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Historical distribution of Miwok peoples in California
Total population
1770: over 11,000
1910: 670
1930: 491
current: 3,500[1]
Regions with significant populations
California: Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central Valley, Marin County, Sonoma County, Lake County, Contra Costa County
Miwok languages
Shamanism: Kuksu
Miwok mythology
Related ethnic groups

The Miwok (also spelled Miwuk, Mi-Wuk, or Me-Wuk) are members of four linguistically related Native American groups indigenous to what is now Northern California, who traditionally spoke one of the Miwok languages in the Utian family. The word Miwok means people in the Miwok languages.


Anthropologists commonly divide the Miwok into four geographically and culturally diverse ethnic subgroups. These distinctions were not used among the Miwok before European contact.[2]

Federally recognized tribes[edit]

The United States Bureau of Indian Affairs officially recognizes eleven tribes of Miwok descent in California. They are as follows:

Non-federally recognized tribes[edit]

  • Miwok Tribe of the El Dorado Rancheria
  • Nashville-Eldorado Miwok Tribe
  • Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe of the Colfax Rancheria
  • Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation
  • Calaveras Band of Mi-Wuk Indians
  • Miwok of Buena Vista Rancheria[12]
  • River Valley Miwok Indians, formally known as Historical Families of Wilton Rancheria


Painting of Sierra Miwok at the Mariposa Indian Encampment, Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt

The predominant theory regarding the settlement of the Americas dates the original migrations from Asia to around 20,000 years ago across the Bering Strait land bridge, but anthropologist Otto von Sadovszky claims that the Miwok and some other northern California tribes descend from Siberians who arrived in California by sea around 3,000 years ago.[13]


1872 photograph of Southern Miwok council in Yosemite Valley
Miwok sweat lodge in Yosemite Valley

The Miwok lived in small bands without centralized political authority before contact with European Americans in 1769. They had domesticated dogs and cultivated tobacco, but were otherwise hunter-gatherers.


The Sierra Miwok harvested acorns from the California Black Oak. In fact, the modern-day extent of the California Black Oak forests in some areas of Yosemite National Park is partially due to cultivation by Miwok tribes. They burned understory vegetation to reduce the fraction of Ponderosa Pine.[14] Nearly every other kind of edible vegetable matter was used as a food source, including bulbs, seeds, and fungi. Animals were hunted with arrows, clubs or snares, depending on the species and the situation. Grasshoppers were a highly prized food source, as were mussels for those groups adjacent to the Stanislaus River. Coastal Miwok were known to have predominantly relied on food gathered from the inland side of the Marin peninsula (modern San Pablo bay, lakes, and land based foods), but to have also engaged in diving for abalone in the Pacific Ocean.

The Miwok ate meals according to appetite rather than at regular times. They stored food for later consumption, primarily in flat-bottomed baskets.


The Miwok creation story and narratives tend to be similar to those of other natives of Northern California. Miwok had totem animals, identified with one of two moieties, which were in turn associated respectively with land and water. These totem animals were not thought of as literal ancestors of humans, but rather as predecessors.[15]



Miwok people played mixed-gender games[clarification needed] on a 110-yard (100 m) playing field called poscoi a we'a. A unique game was played with young men and women. Similarly to soccer, the object was to put an elk hide ball through the goalpost. The girls were allowed to do anything, including kicking the ball and picking it up and running with it. The boys were only allowed to use their feet, but if a girl was holding it he could pick her up and carry her towards his goal.[16]


Benjamin Barry (Miwok), World War II veteran and fire chief in parade dress[17]

In 1770, there were an estimated 500 Lake Miwok, 1,500 Coast Miwok, and 9,000 Plains and Sierra Miwok, totaling about 11,000 people, according to historian Alfred L. Kroeber, although this may be a serious undercount; for example, he did not identify the Bay Miwok.[15] The 1910 Census reported only 671 Miwok total, and the 1930 Census, 491. See history of each Miwok group for more information.[18] Today there are about 3,500 Miwok in total.[1]

Influences on popular culture[edit]

The Star Wars films feature a fictional species of forest-dwelling creatures known as Ewoks, who are ostensibly named after the Miwok.[19]

The Miwok people are encountered in Kim Stanley Robinson's book The Years of Rice and Salt. In an alternate history scenario depicted in the book, they are the first group of Native Americans encountered by the first Chinese to discover the continent.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Miwok" Archived 2009-03-11 at the Wayback Machine, California Indians and Reservations, San Diego State University, Library, accessed 30 Jun 2010
  2. ^ Eugene L. Conrotto (1973). Miwok Means People: The Life and Fate of the Native Inhabitants of the California Gold Rush Country. Fresno, Calif.: Valley Publishers. p. 4. ISBN 0-913548-13-8.
  3. ^ "Buena Vista Rancheria - Me-Wuk Indians". Buenavistatribe.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  4. ^ "California Valley Miwok Tribe (CVMT GovPortal) - Official Website of the California Valley Miwok Tribe". californiavalleymiwok.us. Retrieved 2016-02-24.
  5. ^ "California Valley Miwok Tribe (CVMT WebPortal)". Californiavalleymiwoktribe.us. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  6. ^ "Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria". Gratonrancheria.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  7. ^ "Ione Band of Miwok Indians". Ionemiwok.org. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2014-01-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ See this notice dated Tuesday, August 11, 2009 from the United States Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs Agency entitled "Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs Archived 2010-08-05 at the Wayback Machine" (Federal Register Vol. 74, No. 153). The "Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Shingle Springs Rancheria (Verona Tract)" is a single federally recognized Tribe.
  10. ^ "Welcome — United Auburn Indian Community". Auburnrancheria.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  11. ^ "Wilton Rancheria Announces Restoration of Status as Federally Recognized Indian Tribe", Sacramento Business Journal
  12. ^ "Donations - Organization by Miwok of Buena Vista Rancheria". Miwokofbuenavistarancheria.webs.com. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
  13. ^ Billiter, Bill (January 1, 1985). "3,000-Year-Old Connection Claimed: Siberia Tie to California Tribes Cited". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2014-11-28. Retrieved 2014-11-28. Some of the California Indian tribes that are descended from Russian Siberians, Von Sadovszky said, are the Wintuan, of the Sacramento Valley, the Miwokan, of the area north of San Francisco, and the Costanoan, of the area south of San Francisco.
  14. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Quercus kelloggii, Globaltwitcher.com, ed. Nicklas Stromberg Archived 2012-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b Kroeber, 1925
  16. ^ "Indian Grinding Rock SHP - The Rock and the People". California Department of Parks and Recreation.
  17. ^ "Benjamin Barry." The Union. 15 Sept 2010. Retrieved 10 Jan 2012.
  18. ^ Cook, 1976, pages 236–245.
  19. ^ Nash, Eric P. (1997-01-26). "The Names Came From Earth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-15.


  • Access Genealogy: Indian Tribal records, Miwok Indian Tribe. Retrieved on 2006-08-01. Main source of "authenticated village" names and locations.
  • Barrett, S.A. and Gifford, E.W. Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region. Yosemite Association, Yosemite National Park, California, 1933. ISBN 0-939666-12-X
  • Cook, Sherburne. The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1976. ISBN 0-520-03143-1.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (Chapter 30, The Miwok); available at Yosemite Online Library.
  • Silliman, Stephen. Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8165-2381-9.
  • Miwok Bibliography

External links[edit]