Northern Chumash Indians file suit over Moro Rock
December 6, 2014
The Northern Chumash Indians have filed a lawsuit against the Salinan Indians in the latest skirmish in the ongoing battle over Morro Rock, a site both groups claim is sacred to their tribes.
In 2006, members of the Salinan Nation first received permission to climb Morro Rock through a memorandum of agreement between the tribe, state parks, and the Native American Heritage Commission. At the time, the Chumash argued that the site was sacred and solstice ceremonies should, instead, be held at the base of the rock.
On Friday, Dennis Balsamo, an attorney for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, filed a writ of mandate seeking documentation proving the local Salinan Indians are historically or religiously tied to the ancient Salinan Indians and Morro Rock.
In 2012, several Salinan tribal members said John Burch, a Salinan Tribal Council leader, placed two sets of human remains he thought to be Native American atop Morro Rock.
Burch denied, in an interview with CalCoastNews, that he placed the remains on Morro Rock.
But tribal members, a Catholic priest and emails from the state of California say otherwise.
Father Larry Gosselin, with Mission San Miguel, said he blessed the remains after Burch asked him to do so. Tribal administrator for the Northern Chumash Tribal Council Fred Collins said he does not see Catholicism as being a Native American religion.
“It has created a lot of conflict in our community,” Collins said. “We look at John Burch as a splinter group of Salinans. Burch doesn’t respect Chumash territory.”
Burch’s group has fired back claiming Collins is not a descendent of the Northern Chumash.