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Chumash Beat the Drum for a University

Several hundred people attend the first day of a fund-raiser in Camarillo aimed at creation of a Native American school.

October 05, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

It may only raise a few thousand dollars, but Chumash leaders and guests at a Camarillo powwow Saturday said the money would be an integral step toward creating a Native American university in northern Ventura County.

Under sunny skies in a grassy quad at Cal State Channel Islands, several hundred people paid $5 each to listen to calming flute music, watch dancers in colorful feathered headdresses and learn about the Chumash group's lofty goal.

"This life is for learning and teaching, and having a new place where that can be done will be very important," said Irene Bedard, the voice of Disney's Pocahontas, who came to support the cause and sell her new rock CD.

The first Chumash Intertribal Powwow continues at the Lewis Road campus from noon to 7 p.m. today.

The event featured storytelling, singing, hot Indian fry bread and face-painting for kids. Authentic Native American wares were on sale, including hand-woven dream catchers, silver and turquoise jewelry and woven rugs and bags.

To begin the event Saturday, Chumash members performed a brief ceremony to bless the grounds, as well as the children in attendance, who gathered in a circle in the quad. The group then released 50 white pigeons.

"The pigeons carry your message from Earth to the great spirit and from the great spirit to the people on Earth," said Joyce Grettenberger, a Cherokee from Ventura. "They also will carry the message of the importance of the new university."

Hosts of the powwow, the Coastal Band of the Chumash and Friends of the Chumash, hope to raise up to $10,000 to use as a down payment on a 50-acre parcel in the Cuyama Valley north of Ojai. Individual donors already have given about $6,000. The Coastal Band of the Chumash is not a federally recognized Indian tribe.

The plan for the ranchland site, priced at about $160,000, calls for creation of Indian Nations University, where Native Americans and others could study American Indian law, culture, environmental sciences and tribal business practices, said Carol Anderson, a member of Friends of the Chumash.

Anderson said it was important to raise as much money as possible quickly, because the Cuyama landowner was anxious to sell.

"It's a very ambitious plan, but it's very important," she said. "Most people don't realize there are about 70,000 American Indians in Ventura County and 1,400 K through 12th-graders."

Anderson said her group would like to create a countywide network that could feed Native American students into the state university system and then into Indian Nations University, where the coursework would emphasize post-graduate classes and degrees.

The only other such tribal college is DQ University near Davis, Anderson said.

Chumash leaders said the entire project could cost more than $160 million and take more than a decade to complete. But if the land can be purchased soon, courses could be offered as early as next year inside temporary quarters, Anderson said.

In addition to powwows, funding will be sought from tribes throughout the state. It remains unclear what role, if any, Cal State Channel Islands would play in the new institution.

Ted Lucas, vice president for academic affairs, said Saturday that the university offered free use of the campus quad for the weekend and was discussing with Chumash group leaders creation of a native plant garden and small arena at the Camarillo campus.

"We're delighted they're here and pleased to provide the facilities," Lucas said.

Irene Clifton of Oxnard came to the powwow with her grandchildren, 15-year-old Jayme and 13-year-old James, after being invited by a co-worker. "I think the idea of a university is a great one. We need more places where people can learn," Clifton said.

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