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Chumash Tomol Channel Crossing set for Saturday: ‘Every pull of our paddle is a prayer’

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Members of the Chumash community will celebrate their 20th Tomol Crossing to the Channel Islands on Saturday.

"Our tomol culture was put to sleep for a long time, for 150 years," said Toni Cordero, a Chumash veteran paddler. "Finally, we had the Brotherhood of the Tomol in the 70's start to resurrect that in the late 80's and early 90s and built new tomols."

Antonette "Toni" Cordero, a Chumash veteran paddler (Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

An estimated 160 people will take part in the multi-generational spiritual event, including members of all of the Chumash bands as well as members from other tribes.

The general public is not invited.

Cordero said the set-up crew headed out Thursday night for Santa Cruz Island. The actual paddle-out happens early Saturday morning, well before dawn, when the strongest paddlers launch the tomol -- a traditional plank canoe -- into the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.

"Those paddlers who paddle that first leg are called "dark water paddlers" because the water is dark, the sky is dark. Often times they can't even see the paddler in front of them, trying to stay in sync with them, and those folks have to paddle until it gets light because it's not safe to make a crew change until the sun comes up and we can see what we're doing."

Cordero explained this year, paddlers will use the Muptami tomol, which means "Deep Memories" or "Ancestral Memories" in Chumash. A second tomol used in the Chumash community is the Eleye'wun, which means "Swordfish."

"This is really a very spiritual activity for all of us and we always say, 'Every pull of our paddle is a prayer.' So, when we're out there paddling, we're paddling for our loved ones who need prayers."

Cordero is paddling this year in honor of Gloria Liggett, a beloved and well-known elder who passed away earlier this year.

She is quick to give credit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Parks Service for their partnership and immense support during the Channel crossing. NOAA provides a large support ship. Those helpers along with smaller boats are crucial when it comes to the crew change.

"We then have to make a crew change in the middle of the Channel and so when the sea is rough, that can really be tricky because you're bouncing around and you want to make sure the two boats don't separate and somebody doesn't end up in the ocean."

Weather forced the cancellation of last year's tomol crossing. This year's event is expected to take anywhere from six to 12 hours for the paddlers to reach Scorpion Harbor off Santa Cruz Island, depending on the weather.

Cordero said the distance between the Channel Islands Harbor and Scorpion Harbor "as the crow flies" is about 20 miles.

"Our community members are already camping out there by the time we land and they welcome us onto the shore," said Cordero. "We spend the night and have ceremony and have songs and tell stories and have a big communal dinner with each other. And, we hike and we swim and we snorkel and we have fun out there on our island. which we think of as "our island" because it's where we originated."

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here


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