The stories of the past resound today Sand City mayor’s vision for California's new Native heritage center


By Isaac González-Díaz

With $100 million in state funds, California began the “visioning phase” of the California Indian Heritage Center in 2018. The main purpose of this project is to preserve cultural and tribal traditions of the Native Americans, nurturing contemporary Native expressions and facilitating research and education for California, the nation and the world. 

For Sand City mayor and member of the Chumash tribe Mary Ann Carbone, the project will offer non-federally recognized Native American tribal members “a place where they can go to have a ceremony, a place to have education, a place where they can go to feel that air of home,” she said during a local event to to discuss the future of the center. 

The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey hosted the gathering last March to encourage participation from Native peoples in designing the future home of the Indian Heritage Center. The center will be housed at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, on 51 acres donated in part by the city of Sacramento. 

There are 109 recognized Native American tribes in California, plus 81 others that are seeking federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Tribes in California reside on nearly 100 reservations or “rancherias” according to the Judicial Branch of California

Carbone’s Chumash tribe was federally recognized in 1901. The traditional territory of the Chumash lies along the coast of California, between Malibu and Paso Robles, as well as on the Channel Islands. The area was first settled about 13,000 years ago and at one time, the Chumash had a population of 18,000, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“My people are coastal people. Our people are from Southern California and my ancestors from the Channel Islands, and they came to the mainland near Santa Barbara, Santa Ana and the Ventura area,” Carbone said. 

But the impact of the missions on Native American populations was devastating. According to mission records, Franciscans at missions baptized more than 53,000 Native American adults and buried 37,000 during the period. Many Native Americans died from diseases such as measles and smallpox, introduced by Europeans. The mission system recruited and indentured Native Americans to produce food and build the missions. Native Americans were often tricked into coming to the missions with gifts or chances to sell their goods — but once baptized, they found themselves enslaved, confined within mission compounds, and brutally punished if they tried to run away. 

Still, many did escape to survive. That’s perhaps why Carbone’s ancestors ended up in the Central Coast, she said. 

 “We were still practicing ceremonies in these areas,” she said, adding that her ancestors would hide in the hills so they could continue their traditions. They would “practice ceremonies there, so they won’t be whipped.” 

Carbone says she is proud of her ancestry as a Native American, its traditions that have been handed down from woman to woman through great-grandmothers, and the knowledge that her three daughters will carry those traditions on to future generations. 

GET INVOLVED: Sign up to attend future events for the California Indian Heritage Center.

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.