Spenser Jaimes shares Chumash’s legacy through film


Sitting in the sands of Santa Barbara’s West Beach on what was originally the village of Chumash Syuxtun, 19-year-old filmmaker Spenser Jaimes gazes across the ocean to the islands – which he also refers to by their names. origin: Tuqan (San Miguel), Wi’ma (Santa Rosa), Limuw (Santa Cruz) and ‘Anyapakh (Anacapa) – telling of his family’s roots and the deeply beautiful culture that has existed along the coast for thousands of years.

Jaimes, whose Šmuwič-Chumash heritage dates back to Syuxtun and Limuw Island, caused a stir at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival with his first-ever documentary short. Connected by waterwhich documented the traditional crossing of the channel by coastal strip relatives of the Chumash, Tongva, and Acjachemen tribal nations in redwood plank tomols.

He has since launched Limuw Productions and is currently considering his next project, which will focus on the 1824 mission revolt, which he says is often told through a historical Spanish or American lens.

“Modern ways of telling stories, through books and media, are never done by our own people because we don’t have the access or the funds to do it ourselves,” he said. . “Our people have our own accounts that have yet to be told.” He hopes his work can reframe the narrative of the revolt as “childish” and “unorganized”, and instead tell the story of a highly organized response to an act of violence against a young boy.

Growing up with a family steeped in local Chumash culture, Jaimes was exposed to a larger historical narrative of the Central Coast’s long and complicated history, which changed the entire landscape from a bustling community of villages to a colony. Europeanized in no time. a few generations.

He recalls first becoming aware of the discrepancy between historical records and tribal accounts as an elementary school student, on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History, he heard guides Tourists repeatedly refer to Chumash ae as a thing of the past.

“Hearing them say that Chumash is extinct was hard,” he said, “I came home and said to my aunt, ‘They were talking about it in past tense’.”

Later, when the class was given their fourth-grade Mission project — which was once a staple of the California public school curriculum — Jaimes refused to participate in what he saw as a one-sided narrative.

As he grew up in high school, he said he struggled to reconcile growing up on his own ancestral lands, but much of the town’s historical lore seemed to reflect only the events that happened. are produced after the arrival of the Spaniards. The easily recognizable white stucco and red tiled roofs that define the “Santa Barbara aesthetic” ignore the fact that natives were forced to work and live in what has become a Spanish-occupied area. It’s even more evident, he said, in local celebrations like Fiesta week, which paint a pearly white picture of “old Spanish days”.

“People need to know the story,” he said. “Celebrating this here is cultural erasure. Ask yourself what you are celebrating. What did they do and why did they do it?

Jaimes says he considers himself lucky to have grown up with a family connection to the land and with aunts and uncles who taught him traditional songs, practices and stories. Some people are often separated from their culture, and some may not become involved or realize it until much later in life.

“My generation, we were blessed to be born into a culture,” he said. Along with his relatives and other young natives from across the coast, Jaimes is part of a new generation that is not only socially conscious but also politically active. This includes a recent initiative to change the names of the Channel Islands to their original designations.

One of his newest passion projects is promoting more coastal access to Chumash in Santa Barbara. Since 2001, local Chumash groups have revived the thousand-year-old tomol crossing from Syunxtun to Limuw, and the community regularly sets off for weekend trips off the coast. The City charges up to $20 per day for parking, plus additional fees of up to over $7,000 per year for the group.

“As the original stewards of our homelands, the Chumash people should not have to pay any amount of money to access our ocean,” he said. “The ocean is where we gather, pray, sing, paddle and dance together, and where we gather food and medicine to sustain ourselves.”

He also hopes to have more storage space – currently only one tomol can be stored at West Beach at a time – and imagines a day when the canal will once again be filled with native watercraft.

“Access to our ocean shouldn’t just mean free parking. For thousands and thousands of years our people have been able to fish and travel freely inside our tomols,” he said. “While on West Beach having space to house at least one tomol is a step in the right direction, we need a non-permanent, eco-friendly structure to house our tomols – not just one, but dozens – for all Chumash tribes, clan, band and family.

With easier access to their traditions, he says, Chumash descendants can more easily heal from the trauma wrought by Spanish missionaries, Mexican and American occupations — “some of which are happening in real time.”

He has nearly reached his $10,000 funding goal for his next project and is looking to complete the documentary before the 200th anniversary of the revolt in 2024.

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