Indigenous peoples of California

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Winnemem Wintu dancers in 2009
Painting of a pomo woman with long black hair, wearing a feathered headdress and patterned poncho
A Pomo dancer by Grace Hudson

The indigenous peoples of California (known as Native Californians) are the indigenous inhabitants who have lived or currently live in the geographic area within the current boundaries of California before and after the arrival of Europeans. With over forty groups seeking to be federally recognized tribes, California has the second-largest Native American population in the United States.[1] The California cultural area does not conform exactly to the state of California's boundaries. Many tribes on the eastern border with Nevada are classified as Great Basin tribes,[2] and some tribes on the Oregon border are classified as Plateau tribes. Tribes in Baja California who do not cross into California are classified as indigenous peoples of Mexico.[3]: 112 

History[edit]

Pre-contact[edit]

Evidence of human occupation of California dates from at least 19,000 years ago.[4] Prior to European contact, indigenous Californians had 500 distinct sub-tribes or groups, each consisting of 50 to 500 individual members.[3]: 112  The size of California tribes today are small compared to tribes in other regions of the United States. Prior to contact with Europeans, the California region contained the highest Native American population density north of what is now Mexico.[3]: 112  Because of the temperate climate and easy access to food sources, approximately one-third of all Native Americans in the United States were living in the area of California.[5]

Early Native Californians were hunter-gatherers, with seed collection becoming widespread around 9,000 BCE.[3]: 112  Due to the local abundance of food, tribes never developed agriculture or tilled the soil. Two early southern California cultural traditions include the La Jolla complex and the Pauma Complex, both dating from c. 6050–1000 BCE. From 3000 to 2000 BCE, regional diversity developed, with the peoples making fine-tuned adaptations to local environments. Traits recognizable to historic tribes were developed by approximately 500 BCE.[3]: 113 

The indigenous people practiced various forms of sophisticated forest gardening in the forests, grasslands, mixed woodlands, and wetlands to ensure availability of food and medicine plants. They controlled fire on a regional scale to create a low-intensity fire ecology; this prevented larger, catastrophic fires and sustained a low-density "wild" agriculture in loose rotation.[6][7][8][9] By burning underbrush and grass, the natives revitalized patches of land and provided fresh shoots to attract food animals. A form of fire-stick farming was used to clear areas of old growth to encourage new in a repeated cycle; a permaculture.[8]

Contact with Europeans[edit]

Different tribes encountered non-native European explorers and settlers at widely different times. The southern and central coastal tribes encountered European explorers in the mid-16th century. Tribes such as the Quechan or Yuman Indians in present-day southeast California and southwest Arizona first encountered Spanish explorers in the 1760s and 1770s. Tribes on the coast of northwest California, like the Miwok, Yurok, and Yokut, had contact with Russian explorers and seafarers in the late 18th century.[citation needed][10] In remote interior regions, some tribes did not meet non-natives until the mid-19th century.[3]: 114 

Mission era[edit]

At the time of the establishment of the first Spanish Mission in 1769, the most widely accepted estimates say that California's indigenous population was around 340,000 people and possibly more. The indigenous peoples of California were extremely diverse and made up of ten different linguistic families with at least 78 distinct languages. These are further broken down into many dialects, while the people were organized into sedentary and semi-sedentary villages of 400-500 micro-tribes.[11]

The Spanish began their long-term occupation in California in 1769 with the founding of Mission San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego. The Spanish built 20 additional missions in California.[12][13] Their introduction of European invasive plant species and non-native diseases resulted in havoc and high fatalities for the Native Californian tribes.

19th century[edit]

Rock art at Coso in the Mojave desert. Native American culture in California was noted for its rock art or petroglyphs

The population of Native California was reduced by 90% during the 19th century—from more than 200,000 in the early 19th century to approximately 15,000 at the end of the century, mostly due to disease.[3]: 113  Epidemics swept through California Indian Country, such as the 1833 malaria epidemic.[3]: 114  Early to mid 19th Century, coastal tribes of northwest California had multiple contacts with Russian explorers due to Russian colonization of the Americas. At that time period, Russian exploration of California and contacts with local population were usually associated with the activity of the Russian-American Company. A Russian explorer, Baron Ferdinand von Wrangell, visited California in 1818, 1833, and 1835.[14]: 10  Looking for a potential site for a new outpost of the company in California in place of Fort Ross, Wrangell's expedition encountered the Indians north of San Francisco Bay and visited their village. In his notes Wrangell remarked that local women, used to physical labor, seemed to be of stronger constitution than men, whose main activity was hunting. Local provision consisted primarily of fish and products made of seeds and grains: usually ground acorns and wild rye. Wrangell surmised his impressions of the California Indians as a people with a natural propensity for independence, inventive spirit, and a unique sense of the beautiful.[14]: 11 

Another notable Russian expedition to California was the 13 months long visit of the scientist Ilya Voznesensky in 1840–1841. Voznesensky's goal was to gather some ethnographic, biological, and geological materials for the collection of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. He described the locals that he met on his trip to Cape Mendocino as "the untamed Indian tribes of New Albion, who roam like animals and, protected by impenetrable vegetation, keep from being enslaved by the Spanish".[14]: 12 

In 1834 Mexico secularized the Church's missions and confiscated their properties. But the new government did not return their lands to tribes but made land grants to settlers of at least partial European ancestry. Many landless Indians found wage labor on ranches. Following the United States victory in the Mexican–American War, it took control of California in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Its administrators worked to honor Mexican land grant title but did not honor aboriginal land title.[3]: 114 

California Gold Rush (1848–1855)[edit]

The negative impact of the California Gold Rush on both the local indigenous inhabitants and the environment were substantial, decimating the populations still remaining. Miners took land both for their camps and to farm and supply food for the camps. The surging mining population resulted in the disappearance of many food sources. In addition, the toxic waste from their operations killed fish and destroyed habitats. Miners also viewed indigenous people as competitors for gold, so they also actively went into villages where they raped the women and killed the men.[15]

Balthazar, Inhabitant of Northern California, painting by Mikhail Tikhanov.

Conflicts and genocide[edit]

Most of inland California including California deserts and the Central Valley was in possession of the local tribes until the acquisition of Alta California by the United States. As the wave of migrants from the United States started to settle inland California during the Gold Rush, conflicts between the Native Californians and the settlers started to arise. The series of massacres, battles, and wars between the United States and the indigenous peoples of California lasting from 1850 to 1880 is referred to as the California Indian Wars.

After guns and horses were introduced to the indigenous peoples of California in the beginning of the 19th century, the tensions between the neighboring tribes started to increase, and in combination with mass migration, caused dramatic changes. When in 1846 the Applegate Trail cut through the Modoc territory, the migrants and their livestock damaged the ecosystem that the locals were dependent on.[16]: 96 

Some anthropologists insist that the indigenous resistance is often used to camouflage genocide in colonial history. For instance, the final stage of the Modoc Campaign was triggered when Modoc men led by Kintpuash (AKA Captain Jack) murdered General Canby at the peace tent in 1873. However, it's not widely known that between 1851 and 1872 the Modoc population decreased by 75 to 88% as a result of seven anti-Modoc campaigns started by the whites.[16]: 95  There is evidence that the first massacre of the Modocs by non natives took place as early as 1840. According to the story told by a chief of the Achumawi tribe (neighboring to Modocs), a group of trappers from the north stopped by the Tule lake around the year 1840 and invited the Modocs to a feast. As they sat down to eat, the cannon was fired and many Indians were killed. The father of Captain Jack was among the survivors of that attack. Since then the Modocs resisted the intruders notoriously.[16]: 95-96 

20th century[edit]

Native girls participate in a sewing class at the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California (1915)

During the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the government attempted to force the indigenous peoples to break the ties with their native culture and tribalism and assimilate with the white society. In California, the federal government established such forms of education as the reservation day schools and American Indian boarding schools. Some public schools would allow Indians to attend as well. Poor ventilation and nutrition (due to limited funding), and diseases were typical problems at schools for American Indians. In addition to that, most parents disagreed with the idea of their children being raised as whites: at boarding schools, the students were forced to wear European style clothes and haircuts, were given European names, and were strictly forbidden to speak indigenous languages. The Native American community recognized the American Indian boarding schools to have oppressed their native culture and demanded the right for their children to access public schools. In 1935 the restrictions that forbid the Native Americans from attending public schools were officially removed.[17]

Since the 1920s, various Indian activist groups were demanding that the federal government fulfil the conditions of the 18 treaties of 1851–1852 that were never ratified and apparently, were classified.[18] In 1944 and in 1946 the native peoples brought claims for reimbursements asking for compensations for the lands affected by treaties and Mexican land grants. They won $17.5 million and $46 million, respectively.[17]

Throughout the 20th century, the population of indigenous peoples of California gradually rose

21st century[edit]

Chumash men paddle a traditional canoe near Santa Cruz Island (2006)

California has the largest population of Native Americans out of any state in the United States, with 723,000 identifying an "American Indian or Alaska Native" tribe as a component of their race (14% of the nation-wide total). This population grew by 15% between 2000 and 2010, much less than the nation-wide growth rate of 27%, but higher than the population growth rate for all races, which was about 10% in California over that decade. Over 50,000 indigenous people live in Los Angeles alone.[19][20]

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently over one hundred federally recognized native groups or tribes in California including those that spread to several states.[21] Federal recognition officially grants the Indian tribes access to services and funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Federal and State funding for Tribal TANF/CalWORKs programs.

Material culture[edit]

Basket weaving[edit]

Basket making was an important part of Native American Californian culture.[22] Baskets were both beautiful and functional, made of twine, woven tight enough that they could hold water for cooking.[23] Tribes made baskets in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to fulfill different daily functions, including "baby baskets, collecting vessels, food bowls, cooking items, ceremonial items"[23] and wearable basket caps for both men and women. The watertight cooking baskets were often used for making acorn soup by placing fire-heated stones in the baskets with food mixtures, which were then stirred until cooked.[24]

Baskets were generally made by women. Girls learned about the process from an early age, not just the act of weaving, but also how to tend, harvest, and prepare the plants for weaving.[25]

Foods[edit]

The indigenous peoples of California had a rich and diverse resource base, with access to hundreds of types of edible plants, both terrestrial and marine mammals, birds and insects. The diversity of the food supply was particularly important and sets California apart from other areas, where if the primary food supply diminished for any reason it could be devastating for the people in that region. In California, the variety meant that if one supply failed there were hundreds of others to fall back on. Despite this abundance, there were still 20-30 primary food resources which native peoples were dependent on.[11] Different tribes' diets included fish, shellfish, insects, deer, elk, antelope, and plants such as buckeye, sage seed, and yampah (Perideridia gairdneri).[3]: 112 

Plant-based foods[edit]

A man and woman of the Mono tribe stand in front of an acorn cache, similar to a large woven basket held up by thick wooden sticks
Acorn cache of the Mono people, California. Circa 1920.

Acorns of the California Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia were a primary traditional food throughout much of California.[27] The acorns were ground into meal, and then either boiled into mush or baked in ashes to make bread.[28] Acorns contain large amounts of tannic acid, so turning them into a food source required a discovery of how to remove this acid and significant amounts of labor to process them. Grinding in the mortal and pestle, then boiling allows for the tannins to be leached out in the water. There was also the need to harvest and store acorns like crops since they were only available in the fall. Acorns were stored in large granaries within villages, "providing a reliable food source through the winter and spring."[11]

Native American tribes also used the berries of the Manzanita as a staple food source.[29] The ripe berries were eaten raw, cooked or made into jellies. The pulp of the berries could also be dried and crushed to make a cider, while the dry seeds were sometimes ground to make flour. The bark was also used to make a tea, which would help the bladder and kidneys.[30]

Native Americans also made extensive use of the California juniper for medicinal purposes and as a food. [31] The Ohlone and the Kumeyaay brewed a tea made from juniper leaves to use as a painkiller and to help remedy a hangover. They also picked the berries for eating, either fresh or dried and pulverised. The ripe berries of the California huckleberry were also collected and eaten by many peoples in the region.[32]

Marine life[edit]

Large basket with very loose weaving
Pomo fish trap

There were two types of marine mammals important as food sources, large migratory species such as northern elephant seals and California sea lions and non-migratory, such as harbor seals and sea otters. Marine mammals were hunted for their meat and blubber, but even more importantly for their furs. Otter pelts in particular were important both for trade and as symbols of status.[11]

A large quantity and variety of marine fish lived along the west coast of California, providing shoreline communities with food. Tribes living along the coast did mostly shore-based fishing.[11]

Anadromous fish[edit]

Five people from the Yurok tribe on a shore, a few are holding nets used to catch salmon while others are cleaning the fish
Yurok harvesting Chinook Salmon at the Klamath River's mouth in 2013

Anadromous fish live half their life the in the sea and the other half in the river where they come to spawn. Large rivers such as the Klamath and Sacramento "provided abundant fish along hundreds of miles during the spawning season."[11] Pacific salmon in particular were very important in the Californian Native American diet. Pacific salmon ran in Californian coastal rivers and streams from the Oregon line down to Baja California.[33] For northwestern groups like Yurok and Karuk, Salmon was the defining food.[11] For example, more than half of the diet of the Karuk people consisted of acorns and salmon from the Klamath River.[citation needed] This combination of fish with acorns distinguished them from some societies in the north which focused solely on fishing.[11]

In contrast to acorns, fish required sophisticated equipment such as dip nets and harpoons and they could only be caught during a brief seasonal window. During this time salmon would be harvested, dried and stored in large quantities for later consumption.[11]

Society and culture[edit]

Many tribes in Central California and Northern California practised the Kuksu religion, especially the Nisenan, Maidu, Pomo and Patwin tribes.[34] The practice of Kuksu included elaborate narrative ceremonial dances and specific regalia. A male secret society met in underground dance rooms and danced in disguises at the public dances.[35]

In Southern California the Toloache religion was dominant among tribes such as the Luiseño and Diegueño.[36] Ceremonies were performed after consuming a hallucinogenic drink made of the jimsonweed or Toloache plant (Datura meteloides), which put devotees in a trance and gave them access to supernatural knowledge.

Native American culture in California was also noted for its rock art, especially among the Chumash of southern California.[37] The rock art, or pictographs were brightly colored paintings of humans, animals and abstract designs, and were thought to have had religious significance.

Reservations[edit]

Reservations with over 500 people:

Most Populated Reservations in California
Legal/Statistical Area Description[38] Tribe(s) Population

(2010)[38]

Area in mi2 (km2)[38] Includes

ORTL?[38]

Seat of Government/Capital
Land Water Total Tribal Council Address Location
Agua Caliente Indian Reservation Cahuilla (Ivilyuqaletem) 24,781 53.32 (138.090) 0.36 (0.94) 53.68 (139.04) yes Se-Khi (Palm Springs)
Colorado River Indian Reservation Chemehuevi

Mohave

Hopi

Navajo

8,764 457.31 (1,184.44) 6.83 (17.68) 464.14 (1,202.13) no 'Amat Kuhwely (Parker, Arizona)
Torres-Martinez Reservation Cahuilla (Ivilyuqaletem) 5,594 34.22 (88.62) 15.04 (38.96) 49.26 (127.58) no Kokell (Thermal)
Hoopa Valley Reservation Hupa 3,041 140.77 (364.59) 0.92 (2.38) 141.68 (366.96) no Hoopa
Washoe Ranches Trust Land Washoe 2,916 144.99 (375.53) 1.05 (2.71) 146.04 (378.24) no Gardnerville, Nevada
Fort Yuma Indian Reservation Quechan 2,197 68.93 (178.53) 1.39 (3.61) 70.32 (182.14) no Yuma, Arizona
Bishop Reservation Mono

Timbisha

1,588 1.35 (3.50) 0.014 (0.035) 1.37 (3.54) no Bishop
Fort Mojave Reservation Mohave 1,477 51.58 (133.58) 1.15 (2.99) 52.73 (136.57) yes ʼAha Kuloh (Needles, California)
Pala Reservation Luiseño (Payómkawichum)

Cupeño (Kuupangaxwichem)

1,315 20.35 (52.71) 0 20.35 (52.71) no Pala, California
Yurok Reservation Yurok 1,238 84.73 (219.46) 3.35 (8.67) 88.08 (228.13) no Klamath
Rincon Reservation Luiseño (Payómkawichum) 1,215 6.16 (15.96) 0 6.16 (15.96) yes Sówmy/Kuutpamay[39] (Valley Center)
Tejon Indian Tribe of California Kitanemuk

Yokuts

Chumash

1,111 South of Woilo[40][41] (Bakersfield)
San Pasqual Reservation Kumeyaay 1,097 2.24 (5.79) 0 2.24 (5.79) no Valley Center
Tule River Reservation Yokuts

Mono

1,049 84.29 (218.32) 0 84.29 (218.32) yes Uchiyingetau(indigenous name of area)[41] (address in Porterville)
Morongo Reservation Cahuilla (Ivilyuqaletem)

Serrano (Taaqtam)

913 53.48 (138.50) 0.13 (0.33) 53.60 (138.83) yes Banning
Cabazon Reservation Cahuilla (Ivilyuqaletem) 835 3.00 (7.77) 0 3.00 (7.77) no Indio
Santa Rosa Rancheria Yokuts 652 0.63 (1.62) 0 0.63 (1.62) no Walu(indigenous name of area)[41] (Lemoore)
Barona Reservation Kumeyaay 640 9.31 (24.12) 0 9.31 (24.12) no Lakeside
Susanville Indian Rancheria Washoe

Achomawi

Northern Paiute

Atsugewi

549 1.67 (4.33) 0 1.67 (4.33) yes Susanville
Viejas Reservation Kumeyaay 520 2.51 (6.50) 0 2.51 (6.50) no Alpine
Karuk Reservation Karuk 506 1.49 (3.85) 0.035 (0.091) 1.52 (3.94) yes Athithúf-vuunupma (Happy Camp)

List of peoples[edit]

Languages[edit]

Two maps of California. One is color-coded and labeled to show the boundaries of different tribal groups and the other shows the boundaries of languages
A map of California tribal groups and languages at the time of European contact.

Before European contact, native Californians spoke over 300 dialects of approximately 100 distinct languages.[43][44] The large number of languages has been related to the ecological diversity of California,[45] and to a sociopolitical organization into small tribelets (usually 100 individuals or fewer) with a shared "ideology that defined language boundaries as unalterable natural features inherent in the land".[46]: 1  Together, the area had more linguistic diversity than all of Europe combined.[44]

"The majority of California Indian languages belong either to highly localized language families with two or three members (e.g. Yukian, Maiduan) or are language isolates (e.g. Karuk, Esselen)."[46]: 8  Of the remainder, most are Uto-Aztecan or Athapaskan languages. Larger groupings have been proposed. The Hokan superstock has the greatest time depth and has been most difficult to demonstrate; Penutian is somewhat less controversial.

There is evidence suggestive that speakers of the Chumashan languages and Yukian languages, and possibly languages of southern Baja California such as Waikuri, were in California prior to the arrival of Penutian languages from the north and Uto-Aztecan from the east, perhaps predating even the Hokan languages.[46] Wiyot and Yurok are distantly related to Algonquian languages in a larger grouping called Algic. The several Athapaskan languages are relatively recent arrivals, having arrived about 2000 years ago.

Existing Indigenous Languages of California
Language Language Family Tribe(s) Number of Speakers
Karuk Hokan Karok 700
Kumeyaay Yuman Kumeyaay 427
Yurok Algic Yurok 414
Mono Uto-Aztecan Mono

Owens Valley Paiute

349
Mojave Yuman Mohave 330
Luiseño Uto-Aztecan Payómkawichum/Luiseño

Acjachemen/Juaneño

327
Quechan Yuman Quechan 290
Cahuilla Uto-Aztecan Cahuilla 139
Tiipai-Kumeyaay Yuman Kumeyaay 100
Achumawi Shasta Achomawi 68
Tachi Yok-Utian Santa Rosa Rancheria (Yokut) 45
Chumash (any Chumash) Chumashan Chumash 39
Nomlaki Wintuan Nomlaki 38
Konkow Maiduan Mechoopda (Maidu) 32
Yawelmani Yok-Utian Tule River Reservation (Southern Valley Yokuts) 25
Kashaya Hokan Kashia 24
Wintu Wintuan Wintu 24
Timbisha Uto-Aztecan Timbisha 20
Washo Hokan Washoe 20
Atsugewi Shasta Atsugewi 15
Central Sierra Miwok Utian Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of California (Miwok) 12
Cupeño Uto-Aztecan Cupeño 11
Chukchansi Yok-Utian Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians (Yokut) 8
Southern Sierra Miwok Utian Plains and Sierra Miwok 7
Southeastern Pomo Hokan Pomo 7
Serrano Uto-Aztecan Serrano 6
Ipai-Kumeyaay Yuman Kumeyaay 6
Kawaiisu Uto-Aztecan Kawaiisu 5
Tübatulabal Uto-Aztecan Tübatulabal 5
Tolowa Athabaskan Tolowa

Chetco

4
Hupa Athabaskan Hupa

Tsnungwe

4
Chemehuevi Uto-Aztecan Chemehuevi 3
Shasta Shastan Shasta 2
Patwin Wintuan Patwin 1
Wikchamni Yok-Utian Wukchumni (Yokut) 1
Chochenyo (Ohlone) Utian Chochenyo; within the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe 1

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  40. ^ "The Wolf People and the Village of Woilo". www.bsahighadventure.org. Archived from the original on February 1, 2021. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
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  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba Heizer, Robert F., volume editor (1978). Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 978-0-16-004574-5
  43. ^ Lane, Beverly. "The Bay Miwok Language and Land". Museum of the San Ramon Valley. Retrieved December 5, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  44. ^ a b Hinton, Leanne (1994). Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages. Heyday Books. ISBN 978-0-930588-62-5.
  45. ^ Codding, B. F.; Jones, T. L. (2013). "Environmental productivity predicts migration, demographic, and linguistic patterns in prehistoric California". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110 (36): 14569–14573. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11014569C. doi:10.1073/pnas.1302008110. PMC 3767520. PMID 23959871.
  46. ^ a b c Golla, Victor (2011). California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26667-4

Further reading[edit]

  • Hinton, Leanne (1994). Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages. Berkeley: Heyday Books. ISBN 0-930588-62-2.
  • Hurtado, Albert L. (1988). Indian Survival on the California Frontier. Yale Western Americana series. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300041470.
  • Lightfoot, Kent G. and Otis Parrish (2009). California Indians and Their Environment: An Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24471-9.

External links[edit]