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Central California's Coastline is in Danger, How the Chumash Tribe is Trying to Fight for its Protections

Posted by Sara Cooper | Oct 05, 2023 | 0 Comments

On Chumash land that is located in the state of California by government terms, is a big stretch of land along the coastline, known as Lisamu', that has been fought for to be a marine sanctuary that is six times bigger than all of Yosemite. Violet Sage Walker is a key player in trying to make that happen.  

She is part of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, located in San Luis Obispo county where their Indigenous community once lived at, dating back to 18,000 years.

This campaign has been a lifelong battle, where Walker's father, Fred Collins, had started it over 50 years ago. Despite gaining tens of thousands of signatures to make the sanctuary official, the results were short ended.

However last month according to the Guardian, “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had released a management plan draft containing information about the sanctuary that the tribe has been relying on after all these decades.” What was left out was a containment of land that the tribe was actually wanting, from Cambria to Morro Bay. The proposed sanctuary from NOAA, would go from Morro Bay to Gaviota, with their reasoning being “a lack of compatibility of offshore wind, where Morro Bay is a part of a project involving wind development.

“We felt so betrayed,” says Walker. “We really thought we were going to get the marine sanctuary we had campaigned for, we thought we were going to get protection for the entire central Californian coastline.”

This didn't mean Walker was going to stop what her father had started. Traveling along California's coastline, this is her new approach for awareness on how this sanctuary isn't just to acknowledge the land of Indigenous Peoples, but to save it environmentally. Hitchhiking from Long Beach to Morro Bay with the Greenpeace crew that has been in collaboration with the campaign, it's been a journey both also on water and in areas that really need the protection.

Issues such as oil drilling to deep sea mining to safeguarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples are just a few goals that the team is focusing on. Walker leads important conversations with everyone else on how long her tribe has been fighting for this, and why more groups need to work together with them in changing NOAA's decision on the size of the sanctuary and its management.

“I need to know, in 60 days' time when this last round of public comments is over, that I've done everything I possibly could have done to make this sanctuary happen,” Walker says.

Offshore windfarms are a major concern, as to why the sanctuary is so crucial. According to the Guardian, “Morro Bay, an area of rich biodiversity, including part of the country's last remaining population of endangered sea otters, would become a hub for offshore wind if the sanctuary's boundaries do not extend to include it.”

There is hopes that this more than just an overnight trip with Greenpeace, can get the public to become more informed and involved with how the project would ruin the coastline in the long term. Public comment to state politicians is highly recommended that would support the enforcement of stricter environmental regulations.

“Indigenous people are the traditional caretakers of these waters and these lands,” says Arlo Hemphill, who leads the ocean sanctuary and deep sea mining campaigns for Greenpeace's US office. “And so working with them was a natural move for us. There's also the moral imperative on top of conservation – from a justice standpoint, it's important to return these waters to the stewardship of Indigenous people.”

The proposal for the sanctuary is the first tribally nominated one in the country, along with being the biggest sanctuary in the U.S. This would block off 380 floating windmills that reaches 25,000 acres under the wind management project by NOAA and its impacts such as increased ocean noise, change existing habitats, affect life cycles of fish, change species survival rates, and release contaminants that could be absorbed by marine life according to the association. However, their response to the sanctuary campaign is that they “did not hear compelling comments” for the need of the coastline's protection. It is not where the tribe is against the offshore wind, it just needs to be done responsibly.

For the upcoming holiday on October 9th of Indigenous Peoples' Day, please reach out to your local politicians about this issue and demand they support the Chumash tribe in their outreach to NOAA.

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