Art & Literature

GIS & Mapping


Base Camp

Long before your parents, or even the great great grandparents of early Western American settlers were born, there was a large community of Native Americans living up and down the California coast, in inland valleys, and out on the Channel Islands. In fact, there were even people living along the Channel who predate the Native Americans that the European settlers encountered by thousands of years. This region has had human occupation for at least 13,000 years.

What we know of their lives is based on artifacts scientists and explorers have found, on what the descendants of these first people have told historians and scientists, and on the oral histories that have been passed down through Native American generations for hundreds, probably thousands of years.

In contrast, the European settlements along the Channel have taken place with in the last four hundred years, a very short span of time compared to the 13,000 years that the Native Americans have lived here. Yet in the span of this 400 years, the physical environment has been irrevocably altered, and the impact of these changes will be studied in our upcoming programs over the year.

The island of Santa Catalina in the Los Angeles Channel area was home to the Pimugan Native Americans for hundreds of years before Europeans ‘discovered’ the Channel. They shared a similar language base with the first peoples living on neighboring San Clemente and San Nicholas islands, and were related to the peoples who settled the mainland Los Angeles basin. They were not the first to live on the Islands, or in the Los Angeles basin that was their gateway to the islands. An earlier people lived in the region, dating back 10,000 years. The Pimugans are thought to date back 2,500 years, having arrived from the dry eastern Oregon/Nevada region to become farmers and ocean harvesters in this new land of comparatively endless bounty. Scientists have been able to trace the root language of the Pimugan, also known as Gabrielinos, to the Shoshonean language, which in turn tells them the groups actual homeland, was much further to the North and eastern inland area we now call Oregon and Nevada.

Another tribe with a distinctly different language base, The Chumash, inhabited the mainland to the north, and the islands off the Santa Barbara coast - Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. The Chumash appear to have had a continuos culture in the Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo coastal and inland region for at least 13,000 years. They are known world wide for their mysterious rock art and cave paintings, and were densely populated along coastal marshlands when the Europeans arrived four hundred years ago.

All of these islanders and mainland Native Americans shared as many common traits as differences. The islanders developed regular trade routes between one another, and with the mainland, creating paths of cultural and material exchange that enriched their individual villages. Although they derived from different language bases - Chumash from the Hokan Family language base, Pimugan/Gabrielinos from the Shoshonean Tacic Family language base, and the San Nicholas Island people possibly also influenced by or from a North Pacific language group - their natural environment provided a common bond that linked the different tribal groups geographically, socially and through bountiful material culture exchanges.