Modern-day environmentalists are centuries behind the curve, according to Ojai resident Julie Tumamait-Stenslie.

Preserving sacred space, she believes, is just as important as preserving open space.

"Part of the environmental movement is believing what Native Americans have always known about the earth," she told the Reporter Nov. 18. "You don’t take from it, you work with it."

For more than two-decades Tumamait-Stenslie, 50, has been delivering this message to Ventura County students, teachers and museum-goers.

Soon she will have a much wider audience.

On Nov. 15 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Tumamait-Stenslie to serve on California’s Native American Heritage Commission.

"Native Americans play incredibly important roles in our state’s culture and success," the governor said in a release in which he also declared November Native American Heritage Month.

"Their customs and languages are invaluable parts of our state’s history, which is why I am honored to observe Native American Heritage Month," Schwarzenegger said in the release. "I am confident the individuals appointed today will continue to preserve this wonderful heritage for generations to come."

Schwarzenegger appointed four others to the commission, which protects Native American burial and sacred sites and helps to educate the public about related issues. Those appointed to the commission can serve for the rest of their lives and are not paid.

Tumamait-Stenslie, of Chumash descent, has accepted the position and, after a routine Senate confirmation of the appointment, she will take her place on the commission alongside eight others from different Native American tribes in the state.

Tumamait-Stenslie, has served as a consultant for Chumash Cultural Services since 1985. The tribal chair of the Barbareno/Ventureno Band of Mission Indians, she also serves on the Ojai Valley Museum Board of Trustees, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History commission and the Oakbrook Chumash Interpretive Center Board.

She also runs the Ventura County Museum of History & Art’s annual children’s camp that focuses on Native American education and speaks at schools and community centers.

The governor selected Tumamait-Stenslie to serve on the commission because of her extensive involvement in local Native American education and because of her cultural heritage.

"My family is descended from many, many burial sites in California, including at two of the Channel Islands, Malibu, Ojai, Santa Paula, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo," she said.

By researching her family tree, she has been able to link her ancestry to before the 1700’s, which is when Spanish missionaries first began to document baptisms.

"When I say I’m born and bred in California, I mean it," Tumamait-Stenslie said.

Although some local sacred sites have already been desecrated, she hopes to preserve others using her influence on the commission.

She declined to specify the locations of the sites for fear that they would be looted.

"The sacred sites are as significant as the churches that are here now," she said. "To protect them is important to us because we would still like to use them to gather and continuing holding ceremonies. We want to continue our way of life and still gather in our traditional sacred way. I’m afraid that a lot of these places will be lost to us.

"We have our religious freedom that allows us to gather, but we don’t always have our land," she continued. "What we’re hoping with this commission is to designate these places, to protect them and keep them sacred."

Tumamait-Stenslie said she hopes to bring a sense of understanding of sacred space to the people of California and Ventura County, in particular.

"I’m moving into this position where I will be speaking really not for the people, but for the land itself," she said. "Hopefully I will be able to protect these places and put more education and more awareness out into the world to bring in a broader sense of togetherness."