Steelhead & Chumash Culture
Wishtoyo’s Current Steelhead Projects to restore the Steelhead, a resource vital to Chumash cultural preservation, include work on:
The Steelhead Recovery Plan - Click here
The Vern Freeman Diversion Dam Fish Passage - Click here
The Water Quality and Health of the Santa Clara River and its Estuary - Click here
The Importance of the Southern California Steelhead to Chumash Culture
The Chumash Native American name for Southern California Steelhead is “Isha’kowoch” (the glistening salmon). The Chumash people have a strong cultural interest in the recovery of the Isha’kowoch, that for over 10,000 years played a significant role in sustaining healthy coastal and inland ecosystems that spiritually and physically supported the Chumash coastal communities and villages located alongside waterbodies and waterways supporting steelhead populations. To the Chumash, the glistening glow and shimmering of the Isha’kowoch in rivers, as represented in their pictographs, art, ceremonies, songs, and prayers, represents the pureness of water and the cleansing of one’s soul. Additionally, the Chumash song about paddling in tomols (Chumash canoes) or tule reed boats on rivers, ponds, and coastal waters, focuses around the Isha’kowoch and the lessons it teaches us. In the song, the effort to paddle forward, like an Isha’kowoch going upstream with strength, endurance, and drive around all barriers to reach the destination, carries the paddlers through the water to where they need to go. As the song continues, the Isha’kowoch battle and cut through the water and its current, and take time to rest in ponds or pools so they can continue to where they can spawn and guarantee a future.
In modern times, the Isha’kowoch continues to be a resource whose continued thriving existence remains vital to the preservation and revitalization of Chumash culture. Living in coastal watersheds from Malibu in the South, to San Luis Obispo in the North for over 10,000 years, the Chumash people have a cultural and sovereign right to take a steelhead or two from a stream’s healthy adult steelhead population for ceremonial and traditional uses; to be woken up by the splashing of thousands of steelhead whose glistening glow turns the river silver under moonlight; to enjoy and sustainably harvest native plants and critters from watersheds that depend on steelhead to provide nutrient inputs and trophic ecosystem balance; and to experience steelhead runs in combination with their currently practiced Isha’kowoch ceremonies, songs, prayers, and art to best connect with their ancestral roots and culture. Experiencing Isha’kowoch runs and being able just to honor the harvest of a single Isha’kowoch will allow Chumash people to reconnect with their culture and ancestors in ways that will not be possible without their recovery.