The Chumash Indians are a group of Native Americans who have inhabited the Southwestern coast of California and the Northern Channel Islands for thousands of years. The name Chumash means "Shell bead people," so named for the shell beads this group used for currency. Their population once numbered as high as twenty thousand individuals, but thanks to diseases such as smallpox and influenza brought by the colonizing Spaniards, it had dwindled to a mere 200 by the year 1900. There are currently estimated to be 5,000 individuals of Chumash descent.
The Chumash were adept navigators and fishermen, traveling the ocean freely in their plank canoes, known as tomols, which were made from redwood trees. They used these canoes for hunting, fishing, and trading with other tribes. As traditional hunter-gatherers, their diet consisted mainly of sea life such as shellfish, fish, seals, and seaweed, plants, including roots, nuts, and acorns, and other animals such as bears, and waterfowl.
The Chumash Indians had a rich culture which included traditional arts such as basketry, music, and cave paintings, at which they were very talented. The society was matriarchal. This group of people had great respect for nature and their families. Not much is known about their religious ceremonies, but some of their myths still survive.
Today, the Chumash people are a federally recognized tribe. They have a reservation in Santa Ynez, CA. Many of the tribal members work in the tourism industry, in the tribe's casino and resort. The casino offers slot machines, poker, blackjack, and bingo, as well as other popular games. The resort offers well-known entertainers such as Neil Sedaka, Bill Cosby, and Joe Cocker.
The Chumash Indians are an interesting group of people with a fascinating, though difficult past. In spite of their past trials they are thriving in today's world.