It was 14 years in the making, but in June of 2014 the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ 6.9 acres across the street from the reservation was finally placed into federal trust, paving the way for work to begin on building the Chumash Museum and Cultural Center.
The tribe first filed a federal trust application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the land in late 2000. The BIA approved the application twice, but local anti-tribal groups spent millions of dollars to prevent the land from being placed into trust, creating a nine-year process of remands, dismissals and appeals.
Once the land was placed into trust, the tribe wasted no time in taking a giant step forward by hiring Jones & Jones, an award winning architectural firm that has completed more than 650 projects in the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa.
Johnpaul Jones, a founding partner of Jones & Jones, was the lead designer for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. His designs have won widespread acclaim for their reverence for the earth, for paying deep respect to regional architectural traditions and native landscapes, and for heightening understanding of indigenous people and cultures of America.
Hiring a renowned architectural firm is only part of creating an exceptional museum. The other part involves creating an amazing museum collection. For the past several years, the tribe has been quietly building a growing collection of artifacts, replications and heritage paintings that will showcase the artful beauty of the Chumash people.
Among the collection are several intricately designed baskets that demonstrate the expert weaving techniques of the Chumash—techniques that were passed down from one generation to the next. Baskets were essential to Chumash lifeways and had a number of uses including harvesting, cooking and even holding newborns in their first cradleboards.
The tribe has collected hundreds of items – from seagrass skirts to stone bowls to shell necklaces—that sit safely in a climate-controlled room awaiting their debut in the Chumash Museum. The tribe is focused on developing collections that will convey the comprehensive story in a way that will engage, inspire and inform museum visitors.
The vision for the Chumash Museum is to promote understanding of the Santa Ynez Chumash. It’s a proud history of survival, sustenance, loss and success, adaptability, flexibility—a story the Chumash will soon share in a museum built on the premise of embracing a culture.