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JAUNTS : Keeping the Old Ways of the West Alive : A new center at Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa Park opens this summer to teach visitors about Native American skills and cultures.

June 01, 1995|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Drop in at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center in Newbury Park on any Sunday and you might find Sallie Cuaresma making traditional Indian fry bread or Charlie Cooke telling how his Chumash ancestors used native plants.

Since 1985, the center has operated out of a little ranch house deep in Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa Park off Potrero Road. But this summer, the center will move to a new building a stone's throw away.

The new building--with its open rafters, skylights, picture windows and redwood siding--will be almost finished when Cooke blesses it during a dedication June 25.

But it won't be until August that the regular Sunday programs, put on for free by the National Park Service and the Friends of Satwiwa, move from the old cramped ranch house into the new quarters.

It will be none too soon for Dolores Rivera, a Pueblo / Apache Indian, and other members of the Friends of Satwiwa board. The nondescript ranch house, located a quarter-mile from the parking lot, looked simply like a modest little house that park visitors could easily overlook.

"Many people were unaware the center was there," Rivera said. "It's kind of like a jewel."

The new 1,200-square-foot, solar-heated building is more visible, although it was designed to fit in with the natural surroundings. The high ceiling with open rafters and huge redwood deck give it a natural feel. A big picture window looks out on majestic Boney Ridge and rolling grasslands dotted with purple lupines.

Inside, the floor plan includes a large exhibit area, a sales counter, space for books, and offices for the National Park Service and Friends of Satwiwa. The cost for the building and exterior is expected to run about $316,000, according to park service officials. The money came partly from a grant, Friends of Satwiwa and park service funding.

The old center is only open on Sundays from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Each week, different Native Americans serve as guest host, talking about the culture and their heritage. The center has had hosts from as far away as Alaska.

Friends of Satwiwa would like to see the new center open on Saturdays, too, and eventually every day, but a lack of funding makes that impossible now. They also have plans for a botanical garden with native plants and a stone gathering ring for ceremonies and group talks.

The center is in the heart of Chumash country. Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa and nearby Sycamore Canyon, which leads to the ocean, were believed to be part of a trade and travel route used by the Indians. Satwiwa, which means bluffs, was the name of a Chumash village close by.

Because of this heritage, part of the Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa Park has been designated as a Native American Natural Area. A 1 1/2-mile trail loops through the grasslands and chaparral, but horses, bicycles and dogs are not permitted there.

Near the new center, volunteers have built an ap, a Chumash dwelling made of reeds collected from a pond not far from the center. Eventually, the pond may be dredged and the fill used to level ground on the property, where powwows can be held.

The focus of the center is primarily Chumash, and the goal is to make it less like a museum with static exhibits, and more like a gathering place where the public can meet real Native Americans and learn firsthand about their cultures.

But the public will see many other Indian cultures, as well. "People don't realize there are so many different Indian tribes," said Eva Larson, a Navaho who is also on the Friends of Satwiwa board. "Just getting that across to some people is a great accomplishment."

The park service will hold a special family program at the center Saturday night, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., which includes a short walk, and Native American Indian games and stories. On Sunday, Cuaresma, a Cherokee, will make fry bread and talk about the services provided by the Southern California Indian Center in Los Angeles.

Details

* WHAT: Dedication of Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center.

* WHEN: June 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

* WHERE: Rancho Sierra Vista / Satwiwa Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Potrero and Pinehill roads, Newbury Park.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* CALL: 499-2837 (Satwiwa) or (818) 597-9192 (National Park Service).

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