July 11, 2012

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation


The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians is a federally recognized tribe of Chumash Indians native to California.

Official Tribal Name:  Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation

Address:  100 Via Juana Lane, P.O. Box 517
Santa Ynez, CA 93460

Phone: (805) 688-7997
Fax: (805) 686-9578

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

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Region: California

State(s) Today: California

Traditional Territory:

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians (SYBCI) is made up of descendants of the Chumash people who once resided on a large, 7,000 square mile territory in Southern California. The territory encompassed what are now Malibu, Paso Robles, and northeastto the border of the San Joaquin Valley.

Confederacy: Chumash


Reservation: Santa Ynez Reservation

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Population at Contact: Estimated at about 22,000.

Registered Population Today:

There are approximately 300 people living on the reservation. 

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Language Dialects:

Dozens of different and diverse dialects were spoken, with a different dialect for almost every Chumash town.

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Bands, Gens, and Clans

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Ceremonies / Dances:

There was a fall harvest ceremony and during the winter solstice, the shaman priests led several days of feasting and dancing to honor the power of their father, the Sun.

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Art & Crafts:

The Santa Ynez Chumash were the finest boat builders among the California Indians. Pulling the fallen Northern California redwood trunks and pieces of driftwood from the Santa Barbara Bay, they learned to seal the cracks between the boards of the large wooden plank canoes using the natural resource of tar. This unique and innovative form of transportation allowed them access to the scattered Chumash villages up and down the coastline and on the Channel Islands.




Chumash ancestors lived in large, dome-shaped homes that were made of willow branches. Whalebone was used for reinforcing and the roofs were composed of tulle mats. The interior rooms were partitioned for privacy by hanging reed mats from the ceiling. As many as 50 people could live in one house. With platform beds built above the ground, the Chumash used the area under the platforms to store personal belongings. 


The Chumash were hunter gatherers.  As the Chumash culture advanced with basketry, stone cookware, and the ability to harvest and store food, the villages became more permanent. The Chumash society became tiered and ranged from manual laborers to the skilled crafters, to the chiefs, and to the shaman priests.

Women could serve equally as chiefs and priests. Chieftains, known as wots, were usually the richest, and, therefore, the most powerful. It was not uncommon for one chief to hold responsibility for several villages. The son or daughter could inherit this position of authority for the Chumash community when the chief died.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Each Chumash village had a shaman/astrologer. These gifted astronomers charted the heavens and then allowed the astrologers to interpret and help guide the people. The Chumash believed that the world was in a constant state of change, so decisions in the villages were made only after consulting the charts.

In the rolling hills of the coastline, Chumash ancestors found caves to use for sacred religious ceremonies. The earliest Chumash Indians used charcoal for their drawings, but as their culture evolved, they began to colorfully decorate the caves using, red, orange, and yellow pigments. These colorful yet simple cave paintings included human figures and animal life. They used a technique of applying dots around the figures to make them more distinct. Many of the cave paintings still exist today, protected by the National Parks system.

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Catastrophic Events:

The Chumash Indian population was all but decimated in the 1700s and 1800s by the Spanish mission system.         

Tribe History:

 In 1769, a Spanish land expedition, led by Gaspar de Portola, left Baja California and reached the Santa Barbara Channel. In short order, five Spanish missions were established in Chumash territory. The Chumash population was eventually decimated, due largely to the introduction of European diseases. By 1831, the number of mission-registered Chumash numbered only 2,788, down from pre-Spanish population estimates of 22,000.

The modern day towns of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria were carved out of the old Chumash territory. The town of Santa Barbara began with Spanish soldiers who were granted small parcels of land by their commanders upon retiring from military service. After mission secularization in 1834, lands formerly under mission control were given to Spanish families loyal to the Mexican government. Meanwhile, other large tracts were sold or given to prominent individuals as land grants. Mexican authorities failed to live up to their promises of distributing the remaining land among the surviving Chumash, causing further decline in the Chumash population.

By 1870, the region’s now dominant Anglo culture had begun to prosper economically. The Santa Barbara area established itself as a mecca for health seekers, and by the turn of the century it became a haven for wealthy tourists and movie stars. Around 1880, the region began to establish itself as an important hub of agriculture and horticulture. Most of the Chumash who remained in the area survived through menial work on area farms and ranches.

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