Opinion | Trust

Eldon Shiffman: Give Chumash Tribe a chance to reclaim its land

A view of the land-into-trust site. Photo from Chumash EA

Eldon Shiffman, the chief investment officer for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in California, asks the local community to support the tribe's land-into-trust application:
The Chumash tribe has recently been successful in obtaining a basket woven by a member of the tribe approximately 150 years ago. It is a piece of tribal art most likely wrested from the Chumash of the late 1800s under less-than-perfect circumstances. Perhaps it was discovered by one of many artifact hunters of the late 19th century or sold by its owner to buy food or clothing. With the Chumash living on the bottom rung of society since the mid 1800s, anything is possible.

The purchase of this tribal artifact was accomplished by the negotiation of a price between the tribe and the seller. It was not a small amount of money. I hope the Chumash have the financial resources to repatriate all their former property now owned in private collections and museums around the world. If someone went into your home and told you to get out and took all of your possessions, you would be quite angry. I don’t know if the tribe is upset about having to pay to get their property back, or if they are simply grateful to have been successful in this transaction, despite the price. I think the rest of us would be outraged if we had to pay to get Grandma’s quilt back.

I think even the opponents of the tribe’s efforts to bring more land into reservation status would agree that reacquiring items that represent their history is a good thing and should be encouraged and supported. This repatriation of a tribal artifact could not have happened without the success of their casino and related businesses. The exemplary graduation rate of tribal students from high school, the continuation of these students to college and advanced degree programs, and the operation of a health clinic for tribal members and the public at large are all a result of the success of Chumash businesses.

Get the Story:
Eldon Shiffman: Rightful Ownership (The Santa Barbara Independent 1/31)

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