Because the Native People of California were primarily gatherers, hunters, and fishers living in very intimate relationships with the natural world, their cultures were determined, in part, by the ecological conditions under which they lived. Therefore, in order to better understand their manifold and varied adaptations it is necessary to first know something of the natural world in which they lived. A good starting place for such understandings are maps depicting the physical landscape.
Dr. Ray Sterner (Senior Staff Member, Space Oceanography Group, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory) has created a series of wonderful maps of the California physical landscape (part of his much larger Color Landform Atlas of the United States):
While depicting the physical reality of California is a relatively straightforward affair, the same cannot be said when it comes to portraying an accurate idea of how the native people of California viewed their sociopolitical life. What are called tribes (e.g., Miwok, Yokuts, Pomo), and what gets drawn as such on most maps, refers to no definable sociopolitical entity, but only to abstractions made by non-Indians. What is frequently depicted as a tribe are groups of completely independent and perhaps even hostile people who merely spoke the same language, or languages in the same language family and who, at some point in the past, shared a common culture and history, and, to some extent, philosophical concepts. For example, what non-Indians call Costanoan or Ohlone refers to no definable sociopolitical unit but to speakers of at least eight distinct and mutually unintelligible languages. It would be more accurate to refer to these as non-political ethnic nationalities, and these are what most "tribal maps" of California reflect: the language groupings and the original territories where the languages were spoken, not the sociopolitical reality that existed in the minds of the Californian Indians. In fact, very few of the names on a "tribal map" have any relation to what the groups called themselves.
The real sociopolitical units were village-communities, or quot;tribelets," independent communities composed of at least one village. These were the basic politically autonomous land-owning groups prior to European and American colonization. And while we will never know just how many there were, conservative estimates cite figures between 500 and 1,000. Unfortunately, there are few maps which delineate such units in the print literature, and none, as yet, on the Internet. What few maps are available are listed below. I will add more maps to this list so that by the time class begins we will have a better visual understanding of the sociopolitical reality of native California. If you know of useful maps that we could add, please let me know.
Several maps are available from the California Indian Library Collection
One of the most recent, and in many ways most useful, maps of Native California available on the WWW is the California Native Languages, Home Page created by Dorothea Berg, a San Francisco State University graduate student in the Anthropology Department. The map is an interactive one and contains links to A Dynamic Map of Native California which gives a picture of the way Native Americans lived in California in the past, some information about where the groups live today, about festivals, places where artifacts are exhibited, as well as mention of contemporary artists. The Dynamic Map shows language groups and is very easy to use. Simply click on a colored area to go to a map of groups related by language, then click on the color area to find the names of the groups, the click once more to display text on that group. Or, one can access information by group name. The site also contains a link to Sources for Information on Native California Groups.
Most maps purporting to show California Indian Tribal distributions are based on the one prepared by Alfred Kroeber at the beginning of the 2oth century. Since that time, work by other researchers has substantiated some of Kroeber's ideas about tribal territories, but has also shown some of it to be incorrect. The California State Parks Department has prepared an updated Tribal Areas of California map based upon work done since Kroeber's time.
Just a little more than 200 years ago the Spaniards took the first step that would bring the culture, technology, religion, and diseases of the outside world to California. They also took steps to ensure that the California Indians would become Spanish workers, laboring in fields and factories. The primary social institution used by the Spanish to achieve their aims in California was the mission. It was designed to Christianize the natives, strip them of their aboriginal culture and Hispanize them. Eventually twenty-one missions were established from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north. Ed Stephan has created an excellent animated map showing the sequential founding of these missions.
Shortly after California was admitted to the union, three federal Indian commissioners visited California to negotiate treaties with as many Indian societies as possible. Groups which accepted the treaties would surrender their traditional homelands in exchange for tracts of land set apart for reservations, protection from settlers, and be supplied with provisions and cattle. Between 1851 and 1852 eighteen treaties involving about twenty-five thousand Indians were negotiated, setting aside about one-seventh of the state for Indian occupation. However, a majority of white Californians were hostile to the idea of Indians holding land and brought pressure on the state's U.S. senators to oppose ratification. In 1852 the Senate rejected the treaties, the reservations were never created and the Indians received neither protection from hostile whites nor the promised provisions. Thus, in one instant, the Indians who had surrendered their homelands in exchange for territories promised in the treaties had neither and became a population dispossessed, with no right of citizenship or recourse to the law. To see a map depicting the ceded lands click here or here. Several maps showing present native California land-holdings and nations are available.
A good source for printed maps is the Reservation Field Directory (1990), distributed by the Community Affairs Division of the California Dept. of Housing and Community Development's California Indian Assistance Program (CIAP). CIAP works closely with federal, state, and county agencies on behalf of tribes (mainly in rural areas), assisting with needs assessment, grant planning and application preparations, as well as assisting in implementing funded projects and programs.
In addition to maps, the Reservation Field Directory has addresses, membership, meeting dates of tribal councils, populations of reservations and rancherias in the state, and a listing by county of all nations. Also included is an overview of the never ratified (and hidden away for over a half century) 1851 treaties. The Directory is a great source of information and it's available FREE from:
California Indian Assistance Program
1800 Third Street
P.O. Box 952054
Sacramento, CA 94252-2054
Population figures for California Indians on rancherias and reservations and in counties are also contained in the 1990 Census of Population and Housing, which is available on CD-ROM in many academic libraries and public library systems. Be careful when using this data, however, as there may have been a miscount of Indians both on and off reservations/rancherias.
Another good map book is Historical Atlas of California by Warren A. Beck and Ynez Haase (U. of Oklahoma Press, 1974). It contains over 100 excellent maps, covering all of the physical and cultural aspects of California, along with substantial detail on the flora and fauna. All phases of history, from the Indian era down to the 1970s, are included as are maps of faults and earthquakes, early Spanish explorations, Mexican land grants, the gold rush period, and more.
Last Update: February 2000