The Yana people are a group of Native Americans indigenous to Northern California in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains, on the western side of the range. The Yana-speaking people comprised four groups: the Northern Yana, the Central Yana, the Southern Yana, and the Yahi. The noun stem Ya- means "person"; the noun suffix is -na in the northern Yana dialects and -hi [xi] in the southern dialects. Currently, Yana people are still present in California as members of Redding Rancheria.
The anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Yahi at 1,500. Sherburne F. Cook estimated their numbers at 1,900 and 1,850. Estimates of the total Yana population before the Gold Rush was 3,000. The Yana people lived on wild game, salmon, fruit, acorns and roots. Their territory was approximately 40 miles by 60 miles and contained mountain streams, gorges, boulder-strewn hills, and some lush meadows. Each group had relatively distinct boundaries, dialects and customs.
The Yahi were the southern portion of the Yana-speaking people. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in small egalitarian bands without centralized political authority. They were reclusive and fiercely defended their diminishing territory of mountain canyons.
After James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848, tens of thousands of gold-miners and ranchers flocked into Yana territory. The food supply dropped dramatically, as gold mining damaged the streams and fish runs, and deer fled the crowded area. The tribe suffered great population losses and fought with the settlers over territory.
The Yahi initially numbered around 400. Lacking firearms, they were destroyed by four raids by armed white settlers. On August 6, 1865, seventeen settlers raided a Yahi village at dawn. In 1866, more Yahis were massacred when they were caught by surprise in a ravine. Around 1867, thirty-three Yahis were killed after being tracked to a cave. Finally, around 1868, four cowboys trapped about thirty Yahis in another cave.
The last known survivor of the Yahi was named Ishi by American anthropologists. Ishi had spent most of his life in hiding with his tribe members in the Sierra wilderness, emerging at the age of about 49, after the deaths of his mother and last relatives. He was the only Yahi known to European-Americans. Ishi emerged from the mountains near Oroville, California on August 29, 1911, having lived his entire life outside of the European-American culture.
Professors from the University of California, Berkeley read about him and brought him to San Francisco both for study and for his protection. Called the "last wild Indian", he had been treated as a curiosity by the public. Under the auspices of the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, director of the Museum of Anthropology, Ishi lived there until his death from tuberculosis (then incurable) in 1916. His language was studied in 1911 by the linguist Edward Sapir, who had previously done work on the northern dialects.
By tribal custom, he was not to reveal his name to an enemy. Rather, one would be introduced by a friend, and then the name could be offered. Since he was the last of his people, he had no friends, although he made some later at the University of California. Tradition demanded that he never speak his name. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley gave him the name Ishi, the Yana word for "man". He accepted this and adopted the term "Mr. Ishi" when he learned enough English. Ishi worked as a research assistant at the Museum of Anthropology. He taught Saxton Pope, a professor at the medical school and his physician, how to make arrows and bows, and to hunt with them. Pope is considered to be the "father" of modern bow hunting, as he published extensively on techniques.
- Redding Rancheria (2013). With the Strength of Our Ancestors (film). United States. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
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- Cook, 1976a:177, 1976b:16
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- Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
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- Ishi: The Last Yahi (1992), documentary, IMDB
- Stephen Powers, "Yana and local groups", Overland Monthly Journal, 1875, online at University of Michigan
- Map: "Native Tribes, Groups, Language Families, and Dialects of California region in 1770", California Prehistory