fbpx
 

A 7,000 square mile area off the central coast of California that includes ancestral Native sites and unique biodiversity is underway to become the first tribal-led marine sanctuary in the U.S.

On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—the federal agency in charge of fisheries and marine mammal protection— forwarded the Northern Chumash Tribe’s proposal for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary to public comment, the first step in a designation process.

Want more Native News? Get the free daily newsletter today.

The Chumash people have occupied the central coast area for more than 20,000 years, according to the Northern Chumash tribal records. The proposed site—adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and situated between two previously designated marine sanctuaries, Channel Islands and Monterey— would protect submerged villages of tribal ancestors.

Additionally, the area’s confluence of warm and cool waters make it a feeding ground for several threatened or engaged species, including blue whales, southern sea otters, black abalone, snowy plovers, and leatherback sea turtles. Notably, more than 40 historic shipwrecks have taken place within the proposed boundaries. 

All of these are listed as reasons why the late tribal chairman, Fred Collins, fought for this designation for many years. He penned the original sanctuary request in 2015.

Now, his successor and daughter Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker, said the successful designation of the sanctuary will serve as a model of environmental justice.

“Today’s announcement marks a major milestone after more than 40 years of tireless advocacy for ocean protection, and also represents the first tribally nominated sanctuary in the nation,” she said. “Today my father would be proud,” Sage Walker said. “This is one of the things he wanted to see the most.”

The proposal has been met with widespread support from local lawmakers.

In August, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D, CA-24), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) wrote to the U.S. Commerce Secretary and the NOAA Administrator to request advancement of the proposed sanctuary designation.

“The waters off the Central Coast of California are some of the most biologically diverse and ecologically productive regions in the world,” the letter reads. “Additionally, as outlined in the nomination submitted by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, these waters are essential to the heritage of the Chumash, one of the few ocean-going bands among the First People of the Pacific Coast. Indigenous communities have always been a part of the marine ecosystem, and the Chumash people’s historical memories and knowledge are key to conservation moving forward.”

In response, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement that proposals like the Chumash Heritage sanctuary align with the Bidden-Harris administration’s goal to address climate change. 

The designation aligns with the “Indigenous led, nature-based solutions to climate change” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has been petitioning the worldwide need for at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.

“If we are going to be successful in tackling climate change and addressing the biodiversity crisis, we have to empower the original stewards of the land,” Haaland said during a panel discussion.

NOAA is accepting public comments online or by mail through January 10, 2022. The agency is also holding three virtual meetings to hear public input on Dec. 8, Dec. 10, and Jan. 6. To sign up or submit a comment, click here.

More Stories Like This

Native-Owned Renewable Energy Companies to Receive more than $6.5 Million from Department of Energy
Diné Organization Files Petition Against United States, Citing Human Rights Violations
DOI Seeks Input for Nebulous Equity Plans
More than 130 Arrested on Indigenous Peoples Day as Hundreds Convene in Washington for People v. Fossil Fuels Event

Native Perspective.  Native Voices.  Native News. 

We launched Native News Online because the mainstream media often overlooks news that is important is Native people. We believe that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers.  We hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.