News Release

Twentieth Anniversary Chumash Tomol Canoe Crossing to Channel Islands National Park

Paddlers in a traditional canoe

Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

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News Release Date: September 6, 2022

Contact: Jasmine Reinhardt, 805-658-5725

For the 20th time in modern history, members of the Chumash Indian community will paddle across the Santa Barbara Channel on a 24-mile journey to Santa Cruz Island in a traditional Chumash tomol plank canoe called Muptami, or “Deep Memories.” This crossing, planned for Saturday, Sept. 10, will continue the cultural tradition of crossing the channel in a tomol to the Channel Islands as the Chumash did for thousands of years. 

A rotating crew will paddle for about eight hours. Chumash people from San Luis Obispo to Malibu and beyond will take part in welcoming the tomol when it lands at Swaxil, present day Scorpion Beach, on the island of Limuw, also called Santa Cruz, in Channel Islands National Park.

This 20th anniversary crossing and arrival represents a pilgrimage for the Chumash people, and an opportunity to spend time together on Limuw sharing Chumash culture and history from the Chumash point of view. Chumash belief is grounded in the fact that all life is sacred. They originate from the beautiful Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara. Chumash life has never been separate from the islands. Nevertheless, the islands were taken from the Chumash, and not until the tomol crossings that began in 2001, did the Chumash come full circle back to the islands of their ancestry. 

Chumash and their ancestors lived on the northern Channel Islands for more than 13,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. Tomols are plank canoes made with redwood sewn together by Chumash craftsmen designed for ocean navigation which were developed at least 1,500 years ago. They provided the means for Chumash to fish deep waters, trade between the islands and mainland, and sustain their extensive social, economic, and political networks. Today, tomols and channel crossings provide Chumash and all peoples with a deeper understanding of the rich Chumash maritime heritage and connections with the Channel Islands.

This anniversary event also highlights the partnerships to support the crossing and arrival, including the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Barbareño Chumash Tribal Council, other local Chumash groups, and the TI’at Society (the Traditional Council of Pimu), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the National Park Service (NPS) at Channel Islands National Park. Other voices from Canoe Indigenous Nations will share their support with celebratory announcements. The Chumash crew will launch Muptami from the Channel Islands Harbor before dawn on Saturday morning and will reach Limuw by midday, where they will be welcomed by families and celebrate on the shore with a ceremony.

The National Park Service hosts these events in keeping with its responsibilities to accommodate Chumash people with original cultural and historical ties to the island of Limuw. The public is welcome at Scorpion Harbor via day trip. Park visitors are reminded to be respectful of the gathering, to observe the landing from a respectful distance, and to not photograph or record the events other than the tomol arrival. 

Last updated: September 6, 2022

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