March 19, 2009

Chumash = "fluffy indigenous kittens"?

One bit in the Pangs episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer deserves a separate entry. According to Debbie Reese, it goes like this:Enter Willow with a pile of books about the Chumash and "atrocities." She reads about the Chumash, tells Willow and Giles that the Chumash were "fluffy indigenous kittens until we came along" and did awful things.In response to this, a woman named Deborah A. Miranda wrote:I saw this episode because my partner taped it for me, knowing I'd be interested. I have to say, I found it more than offensive; as a Chumash/Esselen person, it was also laughable. ... By the way--the Chumash were far from "fluffy little kittens." ... See Pomponio, Toypurina, Estanislao, and the killing of Padre Luis Jayme...What is Miranda saying...that the Chumash were warriors just like the stereotypical Plains Indians? If so, that would be news to me.

No disrespect to an actual Chumash Indian, who surely knows much more than I do. But here's what sources say about the Chumash (emphasis added):

The Chumash:  A California Case StudyThe Chumash were generally peaceful and only rarely practiced warfare. Hostilities were limited mostly to internal conflict between confederations and did not usually involve neighboring groups.ChumashThey were very important because you could not travel far north/south in California without encountering their territory, and they were a highly intelligent and developed peoples; both prosperous and peaceful.The ChumashFrom a thriving, happy and peaceful people of some 20,000 in the mid-1700's the Chumash were nearly extinct by 1900.Travel Tales:  Preserving the Chumash CultureOther docents explain uses of the bone and rock tools exhibited in the museum and talk about the lifestyle of the Chumash, a peaceful people who lived not only on some of the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura, but on a variety of terrain stretching from San Luis Obispo along the coast to Malibu, inland to the Thousand Oaks area and Encino, north to Valencia and east to Palmdale.In short, let's not be defensive about a tribe not known for its warriors. "Peaceful" doesn't mean weak or kittenish except in the minds of idiots.

What about the examples?

Since I couldn't tell you anything about Miranda's four examples, I thought I'd better look them up. Here's what I found:

José Pomponio LupugeymPomponio was a Coast Miwok from Bolinas, chief of a group of outlaws who called themselves Los Insurgentes and fought against Mexican rule.So...not Chumash. Not prone to violence except as a defense against European conquest.

ToypurinaToypurina was a Tongva medicine woman who opposed the rule of Spanish missionaries in California, and led an unsuccessful rebellion against them.

"On the night of the attack, the Indians came to the mission armed with bows and arrows. Toypurina came to the mission unarmed but with the intent of encouraging the men to have the will to fight." (Hackel 2003) Toypurina and the other three men leading the attack were captured, tried, and punished.

A fictional character sharing her name is the mother of Diego de la Vega in Isabel Allende's 2005 novel, "Zorro."
So...not Chumash. Not prone to violence except as a defense against European conquest. Not a success as a "warrior."

EstanislaoEstanislao (ca. 1798–1838) was a member of the Yokut people, Native Americans of northern and central California.

[He and 400 followers] began raiding the Missions San Jose, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz and Mexican settlers in the area around the Laquisimas River. ... His raids were characterized as sudden, usually involving a trap, and ending with no loss of life, and he would sometimes use his sword to carve his initial, "S," authenticating his handiwork.

There are many Californians who believe that Estanislao was the real Zorro.
So...not Chumash. Not prone to violence except as a defense against European conquest. Specifically acted to avoid killing people.

Mission San Diego de AlcalaSan Diego de Alcalá was the only of the 21 Missions to be attacked by the Native Americans. On November 5, 1775, as many as 600 Indians descended upon the mission after midnight where Padre Luis Jayme, Padre Vincente Fuster and nine other individuals were asleep. What perhaps began as a raid on the mission for clothing and goods quickly developed into an open attack that sought to destroy the mission.Book Review:  Mission Memoirs: A Collection of Photographs, Illustrations, and Twentieth-century Reflections on California's PastAt Mission San Diego he describes in a note that Padre Luís Jayme "was brutally murdered during an Indian attack (p. 12)." That is certainly the Franciscan view. Readers of this journal familiar with Richard Carrico's article ["Sociopolitical Aspects of the 1775 Revolt at Mission San Diego de Alcalá: An Ethnohistorical Approach," Journal of San Diego History 43 (Summer, 1997)] know that Kumeyaay and Tipai Indians from at least fifteen villages participated in the sacking of the mission and through it rationally expressed their rejection of Spanish occupation with its accompanying thefts, rapes, transmission of disease and threat of forced imprisonment.So...not Chumash. Not prone to violence except as a defense against European conquest. Not planning to kill but caught up in the heat of the moment.

Any questions? As I indicated above, I wouldn't apologize if my people didn't embrace war as a way of life. I'd apologize if they did.


Chumash Indians did accompany Estanislao on some of his non-lethal raids. I wouldn't be surprised if there were examples of their fighting and killing the Spaniards who oppressed them. But Miranda hasn't provided any evidence of this.

On the fluffy kitten/man-eating tiger scale, I'd have to say the Chumash were closer to kittens than tigers. To continue the strained analogy, I'd say they were like cats who are content to mind their own business but will scratch your eyes out if you molest them. As someone who prefers cats to dogs, I don't consider that a bad place to be.

Anyway, I trust you see the point of this posting. It's wrong to claim all Indians--even all California Indians--are the same. It's wrong to claim they all fit the stereotypical "warrior" mold. They aren't and they don't.

Incidentally, some of these Indians may be the same ones "honored" by the Carpinteria Warriors. As we've just seen, they don't fit the stereotypical "warrior" mold. This is another reason why the school's mascot is stupid and racist. It presumes that all (California) Indians were warriors--i.e., fighters and killers--when they weren't.

Below:  The peaceful Chumash.


dmarks said...

"A fictional character sharing her name is the mother of Diego de la Vega in Isabel Allende's 2005 novel, "Zorro.""

The fictional character Toypurina not only shared the name, but also the rebellion described here also.

Unknown said...

Greg Sarris in conversation w/ Terrain editor Laird Townsend:

"That's right. If you started overpopulating your area, that would immediately lead you into what? Starting to get aggressive and have to take over another person's area. But there's something else, and it's related to poison. People often wondered why didn't the large tribes up north, the bigger tribes from southwestern Oregon and southeastern Oregon, the bigger more organized tribes, even the tribes up north at Klamath, why didn't they come down in this beautiful area — Marin and Lake and Sonoma? It was obviously the most desirable place to live. There were more birds, more meat, shellfish, more fresh fish — I mean the environment, the climate, is about as close to paradise as anywhere on earth. And the answer is, they were terrified of us, the Pomo and the Miwok. We were known to have the most powerful medicine."


kalisetsi said...

Oh Rob.....where to start?
1) some of your sources for Chumash history are questionable, and if you are going to (weirdly) go on the offensive against a Native Chumash woman who is expressing her offense at the Buffy comment, you might want to be sure you have the facts on your side before you proceed.

A 3 second google search included this result:
"In 1824, the Chumash Indians revolted and temporarily controlled three missions (Santa Barbara, Santa Ines, and La Purisima)." Pretty sure the revolt wasn't all "kitten-y" like a hippie love-fest.

2) You posted a truncated version of D. Miranda's email, but even from the edited version it seems a reasonable interpretation that she is talking about the under-estimation / dismissal of California peoples in general as being "kitten-y" types. (Note she identifies as Esselen as well as Chumash, and a sense of "Native Californian" identity is fairly common). That's why her examples were not exclusively Chumash, and I think its fair that they weren't. Her argument might not necessarily have been fine-tuned and logical, but it was both emotional and accurate. Of all people, Rob, I would think that you would be sensitive to the fact that histories are rarely told/written from the Native perspective, aside from the fact that brief internet summaries can hardly capture full Native Californian histories. (Who are your sources' sources?? Probably Anglo historians and anthropologists). An alternative approach, and one that is more respectful of the idea that D. Miranda PROBABLY knows what she's talking about, might have been to try reaching out to a Chumash tribe (Santa Ynez has a website), or News from Native California, or even possibly someone at one of the UC's (Native or not) who might work with the community in question. Sure, its not the 5 minute solution, but when it comes to something like this, its probably the only way to avoid perpetuating the pattern of misinformation, and really oppression through exclusion.

3) There is a gaping chasm between D. Miranda's statement that "the Chumash were far from 'fluffy little kittens'" and your conclusion that she must mean "that the Chumash were warriors just like the stereotypical Plains Indians?" Then later, you say "It's wrong to claim all Indians--even all California Indians--are the same. It's wrong to claim they all fit the stereotypical "warrior" mold." But it seems YOU were the one who initially drew that point of comparison.

4) Its ironic that later in your post, you specifically state that "'Peaceful' doesn't mean weak or kittenish except in the minds of idiots," because in my understanding, that is precisely the problem, and while I can't speak for D. Miranda, I would not be surprised if that was why she was sensitive to the Buffy line and offended by it.

California people are widely portrayed as being docile, servile, and weak, a simplistic and inaccurate view painted by the colonizer. Further, they often have to deal with indignities such as lack of federal recognition, invisibility, and the sense of entitlement by children of immigrants whose attitude is pretty much: "You lost. Sucks to be you. Go back to Mexico." As survivors, its psychologically important for Native people to resist the stereotypical/ simplistic views about their own histories that are told in gradeschool textbooks, and sites like those you referenced. Its important for Native people to remember the ways that their ancestors have resisted, so that they can continue in their own lives today to define themselves for themselves, which is often the equivalent of swimming against the stream.

When you dismiss acts of Native Californian resistance as "not counting" because "they were only in defense against European conquest," you are belittling the efforts and sacrifices of D. Miranda's ancestors. I think her point was that she didn't want her tribe to be simply dismissed as weak and docile, and she supported that point. You are the one who made up all these other weird rules for what should count or not count as an act of "un-Kitten-ish" behavior. And it's also condescending when you include yourself in with D. Miranda (who IS Chumash) when you say "'LET'S not be defensive about a tribe not known for its warriors." Hey, it's her tribe, and she absolutely has a right to be defensive about any way that it is presented. Her interest and perspective is a WORLD away from yours!! You say "no disrespect" to her, but your writing says that maybe you don't really "get it".

Rob said...

The short answer is that objective accuracy trumps subjective needs, Kalisetsi. That's the point you don't seem to get. My statements were accurate and Miranda's weren't.

For more on the subject, see Stephen vs. Kalisetsi on Native Resistance and Rob Dismisses Native Resistance?!