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Art as a Method of Reparations

By Robert Valiente-Neighbours, graduate of the Master of Arts in Peace and Justice '16

Friday, October 28, 2016TOPICS: Student Success

Art as a Method of Reparations
begin quoteFor my internship I would help uncover this piece of local history and create an artistic response

By Robert Valiente-Neighbours, graduate of the Master of Arts in Peace and Justice '16

My connection to Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (BCM) began in 2011 when I attended their institute entitled, “The Sermon on the Mount and Active Nonviolence,” which examined the Anabaptist, Anarchist, and Anti-racist traditions connected with this history and practice. The work of BCM, led by Directors Ched Myers and Elaine Enns, has become pivotal to my approach to social justice work and ultimately inspired me to enroll in the Master in Peace and Justice program at the Kroc School. My summer internship with BCM proved to be an excellent way to further connect my studies at the Kroc School with the work of BCM, an organization that is deeply committed to “restorative justice, Sabbath economics, bioregional sustainability, nonviolence and social change.” 

BCM is located in Oak View, CA on the Ventura river and just south of the town of Ojai. I originally planned on doing a watershed and community mapping project with BCM, as their work is intentional about the importance of the specific environment and social history of their community. Yet, at the start of the summer, Ched Myers proposed a new project - examining the forgotten history of the Ventura river valley. Just south of the Oak View community is Casitas, CA and under the highway lies a forgotten piece of history, the ruins of Asistencia de Santa Gertrudis. Only a small plaque remains commemorating this lost chapel, yet Ched had heard stories about the chapel and the Chumash indigenous community that once lived around it. We decided to take this little piece of lost history and find new ways to remember, ways that could challenge us as people benefiting from settler-colonialism to remember that there are painful histories of loss and exploitation in the taken-for-granted shape of our communities. Ched and Elaine often talk about how in working for ecological and social justice we must learn from people and traditions that have never given up their rootedness and sense of place. Thus, we decided that for my internship I would help uncover this piece of local history and create an artistic response that could be shared with the BCM network and the local community.

It was difficult to figure out the story Santa Gertrudis. Only the smallest fragments of this history exist online, and even more confounding, no images or representations of the chapel and Chumash community can be found. To learn the story we dug through old archaeology journals, met with community elders, and scoured local museums. Finally, I was able to find a photo of the foundations of the chapel and a sketch of what it might have looked like before its collapse. It was a unique experience, not just piecing together the history of the Santa Gertrudis Chapel, but also learning the indigenous context of the Ventura River Valley, and how even today sacred sites in the valley are disregarded and destroyed. 

My artistic response to the story of Santa Gertrudis included linocuts and paintings of the symbols of the Ventura River Valley, the individuals who preserved indigenous and native culture, and what the chapel might have looked like before it fell to ruins and was paved over. I continue to work with BCM and thread these art pieces together into a digital story of the valley. Currently, we are also planning to do a mural at the site of Santa Gertrudis to honor the history of the local Chumash people. We hope that this mural can help encourage us to seek a history that remembers indigenous knowledge and sacred sites rather than paving them over. 

Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries -

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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