Storyteller Keeps Chumash Ways Alive in Word, Deed
He calls his father a warrior, remembering a time in the 1950s when he took his three dark-skinned boys to get Mohawk haircuts. Back then, showing off their family’s Native American heritage in Hanford, a small Central California dairy-farm community, was an act of courage.
But Alan Salazar would prefer that his children think of him as the “village’s fastest runner,” a man with conviction who spreads messages of truth about the Chumash people who inhabited Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles counties before the Europeans arrived.
Salazar, or Spirit Hawk, is an active member of the Chumash and Tataviam tribes who leads spiritual prayers and watches over ancient burial sites to be sure they are protected from construction work. In June, he walked 90 miles in hopes of saving a sacred mountain from being taken over by parking lots.
And Sunday, Salazar will spin stories of his alter-ego, Running Hawk, a boy who dreams of coyotes and bears and learns lessons from these animal spirits.
Salazar is the first in a series of storytellers and craftspeople who will entertain families free each Sunday this month at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa in Newbury Park. “Satwiwa Sundays” is a joint effort of the Friends of Satwiwa and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
“The National Park Service chose to work with local Native American Indians, like the Chumash, to bring together all tribes and to teach visitors native heritage,” said park spokeswoman Jean Bray. She said Salazar will speak while standing by an ‘ap, a dome-shaped Chumash house made from willow trees and tule grass.
His dark eyes dance when he tells his tales. His long gray-and-black hair blows in the wind. His brown, muscular body springs to life when he recalls his childhood, which is the basis for most of his stories. Simple words like “tree,” “bear” and “ocean” turn into magic when they escape his lips.
“I want people to know that the Indian people were, and still are, a complex society that has contributed to making America a great country,” said Salazar, who wears a silver hawk ring given to him by a friend he calls a medicine woman.
“I want them to know that we are sportsmen and theologians and scholars. I don’t want to leave them with the impression . . . that many people have of us as being savages.”
Salazar and his aunt, Beverly Folkes, 58, of Thousand Oaks, are both leaders at the Oakbrook Chumash Interpretive Center who became involved in teaching others about their heritage nearly a decade ago. They said they saw how ignorant most people were about Native Americans, and how so many hungered for more information.
People don’t even realize that Native Americans are still alive and living in their neighborhoods, Folkes said. That’s why she has made it her mission to tell people, especially children, about herself, her family and her people.
“Now that I am an elder, I always say to the [kids], ‘Pay attention.’ I want to educate this next generation,” Folkes said.
The Salazar family has strong ancestral ties in Southern California, according to John Johnson, curator of anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Salazar’s great-grandfather, Antonio Maria Ortega, was born in 1852 at the San Fernando Mission, where his records were put on file.
Johnson said he has been studying Chumash marriage and family patterns for 20 years and has records of nearly 20,000 people with Native American Indian ancestry. He has helped 200 people find their roots in the last four years--that’s how he met Salazar and Folkes. Johnson estimated there are at least 3,000 people with traceable Chumash ancestry in the area.
Salazar is more than a story-teller.
When he finishes telling stories at Satwiwa, he will head over to Market Street in Port Hueneme to join others in saying a spiritual goodbye to a 375-year-old Monterey cypress called Grandpa, which is diseased and will be chopped down.
On Monday, the 46-year-old Salazar, who also works with his brothers in a family plastering and construction business, will resume work with the California Department of Transportation, where he has been contracted as an archeological monitor to make sure that Chumash burial sites aren’t destroyed or stolen as construction crews widen parts of California 126.
“I watch them work, scoop by scoop, to make sure I don’t see any human bones [in the dirt],” Salazar said. So far, nothing of ancestral significance has been found.
In June, Salazar trekked 90 miles from his beachside home in Ventura to a sacred Native American site, Iwihinmu, or Mt. Pinos, in Kern County. His goal: to raise community awareness about Los Padres National Forest officials’ plans to erect $4 million worth of parking lots on the mountain to boost winter skiing attendance.
With blistered feet and taped toes, Salazar walked all but seven or eight miles--where his 24-year-old daughter picked up the slack--to reach the top of the 8,800-foot peak and show people that individuals can rise to the challenge of making a difference in the world. He drew strength by visualizing a hawk powering its legs for a takeoff and then flying lazily in the air.
“I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “To show my children that some things in this world are just that important.”
Other Satwiwa Sunday lecturers include:
Aug. 10--Hank Stevens talking about cultural sovereignty.
Aug. 17--Mati and Gina Waiya displaying Chumash material culture.
Aug. 24--Georgianna Sanchez telling stories about Chumash and Tohono-O’Odham life.
Aug. 31--Vitus Jack showing his native Alaskan carvings.
* All events are sponsored by the National Park Service and the Friends of Satwiwa and run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* To get to Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, take the Ventura Freeway to the Wendy Road exit in Newbury Park. Go south on Wendy to Potrero Road. Turn right on Potrero to find parking through the service entrance.
* For more information, call (818) 597-9192, Ext. 201.