Historical Significance for Native Americans

The federally recognized Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians (hereafter “Tribe” or “Santa Ynez Band”) believes that the entire former Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) is worthy of being made into a United States National Monument.

Burro Flats Cave, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Area II, NASA portion declared “excess.”

Burro Flats Cave, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Area II, NASA portion declared “excess.”

Prehistorically, this is where the Eastern Chumash and the Fernandeno tribal territories overlapped; a third tribe, the Tataviam, lived in the mountains just to the north, and some members of that group were probably also frequent visitors. Although there is no recorded native name for the village complex that once occupied the SSFL area, all of the villages in the west San Fernando Valley and eastern Simi Hills are known to have been by-lingual. The closest known Native American village was located at the bottom of the canyon that drains the area; this was the Chumash/Fernandeno village of Huwam/Jucjauynga. Therefore, the SSFL area was undoubtedly also a multi-ethnic area.

In 2014, recognition of the considerable importance of the SSFL for native peoples, the Santa Ynez Band requested that California’s Native American Heritage Commission list the entire former SSFL as an official State Sacred Land. In addition, one of the most important archaeological features at the SSFL- the Burro Flats Painted Cave- has been included on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. The Burro Flats Painted Cave complex includes a large polychrome pictograph and over a dozen other loci of rock art (see Knight 2012: Three Chumash-Style Pictograph Sites in Fernandeno Territory). Archaeological researchers believe that all of these pictographs are “unquestionably ceremonial in nature”(Romani et al. 1988:112). It is likely that the paintings, and other rock art, played a key role in the Chumash and Fernandeno winter and summer solstice ceremonies. The Winter Solstice Ceremony, which honors Kakunupmawa (the sun) and was the most important annual ceremony for the Chumash and the Fernandeno (Romani 1981:52), and people from as far west as Gaviota, as far east as San Gabriel, and as far north as Tejon, came to and played a part in these important ceremonies.

Archaeological excavations in the 1950s, and recent archaeological surveys of the entire SSFL, have shown that there are numerous other sites across all parts of the SSFL, and that some of these deposits are as much as eight feet deep, in places. 100s of artifacts have been examined, by some of the most experienced researchers in the region; these researchers have stated that the deposits date to at least 5000 years before the present, and if the deposits and artifacts were to be most completely and carefully examined, that the earliest deposits at the SSFL would probably be found to be even older. The abundance of artifacts present throughout all parts of the SSFL demonstrates that the preservation of the SSFL is vital to awareness and remembrance of south-central Californian tribal practices.

The Santa Ynez Band notes that the Chumash and Fernandeno tribes were hunter-gatherers, and fishermen, who did not create structures like the cliff dwellings, pueblos, and temple-mounds mentioned below, and therefore the numerous sites at the SSFL, especially the rock art, are highly significant because they are among the few extant visible physical links to our ancestors. But the Burro Flats Painted Cave location, etc., has the potential to not only provide an outstanding link to the ceremonialism of the prehistoric peoples of this region, but it is potentially a place that could be set-aside and maintained so that modern native peoples could have a secure place to express their cultural identity, and to teach their children and others, about indigenous cultures.