditions from our elders.

Last year, many of our elders were recognized as “Distinguished Elders” at the annual California Conference on American Indian Education. This included: Adelina Alva-Padilla, Sarah Moses, Grace Romero Pacheco, Joseph Talaugon and Mercy Weller.

California Conference on American Indian Education focuses on strengthening ties to families and tribes, and individuals contributing to the advancement of Indian Education in California. The “Distinguished Elders” from our tribe and others in the state each exemplify a deep commitment to culture and education in our community and beyond.

Our elders are our most revered teachers and are sources of daily inspiration. I hope you have learned a bit about their work and role in our tribe.

Nakia Zavalla is the cultural director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

Copyright 2015 Santa Ynez Valley News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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