Local Chumash band Barbareno/Ventureno Band of Mission Indians (BVBMI) is throwing a party, and everyone’s invited! The Sukinanik’oy Festival, now in its third year, will open and close with traditional Chumash ceremonies, and throughout the day there will be contemporary and Native American-inspired music, dance and storytelling. Festival-goers will also be able to explore artwork, jewelry and crafts that bring the Chumash traditions and heritage to life.
Sukinanik’oy is, in fact, a Chumash word meaning “to bring back to life,” and BVBMI members see this festival as one way to make the history and culture of their ancestors better known in the community. The band formed around 2001. With 80-100 members, it’s much smaller than the better-known Santa Ynez band. “It’s mainly extended families that have ancestors in this land, in Malibu, Ventura, Santa Paula and even southern Santa Barbara,” says Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, BVBMI tribal chair and festival organizer. She explains that many band members with roots in the area might now hail from farther afield.
“The Chumash people were displaced [from the area] for many different reasons: marriage, military, housing prices, unemployment. Now, many who live outside the area want to join.” One of these is Matthew Mas Vestuto, another festival organizer, who currently resides in Oregon. Since joining the band a few years ago, he’s become a very active member with a keen interest in Native American linguistics, and serves as BVBMI’s language program coordinator. “I know the importance of language to a culture,” Vestuto says. “Language revitalization is very important.”
The Sukinanik’oy Festival also commemorates the 2008 acquisition of a six-acre tract of land in Saticoy — the first time land has ever been returned to Ventura County’s indigenous population. Proceeds from the event will go toward property taxes and help fund a nonprofit cultural center BVBMI hopes to build on the site. But mostly, Tumamait- Stenslie and Vestuto see the festival as a way to connect with the county. “What’s of value to me is creating relationships with people that live in our area,” Vestuto says. “We hope to foster a positive relationship with the Ventura community.”

Sukinanik’oy Festival, Saturday, Sept. 27, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Pottery Studio, 1804 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai.  $5, children under 12 are free. For more information, call 646-6214.