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On “Columbus Day,” Examining North America’s Oldest Spiritual Laws

California’s Chumash natives were amoung the first people (or the first) to inhabit North America – they even called themselves “the first people,” and they pointed to the shores of the Pacific Ocean as their first home.

Evidence was found showing that they had settlements on the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains as far back as thousands of years ago.The Chumash Indians of California numbered over 20,000 people who lived along the coast of California. At one time, their territory encompassed 7,000 square miles that spanned from the beaches of Malibu to Paso Robles. The tribe also inhabited inland to the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley. The Chumash Indians were able to enjoy a more prosperous environment than most other tribes in California because they had resources from both the land and the sea.

The Chumash were physically and spiritually united with nature, and did not waste any part of any animal they killed, or any plant they pulled from the earth.  They lived according to “nature’s time”, and believed that man’s greed and desire for supremacy could eventually lead to his downfall. The Chumash villages were endowed with a shaman/astrologer. These gifted astronomers charted the heavens and then allowed the astrologers to interpret and help guide the people. The Chumash believed that the world was in a constant state of change, so decisions in the villages were made only after consulting the charts.

The Chumash were a matriarchal society, meaning their lineage was traced from the mother’s side of the family, and that the Chief could be either a man or a woman. They were also considered to be the keepers of the Western Gate, and took this responsibility very seriously, which is probably why knowledge of their respect of nature is remembered as one of their defining traits.

The Chumash were also accomplished traders, and had a monetary system based on beads and seashells.  They traded herbs, baskets, tools, and other artifacts with other tribes and bands, in the spirit of sharing as opposed to one of profiteering. Many elders today say that Chumash means “bead maker” or “seashell people.”

The Chumash lived by three basic laws which were:

1. Limitation; this meant each individual should recognize and accept his or her limitations, and not envy those of others.  This mean that each member of the tribe should be happy in their abilities, for they all had equal value in the community.

2. Moderation; take only what you need from the land and the ocean. Leave some for future days and future peoples. The same goes for your tasks; better to take your time than make a mistake which would render all your work useless.

3. Compensation; give without expecting anything in return, give from the kindness of your heart, and recognize the fact that compensation comes in many forms which are not always tangible.

The Chumash lived life in balance with nature, and they were ready for any situation they would encounter in their daily existence and their tasks.  As a spiritual people, their view of death also echoed wisdom, believing it to be a natural part of life, bringing forth renewal and allowing the spirits of those who had departed to carry on within the living through songs, dance, art, and storytelling.

Once a thriving culture, the Chumash (and other Native American tribes) eventually succumbed to Spanish conquistadors and American colonists. The Chumash population was almost decimated by the introduction of European diseases and the Spanish Mission system, which awarded California (Chumash) land to Spanish/Mexican conquistadors.  Ironically, the Chumash are now a people without land to call their own, as most Chumash bands have not yet made the list of federally recognized tribes.

The annual Pow-wow in Malibu celebrates their beautiful culture and traditions.  Native Foods, Native American Arts and Crafts, story-telling, childrens activities and more.