Tomorrow: Chumash Sign Unveiling Ceremony Honors Chumash People and the Villages of Mispu and Syuxtun
May 07, 2024

Tomorrow: Chumash Sign Unveiling Ceremony Honors Chumash People and the Villages of Mispu and Syuxtun

Santa Barbara, Calif. (May 7, 2024) -  Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) and the Chumash Signage Project Committee are excited to invite the campus and community at large to officially share the Chumash Signage Project that has been added to the SBCC West Cliff Drive Campus. The event will be held tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, May 8, from 9:30-10:30 a.m., at SBCC West Cliff Campus Great Meadow. (See event details below.)

The sign installation is a series of educational signs along the bluffs of campus. The signs cover a wide range of topics from history, language, and art as well as more recent history of colonization and the ways Chumash people continue to resist and thrive. Each sign is accompanied with stunning artistic elements to bring the stories to life in a visual way. 

The bluffs and Great Meadow along the West campus of SBCC are the site of the village of Mispu. It was part of a larger network of villages of Syuxtun, the original village site name of Santa Barbara near the harbor. The sign series joins the SBCC Chumash Preserve as spaces that will give more visibility to Chumash culture and history on campus. This was a collaborative project between a team of Chumash and other Indigenous community members, as well as SBCC and the SBCC Foundation. This vibrant project has been in the works for almost nine years and is a start to address a long history of erasure on the SBCC campus.

“Being able to work on this project and do a deep dive into our culture and language felt like a good use of all the skills I’ve learned in community and in school the last few years. I am excited for Chumash youth to be able to see our story in such a powerful way that talks about us in the present tense,” said Maura Sullivan, Chumash Signage Project Committee member. 

“We put so much love and care into these signs. There are a lot of little details that I hope people who are reading the signs notice. Everything we included has intention, has a purpose, was discussed and researched extensively. It’s been an honor to have been asked to be a part of this project and help create the visuals,” said Solange Aguilar, visual artist and Chumash Signage Project Committee member.

Chumash Signage Project History
In 2016, an art installation that featured what resembled a tepee was erected on the Great Meadow causing a campus-wide controversy that sadly led to the harassment and bullying of Indigenous students, who were accused of imposing artistic censorship and likened to political terrorists.  

The art installation was eventually dismantled, but serious harm was caused and healing was needed for the Chumash and Indigenous communities and the campus. 

“That was a very painful time to be a faculty member at SBCC, a place I had been a part of since I was eighteen years old,” said Annette Cordero, English Department member at the time of the incident. 

Cordero - who retired in 2020 - explained that the Chumash Signage Project has been an attempt to create something beautiful and positive to heal the wounds that were inflicted during that time and encourage greater understanding of the Chumash culture. 

“I give a great deal of credit to Dr. Kim Monda, who was president of the Academic Senate at the time and began to question why there was little to no physical representation of our culture on campus,” Cordero continued. 

According to Cordero, Monda convinced the SBCC administration to set aside funds to pursue a signage and art project on the West Campus near the location where the offending structure had been erected. Thus, the project began.

The creation of the signs involved a series of planning meetings that drew upon community knowledge as well as historical accounts. Once the writing process was underway, the artistic elements were created for original illustrations that brought to life some of the major events and details about Chumash life. Along with the signs on campus, there will also be a QR code which can be scanned for further reading and resources. 

“I love to create art with my relatives,” said Stephen Franco, another member of the Chumash Signage Project committee. “Inspiring one another. Wholeheartedly supporting one another. This is the journey I went on with Annette, Maura and Solange. Having hours-long conversations. Whittling down vast amounts of information, oral history and writing. Deciding and agreeing on what to share that best tells and depicts our stories not only in our past but in our present. I am excited for the students and all who walk the bluffs at Mispu to observe and read these signs.”

In November of 2023, a small gathering of Chumash people came together to view the final drafts of the signs and their placement. It was a special gathering with youth and elders sharing appreciation for the art project’s acknowledgement of the Chumash culture. Further projects on campus will continue. The Chumash community is also in conversations about ongoing ways the SBCC campus and community can be in more supportive connection with Chumash people. 

Thank you to the Chumash Signage Project Committee, Geoff Green, Mark Broomfield, Amanda Jacobs, Jordan Killebrew, Alexandra Thierjung, Kirsten Mathieson, Martha Swanson, Hong Lieu, Robert Schwemmer, Steven Saffold, Hana Graham, SBCC and the SBCC Foundation for taking this next step in healing for Chumash and Indigenous peoples. 

Press release by the Chumash Signage Committee on behalf of Jordan Killebrew

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Chumash Signage Unveiling
Wednesday, May 8, 2024
Light refreshments will be provided for the event.
9:30-10:30 a.m.
SBCC West Cliff Campus Great Meadow