Credit: Photos by Maura Shernisky and design by Ariel Sherman / Mustang News

Cal Poly recognizes that the land on which it sits is the unceded homelands of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe of San Luis Obispo County and Region through a land acknowledgement read at most major presentations on campus.

One BEACoN research project aims to move Cal Poly beyond the land acknowledgement with Indigenous walking tours. These tours would let participants see Cal Poly from a new perspective that centers Indigenous knowledge and history.

“It celebrates, amplifies and acknowledges the Indigenous presence and knowledge here on campus,” comparative ethnic studies senior Amy Contreras said. 

Contreras and computer science senior Sophie Martyrossian have been working on this project since winter 2023. 

The tour takes participants through the heart of campus, either physically or digitally, with nine stops along the way. The walk includes several residence halls, the Native American and Indigenous Cultural Center, Chumash Auditorium, art pieces around campus and the white sage growing near the Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering building (BLDG 8). 

“All these were here before and I didn’t know about them,” Martyrossian said. “Even if you were interested in Indigenous history, it wasn’t really easily accessible because these weren’t available online anywhere.”

The tour also includes a few bonus stops such as Poly Canyon Village and the Pismo Preserve to demonstrate that Indigenous people exist everywhere.

Every stop is accompanied by narratives from yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribal members that highlight their lived experiences. 

Tribal members were consulted during project development and gave ongoing consent. One of the project’s advisors, ethnic studies professor Becca Lucas, is a member of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe.

Involving tribal members and getting their permission throughout is an important aspect of the project for the team members, especially when Indigenous voices have been an afterthought or not included at all in research projects about Indigenous communities, Lydia Heberling, ethnic studies professor and the project’s other advisor, said. 

“You can’t create something like this without having a good relationship with and talking with the original people of the land,” Heberling said. 

The project follows a process of counter-mapping, which involves recreating maps to challenge the dominant views of the world. There are two things that this is attempting to accomplish. 

“It’s a reclamation of spaces that use names that actually have a harmful history, specifically towards Indigenous people,” Lucas told Mustang News. “Also amplifying current presence, a shift away from this glorification of burial sites and archeological sites, dead Indians, that we have that not only is harmful for a variety of reasons but it reinforces the notion that Indigenous people are people of the past.”

Heberling wants people to understand the project as an educational tool to teach the Cal Poly community about the Indigenous traditions and histories that exist around the university. 

“It’s funny to call it a tool because it’s a story. It’s a story about Cal Poly,” Heberling said. ”We’re also hoping it’s a story that maybe prospective Native students can see themselves in. It’s a story that creates a sense of belonging.” 

In the final stages of the project, the team is working on deciding how the tours will continue after their involvement and how to make the resources available to everyone. 
The tours will tentatively open to the Cal Poly community in Winter 2024, but those interested in taking a practice tour can email Heberling at

Correction: All references of the words “Indigenous” and “Native” were capitalized.