November 30, 2011
Each year during Moompetam, the festival celebrating Native American coastal cultures, the Aquarium honors an individual or organization within the community for promoting cultural awareness and outstanding community service. In November 2011 the Aquarium presented the Heritage Award to Marcus Lopez for his efforts to preserve cultural traditions, advocate for Indigenous Peoples, and bring awareness to Native American issues.
Co-chair of the Barbareño Chumash Council of Santa Barbara and a Chumash cultural practitioner, Marcus Lopez has strong ties to the ocean and works to preserve his community’s relationship to the local coast. His cultural maritime involvement spans more than eighteen years, and includes planning and organizing voyages to the Channel Islands from the mainland as well as construction and maintenance of the tomol and ti’at, traditional maritime vessels of the Chumash and Tongva people. The voyage he organized in 2001 from the mainland to Limuw, now known as Santa Cruz Island, was the first contemporary voyage in more than 150 years. According to Chumash legend, Hutash the Earth Mother created the first Chumash people on Limuw. Lopez is the senior captain of the ‘Elye’wun (which means swordfish), a Chumash tomol plank canoe, and was the captain of the Ti’at, a Tongva plank canoe.
Lopez played a key role in the development of Moompetam at the Aquarium, the largest gathering of California’s coastal indigenous nations to date. He was the one who initially invited and encouraged the local Native American representatives to meet with Aquarium staff to discuss creating an annual celebration of coastal Native American peoples and their connection to the ocean. He also founded the Indigenous Media Institute, which houses American Indian Airwaves, a national indigenous news organization. He has been the senior producer of American Indian Airwaves and Coyote Radio since 1988.
Lopez has been a community organizer for forty-two years on topics relating to sovereignty, self-determination, and social justice for many Native and other people-of-color communities. He has lectured at UCLA and UCSB on contemporary Indian cultural, political, and religious rights and paradigms. He recently served as a Chumash representative in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. His fundraising and organizing efforts benefit indigenous communities and non-Native organizations and individuals.