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Captain Jack
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



current topic Introduction

Historic Sites
Selected References


A History of American Indians in California:

The history of California Indians is a different story from that of other ethnic groups who came in the last few centuries as immigrants to an already populated land. For Indians, this is their homeland, and their history spans more than 10,000 years of occupation. Unlike other groups who came to California to gain wealth or to escape undesirable conditions, California Indians lived in a land of plenty. Their material technology reflected what was necessary to meet their needs.

While people often write about how Indians developed a means of living in harmony with their environment, this cultural lifestyle was more a reflection of numbers, the carrying capacity of the land, and personal needs. What might have happened if Europeans had not arrived cannot be determined. However, just as in the case of many other societies, we can assume that, as their numbers and needs increased, greater pressure would have been put on the environment. Indians would have adapted or ceased to exist.

California Indians, like American Indians in general, have been the subject of many books and studies. The written record shows that in California alone there were hundreds of small groups, speaking more than 100 languages. Unlike the present population of California, the Indians lived well within the capacity of their environment. They developed religious systems and social norms, and they traded with their neighbors for goods or services not available in their own communities. They did what was necessary to survive.

A number of good source books have been written about California Indian life before the coming of European people and culture. Books that offer a wealth of information include the following:

Alfred Louis Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California
Robert F. Heizer, et al., Handbook of North American Indians: Vol. 8
Robert F. Heizer and M. A. Whipple, The California Indians; A Source Book

But this report is not about the prehistory of California Indians, nor is it the story of any one Indian group. Rather, it is a commentary on those events, procedures, laws, and situations that confronted and greatly affected California Indians and their ability to survive once Europeans arrived. The reason it is important to tell this aspect of Indian history, rather than the more romantic story of how Indians lived in harmony with nature, is the same reason it is important to tell the history of any people — so we can learn from the mistakes of the past and try not to make those same mistakes in the future. Finally, we tell this history so that Indian people and non-Indian people might better understand why Indians have evolved as they have — why they are people attempting to retain their cultural identity while surviving in the modern world.

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Last Modified: Wed, Nov 17 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

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