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Changing Perceptions and Policy: Redefining Indigeneity through California Chumash Revitalization


This research examines the significant rise of American Indian political power, rights claims, recognition endeavors and reaffirmation of Chumash identity through cultural revitalization projects in southern California. Increased efforts for Chumash recognition - including public visibility, federal acknowledgement, academic validation and engagement in policy process - are not without conflict, negotiation and compromise. Nor is meaningful and balanced participation and decision-making guaranteed in changing policies designed for indigenous inclusion. Central debates throughout politicized indigenous arenas involve who has the power to control, legitimate and represent Chumash history, culture and identity. Drawing on extensive ethnographic study among federally unrecognized Chumash groups who have been dramatically underrepresented in political, legal and social arenas, this research outlines the representational, material and organizational challenges they face in pressing for recognition, rights claims and balanced representation in policy. Ethnographic research methods of participant observation, interviews, and archival research were conducted in southern California where there is a large concentration of Chumash American Indian communities, academics, and government officials negotiating and contesting claims of indigenous rights and identity. Explored were how the inherent contradictions between indigenous, legal, academic and scientific knowledge in policy arenas are negotiated and reconciled; how collaborative efforts between government officials, indigenous groups and academics might better design and implement policies to serve the diversity of indigenous circumstances and; various ways indigenous knowledge, practices and discourse are utilized for greater recognition in political, social and policy arenas. By elucidating how the struggle for recognition shifts power relations among Chumash, academics, policy makers and government officials, this project opens an understanding to the effective collaborative practices, organizational strategies, and flexible policies working to balance multiple needs, voices and goals of unrecognized American Indians.

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