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.
“How Indigenous Peoples Are Fighting the Apocalypse,” Julian Brave NoiseCat, November 23, 2021, Emergence Magazine
“In this op-ed, Julian Brave NoiseCat reflects on the convergence of two apocalypses—the genocide of colonization and the ecocide of climate change—as he traces a long history of Indigenous collective identity and invites us to remember our wider human and nonhuman family.”
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.”
“Shining a Spotlight on Native American Media and Mediamakers,” John W. Haworth, October 14, 2021, Americans for the Arts – Artsblog
Vision Maker Media has been working with VMM funded producers to develop, produce and distribute programs for all public media for 45 years.
Good Fire: Changing the Climate, October 27, 2021 at Spotify, 17 minutes
Craig Tucker, a natural resources consultant for the Karuk Tribe in Northern California talks about the idea of Good Fire, also known as prescribed fire, or cultural burning.
Spreading Good Fire Series, North Coast Journal, December 2, 2021
“From Orleans to the Capitol: Spreading Good Fire,” Malcolm Terence, North Coast Journal, December 2, 2021
“…wildfire has become the grim seasonal reality in California and the West, seemingly bigger and more unstoppable every year. Urban communities are getting scorched almost as much as rural ones, and the fire season seems to expand on the calendar year by year. Not coincidentally, the support and demand for prescribed burning continues to grow.”
“The View on the Ground at a Prescribed Burn,” Erica Kate Terence, North Coast Journal, December 2, 2021
“People around the country and globe are increasingly ready to learn to burn, leaving their day jobs behind and traveling long distances to sleep and work in tough conditions for weeks at a time.”
“Picking Up Their Torch,” Will Harling, North Coast Journal, December 2, 2021
“Old fire dogs from municipal departments. Agency firefighters picking up some extra training assignments after a long fire season, planning forward to when their legs don’t buck the mountains like they do now. Scientists whose plots are set to show how fire changes the vegetation and fuels. Students here to do something real, to learn practical skills, to help tell a part of this unfolding story.”
Tribal and Indigenous Fire Tradition, Andrew Avitt, Fire & Aviation Management, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 16, 2021
“Centuries ago, indigenous people inhabited the land from coast to coast. They knew what scientists confirm today: Frequent, low intensity fires on the landscape are not just important to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, but also essential to forest health.”
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
Please cite materials used from this website appropriately. If you have used documents such as essays, timelines, or newspaper articles in a research paper or publication, guidelines for citing them are provided here.
The examples in the guidelines are suggested models only. You should confirm preferred citations of online materials with your teacher, department, or publisher. A useful online citations, grammar, punctuation and plagiarism tool can be found at http://www.bibme.org/.