Letters to the Editor

Attorney for Chumash Council: Columnist John Peschong got it wrong on Morro Rock

The Chumash tribe has not attempted to prohibit access to the area surrounding Morro Rock for ceremonial use by the Salinans, Tarren Collins writes.
The Chumash tribe has not attempted to prohibit access to the area surrounding Morro Rock for ceremonial use by the Salinans, Tarren Collins writes. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

John Peschong’s Nov. 1 Viewpoint (“Let Salinan Tribe climb Morro Rock for religious ceremony”) concerning the dispute over the protection of Morro Rock between local traditional Chumash elders and certain people claiming Salinan heritage is riddled with untruths, deceptions and destructive ethnocentrism.

Mr. Peschong characterizes the efforts of the Chumash — which are directed toward protection of the endangered nesting peregrine falcons on top of the rock and the protection of the fish in the sea — as a “guise for taking control of something.” He doesn’t explain how such a guise would benefit the Chumash because the truth is, it would benefit the public — not any one individual entity.

And in fact, because the government is charged with being the guardian of these public trust resources, it is completely false for Peschong to claim the establishment of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary or the protection of peregrine falcons on Morro Rock “are a misuse of government.”

What is also missing from Peschong’s analysis is the fact that local Chumash elders have tried to stop people from climbing Morro Rock for over a decade, beginning with the San Luis Obispo County Chumash Council’s efforts in 2000. As the attorney for the San Luis Obispo County Chumash Council, I told the Los Angeles Times 13 years ago: “Historic evidence suggests the Chumash held rites atop Morro Rock for centuries, but the tribe has deliberately avoided the summit in recent decades because of the falcons” (Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2002).

Mark Vigil, chief of the SLO County Chumash Council, was quoted in The Tribune: “It is and has always been our feeling that because the Rock is home to many species of wildlife and most of all the peregrine falcon, who is endangered, we should not climb the Morro Rock and chance disturbing any wildlife that is present” (Tribune, July 7, 2012).

The efforts of the Chumash people to protect the earth are not a recent development. I’ve been working with Native American tribes throughout the state of California since helping the San Luis Obispo County Chumash Council form in 1996, and I have learned that traditional Native Americans have long understood the interconnectedness of all life; they believe it is their sacred duty to revere all life, and to practice sustainable harvesting of resources. While it is true that many Native American groups have been able to share sacred areas of religious significance with little incident, the key to such cooperation is respect.

The Chumash here have not attempted to prohibit access to the area surrounding Morro Rock for ceremonial use by the Salinans. The people claiming Salinan heritage who want to climb Morro Rock on the solstice have disregarded the Chumash’s concerns about disturbing the endangered peregrine falcons. To the Chumash who hold it as their sacred duty to protect earth’s species from annihilation, this issue is not one they can ignore. Their Chumash ancestors climbed the Rock for ceremony prior to the falcon becoming endangered, and they have adjusted their ceremonies in response. It would be a simple matter of respect, if not for the Chumash, then for the perilous state of the peregrine falcon, for the Salinans to do the same.

Tarren Collins, a fifth-generation native of San Luis Obispo County, is an attorney who has been practicing law here since 1991.

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