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Earth Wisdom: a California Chumash Woman.


By Yolanda Broyles-Gonzdlez and Pilulaw Khus (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011, 256 pp., $24.95 paper)

THE VIEWPOINTS OF the collaborating authors have inevitably colored their contributions to this unique and insightful volume. Dr. Broyles-Gonzalez comes from a Yaqui-Chicana background in Arizona to teach at the university in Tucson. Pilulaw Khus does not provide a genealogy but is a ceremonial elder, clan mother, and medicine carrier living near San Luis Obispo in central California. She is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, with some training in law school, who chose to live for years without electricity. Their collaboration lasted a decade.

Dr. Broyles-Gonzalez's extensive introduction of forty-six pages provides a carefully reasoned context that reflects upon local and Native history, as well as Chumash concepts of survival strategies, self-determination, gender, resistance, and reemergence. She does not attempt to evaluate Khus's narrative, but writes from her own experiences and reflections. Chapters 1-13 are presented as oral history spoken by Khus. There are endnotes but no bibliography other than citations within the notes.

Chapter 3 contains a review of "The Three Major Invasions," referring to the arrival of the Spanish padres and military in the 1770s, then the Russians and Spanish, and finally the Americans. The word Holocaust is used to describe "the exceptional brutality and viciousness" imposed on the Native people by the colonizers in a very brief period of time. Elsewhere, Khus compares site planning by the utility companies as "the same kind of genocidal action that Hitler brought down on the people in Germany."

Chapter 4 discusses various strategies for resistance, including guerrilla warfare; relocation; adopting a superficial veneer of Catholicism; coming closer together as families, clans, and tribes; and participating in various ceremonies that are mentioned often but deliberately not described.

The role of women in the Chumash culture is central within the book and emphasized throughout. The bonding of individuals has accompanied recognition of their power within both family and community. Khus has been an activist since the late 1970s and speaks from the viewpoint of the Life Force.

The strength of Khus's opinions is suggested by the title of chapter 5, "Anthropologists, Archaeologists, and Grave Robbers." The certainty of some academicians and governments that they know much about indigenous people is "one of the most powerful and obstinate forms of racism and disrespect." Further, the academic lens is distorted by advanced-degree training, racial filters, and greed. While archaeologists are not completely "without merit," they have done a great deal of damage with their digging to fill museums. However, the display of artifacts may not be anathema to all Chumash, since the Santa Barbara Chumash have been amassing collections for years and are actively working to acquire additional land to build their own museum.

Khus reviews the experience at Chumash sites such as Pismo Beach, Point Conception, Paso Robles, Carrizo Plain, and the Channel Islands and makes special reference to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power facility in San Luis Obispo. She writes that "close to thirty" of her ancestors were pulled out of the earth. In fact, sixty-seven human burials from the plant site were meticulously excavated, studied in a respectful and noninvasive manner, and returned to the Chumash. The published report describing all of the artifacts and the burials contributed much new information about the Native people and their ways of life and established the first chronology of human occupation along the central California coast. Even though this research took place in 1968-69, before the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) or the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required it, the effort shows that mitigation, while less positive a result than preservation, is not necessarily a disadvantage to Native peoples.

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Author:Greenwood, Roberta S.
Publication:California History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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