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Historical record confirms legitimacy of Santa Ynez Chumash

To read James Lynch’s op-ed (“The Santa Ynez Chumash: A Question of Legitimacy”) in last week’s Capitol Weekly, one would think that there are questions surrounding the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe. There aren’t.

Let’s get one thing straight: The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is a federally recognized tribe that is listed in the Federal Register of the U.S. Department of the Interior. There’s no arguing that fact, and that should have been the end of it. But for the tribal opponents in the Santa Ynez Valley, facts have never gotten in the way of creating their own version of the truth.

Lynch’s op-ed represents only the latest in a long history of attacks against the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians by a small group of tribal opponents in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace to pick up a newspaper and read ludicrous claims from our tribal opponents. The vast majority of their ridiculous assertions are not even worthy of a response, including Lynch’s op-ed. It was riddled with so many factual inaccuracies that we wondered if we were reading an excerpt from a fictional novel.

While our first inclination was to ignore Lynch’s op-ed, we were bothered by the fact that an individual could make such outlandish claims and pass them off as the truth. We wondered how such preposterous allegations would make it past Capitol Weekly’s editorial standards.

Lynch mentions an 1899 court case (which was actually first filed in 1897), but he apparently failed to read the decision and order of the Court from March 31, 1906 (The Roman Catholic Bishop of Monterey vs. Salamon Cota, et al), both recognizing the Santa Ynez Indians and finding that the tribe’s existence predates the acquisition of the California territory by the United States in 1846. It also identifies the Zanja De Cota Creek reservation of the tribe.

Because there is such a wealth of well-researched historical documentation about the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and about the Santa Ynez Reservation, we were surprised by Lynch’s ridiculous accusations regarding the validity of our tribe.

In addition, his personal attacks on Chairman Armenta and his family were completely unnecessary. Frankly, we questioned the decision of Capitol Weekly’s editors to allow such statements to remain in Lynch’s op-ed.

Unfortunately, what Capitol Weekly editors may not know is that an entirely new cottage industry has surfaced within the tribal gaming industry. It’s an industry in which tribal opponents create their own experts and make up their own facts.  Want to question a tribe’s very existence? Contact an individual who will make whatever disparaging comments you want against a tribe — for a fee.

Many of the so-called experts who travel the circuit are not recognized as legitimate in the real world. Take Lynch, for example. He has worked on a handful of fee-for-service projects that have consistently resulted in anti-tribal opinions. In a court document under sworn testimony, Lynch admitted that he has never concluded that any Indian tribe he investigated met the standards for federal acknowledgement.

With his anti-tribal track record and hired gun status, he was engaged by POLO/POSY, a tribal opposition group in Santa Ynez Valley that has fought everything from the tribe’s liquor license application (in the middle of wine country where more than 60 wineries reside) to the tribe’s plans to build a Chumash cultural museum.

For us, Lynch’s credibility is at the core of this latest attack from these tribal opponents. Under sworn testimony in 2006 (pages 481 and 483 of State of New York vs. Shinnecock Indian Nation), Lynch admits that he has no training in land titles or surveying and has spent the majority of his career as a heating equipment salesperson.

We certainly have no beef with heating equipment salespeople. But it’s highly doubtful that they possess the historical background and formal training required to research a topic as complex as colonial history. We have reviewed court documents in which Lynch provided so-called expert testimony, and he withered under cross-examination on questions pertaining to his credibility.

In his op-ed, Lynch claims that all POLO/POSY are asking for are accurate and honest answers to fair, legitimate questions. If that’s the case, why did they feel the need to employ a hired gun to spew out information that is not based on reality?

We have, in fact, answered any number of questions from POLO/POSY over the years, but they continue to search for answers that only fit their own distorted illusions. Truth, apparently, is not a requirement for them.

After all the shenanigans that these tribal opponents have been involved with lately, we have to wonder what’s next on their agenda. They hired a heating equipment salesperson to research the tribe’s history. Is their next step hiring Larry the Cable Guy to provide his insights on the economic impact of Indian gaming?

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