Chumash Heritage

people row a tomol at sunrise
In the fall, Chumash crews paddle 23 miles across the channel to the island of Santa Cruz (Limuw). Photo: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

The northern Channel Islands and the surrounding waters have a rich human history dating back more than 13,000 years. For the Chumash, or island people, who are indigenous to the region surrounding the Santa Barbara Channel, the northern Channel Islands and adjacent waters hold a value that is beyond measure. The island and marine ecosystems co-evolved with the Chumash and their culture. Chumash maritime culture has been, and continues to be, intimately shaped by that connection.

An explanation of Chumash history connected to the northern Channel Islands and surrounding sanctuary waters, as well as an introduction to ongoing Chumash community values, traditional knowledge and practices, and historical trauma, can be found in the “Chumash Ecosystem Services Assessment” within the sanctuary's Condition Report.

Chumash Maritime Culture... An Ongoing Journey

people row a tomol
Chumash paddlers arrive at Limuw (Santa Cruz Island) where they are welcomed home with songs and hugs by the Chumash community encamped at Scorpion Ranch. Photo: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

A tomol is the traditional plank canoe of the Chumash people, who navigate along the Central and Southern California coast and among the Channel Islands. In the past, tomols allowed for extensive trade, fishing and travel. Today, tomols continue to be built and navigated by the Chumash community. Constructed from redwood, a tomol can be built to lengths ranging from eight to 30 feet. Look for tomols on the ocean!

Chumash people are participating in the global revival of Indigenous maritime cultures and the continuation of their own unique maritime traditions. Sanctuary staff are proud to support their ongoing journey.

Annual Tomol Channel Crossing

In the fall, Chumash crews paddle 23 miles across the Santa Barbara Channel to Limuw (Santa Cruz Island). They leave Channel Islands Harbor in the dark hours of the morning, guided by stars, and are welcomed home with songs and hugs by the Chumash community encamped at Swaxil (Scorpion Valley).

Additional Resources, Reading and Viewing

people row a tomol as dolphins breach in the background
Tomol paddlers and Alolkoy (dolphins) together during the crossing. Photo: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

Chumash Community Working Group of the Sanctuary Advisory Council

Chumash Ecosystem Services Assessment (2019)

Homecoming: Journey to Limuw

Dark Water Journey, by Eva Pagaling

Elevating Chumash Values and Traditional Ecological Knowledge at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, featuring Alicia Cordero

Full Circle- Chumash Cross Channel in Tomol to Santa Cruz Island, by Roberta R. Cordero

Island Homeland: The Village of Swaxil (2004), by Georgiana Valoyce Sanchez

Our Ancestors' Gift Across Time: A Story of Indigenous Maritime Culture Resurgence, by Roberta R. Cordero