University Works to Strengthen Ties with Native American Community

Source: Living Lutheran

California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks launched a new series of events to mark its “journey of intention” to acknowledge the Chumash Nation’s ancestral land upon which the university is located. The event is part of an intentional dialogue designed to strengthen relations between the university and members of the Chumash Nation.

According to Lorri Santamaría, the university’s director of faculty development and inclusive excellence, California is home to one of the largest populations of Native Americans in the country. While some institutions of higher learning in California have land acknowledgments, (formal statements that recognize and respect the Indigenous inhabitants of a particular area), California Lutheran does not.

Santamaría, a Black Louisiana Creole woman of Choctaw descent, hoping to guide the university through a process that leads to recognition and healing.

Partnering with local indigenous leaders known as “knowledge keepers,” Santamaria is being joined in her work by Kathy Ann Willcuts and Steven Jon Garcia. During a program, Willcuts, who is Lakota, and Garcia, who is Tongva, Mescalero Apache and Yaqui, first offered a sacred tobacco blessing and an Eagle Dance “to set the intention for the land and invite its ancestors to be a part of the healing offered.”

Additionally, the Indigenous knowledge keepers led a walk across campus in a ceremony that culminated in a land blessing.

“We talked about prayer and forgiveness and reconciliation and healing—all the things that had not been said before,” Santamaría said. “It was cool. I’ve really never seen anything like it.

“This land intention work has created an atmosphere that is more open, more loving and brings in that open and rooted concept that the Lutheran synod … is walking the talk. We’re moving from being performative—we’re just doing this, ticking boxes—to being more substantive.”

Since California Lutheran initiated this process, Chumash leaders have been having ongoing conversations with university officials about more formal recognitions. Additionally, the school has committed to finding new ways to make the university more welcoming for Native students.

Santamaría hopes that her work will cultivate not only understanding, but healing between all parties. She said, “This is for everybody; this work is for all of us,” she said. “It’s not benefiting one group or two groups or three groups. It’s for all people on our campus and in our society. … People don’t understand [that] when you participate in these things and you honor their differences, you realize this work for all of us. You want the campus to be a place where all the students have a sense of belonging … then you’re going to get the highest result: the best education, best leadership.”

Source: Living Lutheran