Salinan Indians should not be allowed to climb Morro Rock because it is a sacred site for Chumash Indians, according to a civil suit filed by the Chumash.
Dennis Balsamo, an attorney for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, filed a writ of mandate in San Luis Obispo Superior Court requesting documentation proving the Salinans have a right to climb the Rock.
The legal action is the latest development in an ongoing dispute over the Salinans’ history with Morro Bay and its nearly 600-foot landmark.
“Petitioner believes that there is no historic or religious connection between the ancient Salinan People and Morro Rock, and they should not be allowed to desecrate a registered Chumash Nation sacred site,” Balsamo wrote.
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Since 2006 the Native American Heritage Commission has authorized the California Department of Parks and Recreation to allow members of the Salinan Tribe of Monterey & San Luis Obispo counties to climb Morro Rock for religious ceremonies twice a year — on both the summer and winter solstice.
When state parks, the NAHC and the Salinan Tribe entered into a memorandum of agreement to allow the Salinans to climb the Rock, Balsamo said, the Chumash weren’t even consulted, even though they should have been since they were directly impacted by the action.
Climbing Morro Rock — a state historic landmark and peregrine falcon preserve since 1968 — is forbidden to most of the public. But an exception was made for both the Chumash and Salinans.
Balsamo said the Chumash don’t mind other tribes gathering at the base of the Rock — they just don’t want anyone climbing the Rock, which was formed by long-extinct volcanoes 23 million years ago.
“Never would a Chumash climb that Rock because it’s a sacred site,” Balsamo said.
Terrie Robinson, an attorney representing the NAHC, said she does not comment on pending litigation. A message left for Cynthia Gomez, executive secretary of the NAHC, was not returned Friday.
While the Chumash have a history in Morro Bay that dates 10,000 years, Balsamo said, the Salinans have more recently claimed to have a history there.
“All our people have ever done is to say, ‘Prove it,’” he said.
The issue has come up multiple times in the past. In 2001, the two tribes, citing territorial history, disagreed over who should oversee modernization plans for the Morro Bay Power Plant.
While Balsamo said members of the NAHC are “good people,” he said they have not provided requested documentation.
If the commission can’t prove the Salinans have historic ties to Morro Bay, Balsamo said, further legal action could result if the Salinans continue to climb the Rock.
Over the years, Balsamo said, some have questioned the ancestry of Chumash members, including Fred Collins, tribal administrator for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. Those questions, the suit contends, prompted the NAHC to ask Chumash members to prove their ancestry.
“It’s just unheard of in the past for the Native American Heritage Commission to question anyone like that,” he said.
At the Salinan Tribe of Monterey & San Luis Obispo counties, a woman who answered the phone as “Patti” said the tribe would not comment, though she added, “We have done Fred Collins’ genealogy, and he’s not even Chumash.”
Collins could not be reached for comment. Balsamo said Collins’ Chumash ancestry is well-established.
Balsamo’s writ also requests documentation that questions Chumash members’ ancestry, which could also spark further legal action, Balsamo said.
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