In his ethnographic text, Gelles (Anthropology/Univ. of California, Water and Power in Highland Peru, 2000, etc.) explores the impact of casino revenues on revitalizing Native American culture in central California.
From the late 18th century through the 1950s, the Chumash, a Native American tribe based in the Santa Ynez Valley, were subjugated by three waves of colonization, each having detrimental effects on their culture and population. First, under Spanish rule, the Chumash people were forced to build mission properties, which were relied on by “the predatory priests, soldiers, local ranchers, and…the colonial system in general.” When the United States annexed California in the mid-1800s, the few remaining Chumash were forced from the mission property and made to settle at Zanja de Cota, which was later established as the Santa Ynez Reservation. The car culture of the 1950s brought tourism to the valley, resulting in a population boom consisting of “wealthy celebrities and ranchers to poor Latino farmhands and white service sector workers.” Without gas, potable water and electricity through the 1960s, the reservation “was known as a fairly lawless place, with a high rate of alcoholism…and with many residents on welfare.” Chumash children, often barred from educational advancement, were placed in special education programs at Santa Ynez Union High School for no reason other than their heritage. Yet the ’60s also saw a re-emergence of Chumash culture, a process initiated through studying the works of anthropologist J.P. Harrington, who, in the early 20th century, worked with Chumash culture-bearer Maria Solares in collecting thousands of pages of text regarding tribe history, language and religious practices. In the mid-’90s, a casino opened on the reservation, revenues from which have been used to re-establish Chumash culture. For example, the Tribal Hall was built in 2002 as the reservation’s government center and education department. The book concludes by examining the possibility of reconciliation between the Chumash and the Santa Ynez Valley community. Gelles asserts “critics should acknowledge that [the casino] has brought many benefits, not just for the Chumash, but for the community as a whole,” and in order “to go beyond stereotypes about American Indians, people…need to learn about native relationships with the state.” Gelles provides great balance by varying the narrative’s voice and perspective when detailing conflicts between the Chumash and Valley residents. However, he rarely asserts himself within the work, only vaguely outlining his role within the tribe, thus distancing himself from the many opinions at play. Overall, Gelles succeeds in objectively examining the complex sociopolitical issue.
A rich, informative text highlighting Chumash ingenuity in rebuilding a long-oppressed culture.