That’s right, we’re revamping our newsletter!—and we’re thrilled you’re here for it.

At Runners for Public Lands (RPL), we are dedicated to building inclusive running communities, whose goal is to protect the environment and create equitable access to nature. We hope that this newsletter will make our events, advocacy, and community happenings more visible, while also celebrating and elevating the work of our amazing community members!

This first publication shines a spotlight on creative RPL members who inspire minds through art, education, and creative writing. Please enjoy their work and stay tuned for the next newsletter installments focused on service opportunities, impact and accomplishments, and not-to-miss upcoming events!

Kicking Off Your Week

Have you been enjoying our “Snowpa Snowpa” mountains this winter? Advocacy Committee member Jeyla Fendi has. Pictured above is one of her paintings highlighting a shadowy Chief’s Peak. You can see more of her work in the coming newsletters, or on our social media.

Belonging to Land and Sea

Recognizing the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

Written by Vic Thasiah, Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at California Lutheran University, Board Member of Los Padres ForestWatch, and Founder of Runners for Public Lands.

As a runner, I often feel a sense of wonder, freedom, and pleasure as I run Santa Barbara front country trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the ancestral homelands of the Chumash and Salinan Peoples. But a couple of matters regularly complicate things. If you are like me and not Indigenous, it is hard to feel an appropriate sense of belonging to this land and sea, given both the violent history and ongoing reality of dispossession and displacement of the Central Coast’s Native Peoples on the one hand, and our global-warming ways of life currently threatening these same places with environmental degradation and biodiversity loss on the other.

Some California Indians like ethnic studies professor Charles Sepulveda (Tongva and Acjachemen) call non-Indigenous people to consider belonging as guests “to the local Indigenous peoples, but more importantly, to the land itself which contains spirit and is willing to provide.” The status of guest “is neither demanded nor ordered,” according to Sepulveda, it is “a relationship offered and chosen.” Though originally uninvited and here by fate, the idea is to become a good guest, a welcomed one, as opposed to a disrespectful and inconsiderate one.

One key way we can be good guests to the Central Coast’s Native Peoples and natural world today is by supporting the designation of the first Tribal-nominated marine protected area, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, on behalf of a broad coalition of Indigenous and environmental groups, has nominated roughly 150 miles of coastline — including wetlands — and 7,500 square miles of ocean adjacent to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and between the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries, to preserve Chumash tribal history and protect rich marine habitat. This proposed area is a world-renowned ecological transition zone, known for its luxuriant kelp forests and many threatened and endangered species such as blue whales, leatherback sea turtles, southern sea otters, black abalone, and snowy plovers.

Uniting in solidarity with the Central Coast’s Native Peoples — those involved in this designation process to recognize their history and develop place-based, cultural programs to promote both Indigenous and non-Indigenous understanding — is a good-guest thing to do. The place-based aspect is crucial. What Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg), a leading Indigenous writer, observes pertaining to the land applies just as much to the sea: “Education comes from the roots up. It comes from being enveloped by land.”

Good guests of the Central Coast’s natural world would also center and support the use of Indigenous perspectives in the management of the proposed sanctuary. One of the highlights of the original nomination document is its explanation of a Chumash philosophy of “thrivability,” which “transcends sustainability by creating an upward spiral of greater possibilities and increasing energy.” In other words, “thrivability emerges from the persistent intention to create more value than one consumes.” Imagine how ecologically and economically beneficial it would be for our region if this philosophy were to inform planning around issues such as climate change, oil and gas development, oil-platform abandonment, seismic survey testing, offshore wind and wave energy development, fiber optic cables, and the potential discharge of Central Valley wastewater.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently reviewing public comments collected during the initial scoping period, and drafting a management plan, environmental impact statement, and proposed rule, which they plan to release in the late spring. We can receive email updates on this by signing up here. There will be a 60-day public comment period, during which NOAA will hold public meetings in-person and online. After this period, they will prepare the final designation documents to be published for sanctuary designation in 2024.

To be sure, identifying as a guest may not appeal to some, especially non-Native people who consider the Central Coast their home and feel a strong sense of place. Others may be concerned about further imposing on Native Peoples, framed by the guest-host binary as hosts. And, even if we think we are good guests for supporting the designation of the sanctuary, that does not mean we are no longer complicit in the dispossession and displacement of Native Peoples. Sepulveda himself admits that the concept of guest is a nearly impossible one, involving “a defiant act of love for our lands.”

Dedicated to leaving a sustainable ocean for future generations, Chumash-Tataviam elder and fellow runner Alan Salazar nevertheless sums up this vision well: “We’re all guests of the natural world that was here long before us, and non-Native people are guests with much to offer in working together with Native People who have been here long before them to protect land and sea.”

Montaña de Oro in San Luis Obispo is adjacent to the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary | Photo by Mollie Ganser

And lastly, a beautiful poem about belonging, written by Leigh Scarber, Founding RPL Board Member.


Written by Leigh Scarber

I was born a dancer
But I never knew
Because becoming
Anything of myself
Meant not dancing
Or creating or
Even being joyful


They said I wouldn’t make
A good runner either
Because of the
Thousand little earthquakes
That shake my body
With every step
I didn’t fit in
Even if I felt home
Chasing big, mountain skies
So I always questioned
The curve of my hips
The width of my thighs
Even though I hold
The very essence of
Within them
My face flushed with fear
What if their eyes
Would wonder
Or wander
Or gaze for too long
Like I didn’t belong there
But then I
Started meditating
On the gentle movement
And the shaking and the quaking
With roots down deep
Curled around the earth
The Mother
Whose ancestral rhythm
Pulses through my body
Like the stars
Before they explode
And you
You look at me
As if I held
The universe
Beneath my skin
As if I could
Dance or run
Or neither one
And you’d still
Look at me that way
Now my body is lit up
From within
Scattering light
Escaping through the cracks
Because I dance through
The mountains
Even though someone said
There’s no music
Out there
And I said
Maybe you’re just
Not listening

Clouds at Dawn, Carrizo Plain National Monument | Photo by Bryant Baker