On my way home from a trip down to Santa Barbara — Chumash country.
While down there I had dinner with a Chumash elder, a leader of her community whose mother was the last speaker of the Barbareño Chumash language. Her name is Ernestine… in my eyes she is a hero.
We met before twice, once at the Breath of Life conference where she was working on reviving the Chumash language — based on her mother’s notes and recordings. The second time was during the For All My Relations conference in LA a few weeks ago, where she gave a heart wrenching talk after her movie “Six Generations” was shown on survival, loss, and cultural continuity into the modern day. You’d have to be made from stone to not have a tear in your eye after she spoke. She, like many California Indians, is also very Catholic and before I left gave me a vile of holy water telling me I am a very “holy” man.
The thing with Ernestine is her story, her experience, her adaptation is so similar to what my family experiences. Like Ernestine, my family is staunchly Indian, like Ernestine my family blends old and new, like Ernestine we were missionized, like her many in my family are Catholic as a result of those old buildings, like her we adapted to a changing world, like her we live in our traditional, ancestral villages, like Ernestine we are relearning what was unfairly taken away from us. The work of giants. Ernestine is a giant.
Her, myself, my cousin, and a few others from Mission Santa Barbara had dinner together. I asked her questions and she speaks with a confidence that only I’ve seen in my own people — a matter-of-fact sureness that comes from self-awareness and being rooted that I’ve only seen in my own. Ernestine exudes that. We spoke of how we never gave up, how we never will. She proclaims with pride “till the death!!”
My generation is walking behind the footsteps of these elders. She is in her mid 70s and after dinner was over she was pulling a nightshift at the hospital where she is a nurse — healing those in need. Such strength and such hope give me immense pride, as Ernestine and my Ohlone elders were Indian before it was easy, it still isn’t easy… but it was so much harder back then for them. They pulled through it with relentlessly and stubbornly holding onto their identity, refusing to give up one single inch of what was taken. Now my generation, and those after me have to continue the healing. We owe it to not just ourselves, but all those before us. They are our relations, our people, our bedrock, our spirit.
Tonight I am still on the go, after I unpack going to a roundhouse closer to home and staying until the sun rises. What was lost is coming back, the impossible is happening now, and tomorrow will be better because of it.