Santa Barbara Independent: Neo-Chumash identity
"A court case that began January 17 could determine once and for all the fate of American Indian Health & Services (AIHS), which is the third incarnation of a clinic first established in the 1970s to serve Native Americans in Santa Barbara. The case, brought by four former administrators who claim they were fired because they were not Native American, threatens the survival of the clinic, which provides medical care not only to Native Americans but to everybody from uninsured workers to Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Serious as it is, however, the lawsuit is merely one aspect of the upheaval the clinic has been undergoing for more than a year. By now, the board of directors accused of setting the policy to replace non-Native-American employees has itself been replaced for not being Native American enough.

Most of those former boardmembers are Coastal Band Chumash, a group whose claim to Chumash identity has been a topic of hot dispute. Not only the boardmembers but also the clinic's Coastal Band Chumash patients -- who number in the hundreds -- were disqualified from receiving free care as Native Americans. From the Coastal Band's point of view, one of the bitter ironies is that their members were named as intended beneficiaries when the applications were made to establish the original dental clinic on Milpas Street and both of its successors -- Urban Indian Health on mid State Street and this one, AIHS, which has been operating since 1996 in a sprawling complex of offices in the Modoc Shopping Center. The Coastal Band played an active role in founding and perpetuating the Santa Barbara clinic, which is one of only eight in the state, two of which recently became referral services.

The legitimacy of Coastal Band members' claims to Chumash identity has been a topic of controversy ever since the band’s official formation in 1969. A paper published last year by anthropologists Brian Haley and Larry Wilcoxon refers to the Coastal Band as "neo-Chumash," offering them as a prime example of ethnicity as a political, emotional, and even imaginative construct. The core members of the Coastal Band are documented descendants of the original colonizers and settlers from Mexico in the 1700s, Haley and Wilcoxon assert. They have always been a tightly knit clan, according to the anthropologists. Depending on the era and the individual's social status, clan members have been variously referred to in the historical record as Mexican, Indian, Mestizo, Mulatto, Spanish, White, Mexican American, Chumash, and now, neo-Chumash.

The group includes numerous lines descended from a soldier born in Baja California named Mariano Cordero, the paper continues. While some of the Cordero descendents married Chumash and had children, others didn't. According to Haley and Wilcoxon' study, the Coastal Band indiscriminately includes both, as well as Santa Ynez Band descendants and others who happen to have been living in the area when the Coastal Band gave itself that name and started distributing membership cards. Its beginnings may have had some economic motivation, and some emotional motivations because in the late 1960s being Native American carried social status."

Get the Story:
Authentic Ethnicity in Question (The Santa Barbara Independent 1/18)

Relevant Links:
Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation -