A History of American Indians in California:
In 1905, Indians became more involved in matters concerning them. With the rediscovery of the 18 lost treaties, Indians and their supporters began a drive for land, better education, the rights of citizenship, and settlement of the unfulfilled treaty conditions. This period held victories for Indians as well as the beginning of many battles that would take a long time to resolve.
"Senate action on the treaties was secret. And thus the matter rested, gathering dust in the archives of the government until clerks working in the secret Senate files found the slumbering treaties. That was in 1905." (Footnight, 1954:24) Thus the California land claims case began. As early as 1909, the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco was looking into the matter of Indian rights under the 18 treaties. "And in 1924 a special section on Indian Affairs was formed for the purpose of making a complete study of the rights, wrongs, and present condition of California Indians." (Johnson, 1966:36)
"Another group that was active in this area was the Native Sons of the Golden West. Study committees were formed and publicity as to the needs of the California Indians appeared in its magazine, The California Grizzly Bear. In 1922 and again in 1925, there were articles of real importance in arousing public opinion. There were many other groups active in the cause of the California Indians: among them were the Indian Welfare Committee of the Federated Women's Clubs, the California Indian Rights Association, Inc., the Northern California Indian Association, the Mission Indian Federation, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union." (Johnson, 1966:36)
"The early 1920s witnessed the evolution of the powerful Mission Indian Federation in southern California. The Federation was headed by a White man, Jonathan Tibbets of Riverside, but like the Indian Board of Cooperation, the Federation had a large body of Indian members. Non-Indians dominated many meetings and urged the membership to follow their advice. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs soon grew intolerant of all these Indian concern groups and provoked an incident that persuaded many people that Indian grievances were indeed legitimate. 'At the Federal meetings expressions of ill will or hostility to the government were occasionally heard. Grievances were aired and complaints, both legitimate and trivial, were uttered. As a result and under orders of the Department of Justice, some 57 Indians were placed under arrest on the charge of conspiracy against the government. Upon arraignment they were dismissed without bail.' " (Heizer, 1978:715)
Another organization which has already been mentioned was the Indian Board of Cooperation. The board was founded in 1910 by a Methodist minister, Fredrick Collett. "The policy of the Board is to encourage the Indians to do for themselves everything that they can, and to assist them in the doing of these things that they can not do without help." The Board's objectives included organizing Indians, obtaining passage of a bill so Indians could present their claims to the United States Court of Claims, obtaining legal services, ensuring funds appropriated for Indians be used for the Indians' best interest, and promoting all movements intended to en hance the welfare of Indians. (California Indian Herald, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1923:11) In 1919, the board established auxiliaries which were small Indian organizations that acted on the local level and raised funds for the board through memberships and special events. The Indian Board of Cooperation assisted Indians on many issues over the next decades. By May 1924, the board boasted 88 auxiliaries, with a membership of 10,400. (California Indian Herald, 1924:2) While Indians could belong to the auxiliaries, the board was made up of Whites. Most of the funds the board used for operation were obtained from Indians who paid between four and six dollars each to be members. Thus, much of the cost of financing the early land claims case came from Indians themselves.
California Indians obtained the opportunity to file in the United States Court of Claims when the Indian Board of Cooperation assisted in filing what came to be known as the "Test Case." "The suit is brought as a test case to establish the rights of all tribes and bands of California Indians whose lands were taken from them without fair compensation." (California Indian Herald, 1923:4) The case involved 1,008 square miles located in the Klamath National Forest, in Humboldt and Siskiyou counties. The case asked what legal rights the government had to the land. While the Indians never won back the land in question, the case did raise an important question: Did Indians have a right to redress for the lands lost?
In 1927, the California Legislature enacted "An act to authorize the attorney general to bring suit against the United States in the court of claims in behalf of the Indians of the State of California in the event that the Congress of the United States authorizes the same." (Johnson, 1966:37) For the first time, California Indians had the support of the California Legislature in their effort to seek redress for the settlements made in the 18 treaties that were not ratified.
In 1928, the United States Congress passed the California Indian Jurisdictional Act, also known as the Lea Act. The law provided that ". . . by defining California Indians as those who resided in the state on June 1, 1852 and their descendants now living in the state. . . . All claims of whatsoever nature of the Indians . . . be submitted to the Court of Claims by the Attorney General of the State of California acting for and on behalf of said Indians . . . with the right of either party to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. . . . It is hereby declared that the loss to said Indians on account of their failure to secure the lands and compensation provided for in the eighteen unratified treaties is sufficient ground for equitable relief . . . the value of any lands so granted could not be in excess of $1.25 per acre. (Johnson, 1966:37) The law signified the legal beginning of the land claims case. "While the Lea Act had, as indicated, some undesirable features, it was a step forward, as it was the first act of Congress of this nature after twenty years of effort." (Johnson, 1966:35)
"With the rediscovery, in 1905, of the 'lost' treaties of 1851, public opinion began to favor the Indians. Between 1906 and 1910, legislation was passed appropriating funds which were used to purchase many small tracts of land in central and north central California for the landless Indians of those areas. These tracts today are the bulk of those Indian lands known as 'rancherias.' " (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1966:13) While the act provided lands for many Indians, still others had to go to the legislature to ask for help. A 77-year-old Pit River man stated: "My people are homeless. They are driven from place to place by the white men on whose property they seek refuge. The Washington Government does not aid us. Our children are not wanted in the schools. We have no medical aid for our sick. We have no implements, nor lands for farming. My people are willing to work. Give us a place in the desert and we will be happy." (California Indian Herald, 1923:13) So even in the 1920s, the problem of homeless Indians continued though the issue of land was at last being addressed.
The lack of land was not the only problem confronting Indians. "General conditions in the Far West were far from good in 1919-1920, after more than a half-century of conquest. McDowell wrote in 1919 of the majority of California Indians 'that more than all else, they have for generations been treated by their white neighbors as an inferior people and have been accepting that appraisement quite as a matter of course. . . . They get their own living with the work of their own hands. . . . With apparently few exceptions, the California Indians are seasonal, or casual, work people. The earning time for the great majority is the growing seasons. . . . [Others] of them find employment in sawmills, on the surface of mines, in logging camps, and on railroads and public roads. During sheep shearing season these Indians are in demand. . . . They herd cattle, milk cows, and do general farm labor. The women who live near cities and towns go out by day as domestics and laundresses.' " (Forbes, 1969:74) The general welfare of California Indians continued to be poor, but they resumed their efforts to gain civil rights.
Indians began to view education differently in this era. Much of this change in attitude may have derived from the support groups that assisted them. While many Indians continued to attend boarding schools and day schools, more Indians began to attend public school in California. "In 1915 only 316 Indian pupils were attending public school in California but by 1919 this number had increased to 2199." (Forbes, 1967:73) In 1917, the federal government decided to have Indians attend public schools. Even after this policy was adopted, however, the right to attend public school was not granted to every Indian child. "Between the 1920's and early 1940's, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ceased to have any appreciable role in California-Nevada Indian education, thanks in great measure to Indian efforts to establish local public schools or to gain admittance to existing schools. The latter was facilitated by the case of Piper vs. Big Pine School District (1924) in which Indians won the right to attend public schools." (Forbes, 1969:118)
In 1917, a major victory for Indians occurred when the California Supreme Court decided that California Indians were citizens. In 1922, 50 Hoopa Indians took advantage of citizenship and voted in the general election. They had to travel 24 miles to do so, but "for the first time in their history voted as free-born American citizens." (California Indian Herald, 1923:14). While California Indians had been acknowledged as citizens, it was not until June 2, 1924 that the Indian Citizenship Act was passed. Among other things the Indian Citizenship Act contained one provision of special interest to California Indians: "That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any to tribal or other property." The granting of citizenship came 100 years after the Indians were first granted citizenship by the Mexican government. It also came after more than 10,000 Indians had fought in the First World War.
The granting of citizenship in 1924 should have guaranteed Indians their First Amendment right of religious freedom. However, as late as the 1920s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs made a deliberate effort to control and in some cases eliminate the Indians' ability to practice their religious beliefs. "On April 26, 1921, during the Secretaryship of Albert B. Fall, Commissioner Charles H. Burke of the Bureau of Indian Affairs addressed to all Indian Superintendents (Indian Agents) a document called Circular 1665. He stated: 'The sundance and all other similar dances and so called religious ceremonies are considered 'Indian Offenses' under existing regulations and corrective penalties are provided. I regard such restrictions as applicable to any (religious) dance which involves . . . the reckless giving away of property . . . frequent and prolonged periods of celebration . . . in fact, any disorderly or plainly excessive performance that promotes superstitions, cruelty, licentiousness, idleness, danger of health, and shiftless indifference of family welfare. In all such instance, the regulations should be enforced." (Indian Defense Association of Central and Northern California)
On February 14, 1923, a supplement to Circular 1665 was issued. Some of the main features of the amendment were that "Indian dances be limited to one day in the midweek and at one center of each district; the months of March, April, June, July and August being exempted (no dances in these months). That none take part in the dances or be present who are under 50 years of age. That a careful propaganda be undertaken to educate public opinion against the (Indian religious) dance." (Ibid.)
"Then on February 24, 1923, the Commissioner broadcasted a 'Message to All Indians.' It read: 'I could issue an order against these useless and harmful performances, but I would rather have you give them up of your own free will, and, therefore, I ask you in this letter to do so. If at the end of one year the reports which I receive show that you are doing as requested, I shall be glad, for I shall know that you are making progress but if the reports show that you reject this plea, then some other course will have to be taken.'" (Ibid.)
The restriction on religion led John Collier to write: "Now today, this late date, the Indian Bureau has commenced a new onslaught. The Indians are deeply and universally religious. They still know how as tribes to follow ancient paths leading to the water of heaven. United in this life of religion, they can still stand up together as men, and they can still cling to their coveted remnants of soil. They can resist the efforts to turn them into drifting social half-breeds slave-driven by 6,000 Indian Bureau job holders who make their living 'civilizing' the Indians. Therefore, an actual inquisition shall be elaborated against their adult worship. Their treasure of the soul which no man yet has known enough to be able to estimate shall be forcibly thrown away; their last liberty and last dignity and their end of life, which they know to be God, shall be denied." (Ibid.)
So the passing of the Citizenship Act in 1924 meant much more than the right to vote; it meant that all constitutional guarantees would be afforded to this country's first inhabitants. While freedom of religion is one of those rights, it was more than 50 years before the Indians' constitutional right of religion would be guaranteed.