California Indian History
Primary Sources and Information, 1846-1879
Did You Know?
Did you know that during California’s Gold Rush and for decades afterwards:
- Thousands of California Indians were killed by settlers?
- The State of California financially supported local militias that were formed for the purpose of “defense” and engaged in killing California Indians?
- Representatives of the United States federal government negotiated treaties with California tribes—but the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaties?
- California Indian children were captured and taken by settlers to work as domestic servants or slaves?
- California Indians, by law, could not testify against a white person in court?
See, Kimberly Johnston-Dodds, Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians, (California Research Bureau, September 2002) .
Purpose of this Website
The California Indian History website makes available online, in one place, primary sources from various archival and historical collections that were authored or reported by non-Indian witnesses, and oftentimes perpetrators, who documented Euro-American violence against California Indigenous people. The scope of the website is statewide from the Gold Rush period into the second half of the 19th century. The website also provides a growing body of educational resources, allowing anyone the ability to review, evaluate, and draw their own conclusions about the history experienced by California Indigenous people. Key documents and digital images include:
- Annotated timelines listing state and federal government documents chronologically
- Thousands of statewide California newspaper articles
- State and federal correspondence and reports
- Rosters that identify thousands of men on official muster rolls of militia units or independent companies kept by the State of California Adjutant General found in the State Archives
Who We Are and Why We Do This
We are a voluntary group of colleagues – historians, educators, archivists, librarians, and information technology experts – united in a common purpose to:
- bear witness to 19th century events that occurred in what is now known as California; and
- contribute to breaking a longstanding silence surrounding these events by providing free, online access (to anyone) to digitized 19th century primary sources of documentary evidence, the originals of which are housed in miles of cardboard boxes, on microfilm, and in vaults or on shelves of publicly-owned settler repositories in California and beyond.
We receive no remuneration, and do not seek to make a spectacle of these cataclysmic events. Our work strives to acknowledge and expose the acts, name the perpetrators, and provide access to the evidence in order to foster effective change in how the State of California acts toward Indigenous people.
From our perspective, we believe the telling of Indigenous histories of survival, resistance, revolution, revival and re-Indigenization belongs to California Native voices. We stand in support of their efforts, and Indigenous movements underway.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Resources:
Human trafficking, the kidnapping and selling of Indigenous women and children and the violence associated with it, is not a recent phenomenon in California. One of the earliest laws enacted by the first California Legislature in April 1850, five months before California became a state, was “An Act for the Government and Protection of Indians.” This statute, and further amendments to it in 1860, sanctioned an economic and judicial system that promoted the kidnapping and selling of Indian children. A further explanation of this law and amendments can be found at pages 5-12 of the 2002 report, Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians, provided to the California Legislature. A link to primary sources that evidence what happened in California during the second half of the 19th century is here.
In March and May 2022, we chose to draw attention to Indigenous projects and organizations focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIW) in what is currently known as California and the United States. We continue this effort. Below is a list of resources:
Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 TITLE VIII – Safety for Indian Women: Section-by-Section Summary, Prepared by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Offices of Chairman Brian Schatz and Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski, March 16, 2022.
“NCAI Applauds Historic Tribal Provisions as President Biden Signs VAWA into Law,” National Congress of American Indians, March 16, 2022.
“VAWA Reauthorization Headed to President’s Desk: Tribal Provisions in Appropriations Bill for 2022 Fiscal Year,” Indian Country Today, March 11, 2022.
Here are the key provisions of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022:
- Reaffirmation of tribes’ jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, and obstruction of justice
- Gives tribes authority to prosecute non-Natives who assault tribal law enforcement officers
- Tribal nations in Maine and Alaska can exercise tribal jurisdiction under the act
- Non-Native defendants must exhaust all tribal court remedies
- Funding for and ensuring tribes can access national crime information systems via the Tribal Access Programs
- Increased resources for tribes “to exercise Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction and establish a reimbursement program to cover tribal costs”
- Re-establishes the Tribal Prisoner Program
MMIWG2&MMIP Organizing Toolkit – A publication by Sovereign Bodies Institute, in partnership with MMIWG2 families, Indigenous survivors of violence, and their allies
“The movement for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people is older than all of us. Indigenous peoples have resisted colonial violence against our women and girls since colonization began, and many of our peoples have stories that teach of the sacredness of our women and girls by telling stories about women who were stolen or hurt, such as Abalone Woman (Yurok, Wiyot) and Deer Woman (various Plains/Midwestern tribes). While this movement is guided by those ancestral teachings and traditions, it is also guided by decades of leadership and movement building beginning in Canada, now stretching throughout the Americas…
This toolkit is for anyone who has learned about MMIWG2 and asked, ‘How can I get involved? What can I do in my community?’ There are entry points for people of all identities, locations, skill and education levels, occupations, and passions. We are sharing these entry points in this toolkit, with the aim of giving readers a comprehensive road map to getting started in the movement. This is not a how-to manual, it is a wayfinding guide. We can’t tell you what to do in your community, but we can help you navigate the options and give you the tools to decide for yourself what is needed.”
To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-wo-chek’ – I Will See You Again in a Good Way: Year 2 Progress Report – July 2021, Sovereign Bodies Institute, July 2021.
“This report is the result of nearly two years of work bringing together voices of survivors, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two spirit people (MMIWG2), tribal court staff, and researchers to fight for justice and safety for Indigenous women and youth in Northern California…
This report contains stories of sexual violence, domestic and intimate partner violence, sex and human trafficking, and deaths and disappearances of Indigenous people. For that reason, it is an emotionally heavy read, especially for those who have been impacted by this violence. We have worked to write within the boundaries of what is authentic and true to what survivors and families have shared, and what is safe and appropriate to share publicly. This is a challenge we grapple with daily. We encourage families and survivors to read this with care, and seek out support from family, community, tribe, support services, cultural practices, and Sovereign Bodies Institute as needed.”
“Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) builds on Indigenous traditions of data gathering and knowledge transfer to create, disseminate, and put into action research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people.”
*This report contains strong language about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native Women.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls: A Snapshot of Data from 71 Urban Cities the United States, Urban Indian Health Institute, A Division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, November 14, 2018.
“Nationwide, the voices of Indigenous people have united to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls (MMIWG). Though awareness of the crisis is growing, data on the realities of this violence is scarce. To fill this gap, in 2017, Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), a tribal epidemiology center, began a study aimed at assessing the number and dynamics of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in cities across the United States. This study sought to assess why obtaining data on this violence is so difficult, how law enforcement agencies are tracking and responding to these cases, and how media is reporting on them.”
Our Bodies, Our Stories Project, Urban Indian Health Institute, A Division of the Seattle Indian Health Board.
“Our Bodies, Our Stories is a series of reports that details the scope of violence against Native women across the nation. The first report highlighted data relating to sexual violence against Native women in an urban setting—Seattle, Washington. The second report provided a snapshot of the missing and murdered indigenous women & girls (MMIWG) crisis in—and the issues with data collection from—71 urban cities across the country.”
CALIFORNIA INDIAN EDUCATION RESOURES
California Indian Education For All – Resources For Educators
Mission – help teachers and schools educate children and youth about the diverse histories, cultures and contributions of California Native peoples.
Goal – create culturally responsive resources that improve representations and classroom climates for teaching and learning about California’s first people.
Read, Learn, Teach
Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians, prepared by Debbie Reese, (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White)
Joy Harjo 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate – Living Nations, Living Words: A Guide for Educators
“This guide offers teachers and other educators ideas for using U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s signature project, ‘Living Nations, Living Words,’ in the classroom.”
“A learning resource from the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center and the California State Archives.”
“Redwood forest returned to tribes: The transfer marks a step in the growing Land Back movement to return Indigenous homelands to the descendants.” Brian Melley, Associated Press, February 6, 2022.
Return of Tribal Land: Ancestral land in Hat Creek returned to Pit River Tribe, Mike Mangas, Adam Robinson, November 8, 2021, KRCR TV in Northern California.
“Native tribes have lost 99% of their land in the United States: New data set quantifies Indigenous land dispossession and forced migration,” Lizzie Wade, Science, October 28, 2021.
“Indigenous people in the United States have lost nearly 99% of the land they historically occupied, according to an unprecedented new data set. The data set—the first to quantify land dispossession and forced migration in the United States—also reveals that tribes with land today were systematically forced into less-valuable areas, which excluded them from key sectors of the U.S. economy, including the energy market. The negative effects continue to this day: Modern Indigenous lands are at increased risk from climate change hazards, especially extreme heat and decreased precipitation.”
Land Back: A Necessary Act of Reparations, Nikki Pieratos and Krystal Two Bulls, Nonprofit Quarterly, October 11, 2021, Editor’s Note: this article is from the Summer 2021 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly, “The World We Want: In Search of New Economic Paradigms.”
“The concept of Land Back, let alone its practices, can be a struggle for non-Indigenous (and even at times for Indigenous) people to understand. Fundamentally, Land Back is the intersectional movement for racial justice by Indigenous peoples, with the end goal of having our lands returned to Indigenous stewardship. Land Back addresses the root of colonization—the theft of Indigenous lands (including their destruction through resource extraction), the violence committed against Indigenous peoples to build capitalism across the country, and the effects that our communities still experience today.”
The Rights of Indigenous Peoples
“Working to Realize Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the U.S.” Native American Rights Fund, August 9, 2021.
“Since 1995, the United Nations has designated August 9 as the annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The day marks an occasion to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous Peoples and to highlight the continued work necessary to protect and promote the rights of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.”
“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on Thursday, 13 September 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favour, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine).
Years later the four countries that voted against have reversed their position and now support the UN Declaration. Today the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.”
TRIBAL IMPLEMENTATION TOOLKIT: UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES (UNDRIP), April 2021
“The ‘Tribal Implementation Toolkit,’ produced in collaboration between the Native American Rights Fund, the University of Colorado Law School, and UCLA Law’s Tribal Legal Development Clinic, considers how tribes can support and implement the Declaration through tribal lawmaking.”
Digital edition here
Text version for those using screen readers or other accessibility aids here
Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change
United Nations Secretary-General’s Statement on the IPCC Working Group 1 Report on the Physical Science Basis of the Sixth Assessment. August 9, 2021.
“Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”
“Indigenous Peoples Increasingly Engaging in Climate Action,” UN Climate Change News, August 9, 2021.
“’Indigenous peoples must be part of the solution to climate change. This is because they have the traditional knowledge of their ancestors. The important value of that knowledge simply cannot — and must not — be understated,’ said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa.”
“Values of Indigenous Peoples Can Be a Key Component of Climate Resilience,” UN Climate Change News, September 6, 2019.
“Although indigenous peoples constitute less than 5% of the world’s population, they safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, thereby playing a key role in climate protection. Indigenous peoples often have a spiritual connection to nature, which ensures that they take the protection of their habitat seriously.”
Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Resources grounded in responsibility, reciprocity, and respect.
- Land Acknowledgement: You’re on California Indian Land, Now What? Acknowledging Relationships to Space & Place Toolkit – California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center/American Indian Studies at Cal State San Marcos
- “Are you planning to do a Land Acknowledgement?” at American Indians in Children’s Literature, March 9, 2019 blog post
- Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment – U.S. Department of Arts and Culture
- Guide to Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgements for Cultural Institutions
- A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment – Native Governance Center, St. Paul, MN
Indigenous Land Trusts and Alliances located in what is currently known as California. Please consider supporting their efforts.
- Amah Mutsun Land Trust – an initiative of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to access, protect and steward ancestral territories of the Amah Mutsun ranging from Año Nuevo to the greater Monterey Bay area.
- Project Juristac – Mutsun Sacred Grounds Protection
- InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council – Consortium of 10 federally recognized tribes in northern California
- Kumeyaay-Diegueño Land Conservancy – protects and preserves environmentally and culturally sensitive lands within Kumeyaay aboriginal territory in Southern California and Mexico
- Maidu Summit Consortium – preserves, protects, promotes Mountain Maidu Homeland in northeastern California
- Native American Land Conservancy – focuses on aboriginal territory of tribes in present-day southern California
- Sogorea Te Land Trust – an urban Indigenous women-led land trust based in the San Francisco Bay Area
- Tuluwat Island Restoration Project – cultural and environmental restoration of the Wiyot ceremonial site of of Tuluwat Island located in Humboldt Bay. “The Islands’s Return: The unprecedented repatriation of the center of the Wiyot universe,” North Coast Journal, October 24, 2019
Thadeus Greenson, “Dishgamu Humboldt: A groundbreaking, Wiyot-led effort to heal and rebuild while putting land back in Native hands takes root,” North Coast Journal, July 8, 2021.
Jessica Douglas, “Students and faculty urge deeper look at land-grant legacy,” High Country News, December 22, 2020.
Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, University of Minnesota, Beyond the Land Acknowledgement: College “LAND BACK” or Free Tuition for Native Students, August 2020.
Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone, “Land-grab universities: Expropriated Indigenous land is the foundation of the land-grant university system,” High Country News, March 30, 2020.
- Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians, prepared by Debbie Reese, (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White)
- American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Best Books of 2020
California Indian Education For All – “California Indian Education for All (CIEFA) is a nonprofit that exists to help teachers and schools educate children and youth about the diverse histories, cultures and contributions of California Native peoples. CIEFA’s goals are to create culturally responsive resources that improve representations and classroom climates for teaching and learning about California’s first people.”
National Congress of American Indians (2019). Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Native American Education for All. Washington, DC. September 2019.
Who Should Use This Website?
Policy makers, students, researchers and educators will find these resources useful for documenting this important history. What happened in California deserves to be included in the knowledge of United States history shared by all Americans and taught in our schools and universities.
How to Cite Online Content
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