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Levi Watson
Levi Watson

The History and Heritage of the California Indian Tribes of Southern California



Indians of Southern California




California is a land of rich natural diversity and cultural heritage. The area roughly corresponding to the present states of California (U.S.) and northern Baja California (Mex.) is known as the California culture area. It was home to hundreds of Native American tribes, each with its own distinct language, social organization, and way of life. In this article, we will focus on the indigenous peoples of Southern California, who occupied a varied and somewhat unique region of the state. We will explore how they adapted to their environments, developed complex cultures, and faced colonization and genocide by Europeans and Americans.




Indians of Southern California



The Chumash




The Chumash were one of the most populous and prosperous tribes in Southern California. They lived along the coast from Malibu to San Luis Obispo, as well as on the Channel Islands. They spoke several dialects of the Chumashan language family, which is unrelated to any other language group in California. They were skilled seafarers who built large plank canoes called tomols that could carry up to a dozen people. They traded with other coastal tribes as well as inland tribes such as the Yokuts. They also had a rich artistic tradition that included rock art, shell beads, baskets, pottery, and featherwork.


The Chumash were among the first tribes to encounter Spanish explorers in the 16th century. They initially welcomed them as potential trading partners, but soon realized that the Spaniards had other intentions. The Spaniards established a series of missions along the coast that aimed to convert, exploit, and control the Chumash. Many Chumash died from diseases, overwork, or mistreatment at the missions. Some Chumash rebelled against the Spanish oppression in a series of uprisings known as the Chumash Revolt of 1824. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it secularized the missions and granted some lands to the Chumash. However, the arrival of American settlers in the 1840s and 1850s brought more violence and dispossession to the Chumash. Many Chumash were killed, enslaved, or driven out of their homelands. Some Chumash survived by hiding in remote areas, working as ranch hands, or intermarrying with other groups. Today, there are several Chumash communities that are federally recognized or seeking recognition. They continue to preserve and revitalize their culture and traditions.


The Alliklik




The Alliklik were a small and obscure tribe that lived in the Antelope Valley and the Tehachapi Mountains. They spoke a dialect of the Serran language family, which is related to the Uto-Aztecan languages. They were hunters and gatherers who relied on the seasonal availability of plants and animals. They had little contact with other tribes, except for occasional trade or warfare. They were also known as the Tataviam or the Fernandeño, after the nearby Mission San Fernando.


The Alliklik suffered greatly from the impact of European colonization. They were exposed to diseases such as smallpox and measles that decimated their population. They were also subjected to raids and attacks by Spanish soldiers, Mexican ranchers, and American miners. Many Alliklik were forced to join the missions, where they lost their language and culture. Some Alliklik escaped or left the missions and joined other tribes such as the Kitanemuk, the Serrano, or the Gabrielino. By the end of the 19th century, the Alliklik were considered extinct as a distinct tribe. However, some descendants of the Alliklik still identify as such and are working to restore their heritage.


The Kitanemuk




The Kitanemuk were a tribe that lived in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the Tehachapi Mountains. They spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, which is related to the Shoshonean languages. They were farmers who cultivated corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. They also gathered acorns, pine nuts, seeds, and berries. They made baskets of various shapes and sizes that were used for storage, cooking, or carrying. They also made pottery, stone tools, and bone ornaments.


The Kitanemuk were affected by the Spanish colonization of California in the late 18th century. They were drawn to the missions by curiosity, trade, or coercion. Many Kitanemuk died from diseases or harsh conditions at the missions. Some Kitanemuk resisted or fled from the missions and joined other tribes such as the Yokuts or the Chumash. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it granted some lands to the Kitanemuk who had remained loyal to the missions. However, these lands were soon taken over by American settlers who invaded California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Kitanemuk were dispossessed of their lands and resources and faced discrimination and violence from the Americans. Some Kitanemuk survived by working as laborers or domestic servants for the settlers. Others assimilated into other groups such as the Tejon Indians or the Tule River Indians. Today, there are some Kitanemuk descendants who are part of federally recognized or unrecognized tribes.


The Serrano




The Serrano were a tribe that lived in the San Bernardino Mountains and adjacent valleys. They spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, which is related to the Shoshonean languages. They were mountain dwellers who adapted to high altitudes and cold winters. They hunted deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds with bows and arrows. They also gathered acorns, pine nuts, seeds, and berries. They made pottery from clay that was fired in open pits. They also made baskets from willow and yucca fibers.


The Serrano came into contact with Spanish explorers in the late 18th century. They were attracted to the missions by gifts, trade, or promises of protection. Many Serrano died from diseases or maltreatment at the missions. Some Serrano rebelled against the Spanish domination in a series of uprisings known as the Cahuilla Revolt of 1810-1811 and the Chumash Revolt of 1824. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it secularized the missions and granted some lands to the Serrano who had remained faithful to the missions. However, these lands were soon taken over by American settlers who invaded California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Serrano faced massacres, removals, and starvation at the hands of The Gabrielino (Tongva)




The Gabrielino, also known as the Tongva, were a large and influential tribe that lived in the Los Angeles Basin and the Santa Catalina Island. They spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, which is related to the Shoshonean languages. They were divided into two groups: the coastal Gabrielino, who lived along the shore and on the islands, and the inland Gabrielino, who lived in the valleys and foothills. They had diverse subsistence strategies that included fishing, hunting, gathering, and farming. They traded with other tribes using shell beads as currency. They also had a rich cultural and religious life that included ceremonies, songs, dances, games, and stories.


The Gabrielino were among the first tribes to encounter Spanish explorers in the 16th century. They were named after the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, which was established on their land in 1771. Many Gabrielino were forced to join the mission, where they were converted to Christianity, taught Spanish and European skills, and exploited for labor. Some Gabrielino resisted or escaped from the mission and joined other tribes such as the Chumash or the Serrano. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it secularized the mission and granted some lands to the Gabrielino who had remained loyal to the mission. However, these lands were soon taken over by American settlers who invaded California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Gabrielino faced displacement, discrimination, and violence from the Americans. Some Gabrielino survived by working as ranchers, farmers, or artisans for the settlers. Others assimilated into other groups such as the Mexican Americans or the Anglo Americans. Today, there are several Gabrielino communities that are federally recognized or seeking recognition. They continue to preserve and revitalize their culture and traditions.


The Luiseno (Payomkowishum)




The Luiseno, also known as the Payomkowishum, were a tribe that lived in what are now northern San Diego county and southern Riverside county. They spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, which is related to the Shoshonean languages. They were farmers who cultivated corn, beans, squash, melons, and tobacco. They also hunted deer, rabbits, quail, and ducks with bows and arrows. They fished in rivers and streams with nets and traps. They gathered acorns, seeds, berries, cactus fruits, and agave. They made baskets from willow and juncus fibers that were used for storage, cooking, or carrying. They also made pottery from clay that was fired in kilns.


The Luiseno were named after the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, which was founded on their land in 1798. Many Luiseno were forced to join the mission, where they were converted to Christianity, taught Spanish and European skills, and exploited for labor. Some Luiseno rebelled against the Spanish oppression in a series of uprisings known as the Luiseno Revolt of 1821. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it secularized the mission and granted some lands to the Luiseno who had remained faithful to the mission. However, these lands were soon taken over by American settlers who invaded California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Luiseno faced dispossession, discrimination, and violence from the Americans. Some Luiseno survived by working as laborers or domestic servants for the settlers. Others assimilated into other groups such as the Mexican Americans or the Anglo Americans. Today, there are several Luiseno communities that are federally recognized or seeking recognition. The Cahuilla




The Cahuilla were a tribe that lived in the Colorado Desert and the San Jacinto Mountains. They spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, which is related to the Shoshonean languages. They were divided into three groups: the Desert Cahuilla, who lived in the eastern and southern parts of their territory; the Mountain Cahuilla, who lived in the western and northern parts; and the Pass Cahuilla, who lived along the San Gorgonio Pass. They were desert and mountain peoples who developed sophisticated irrigation systems to water their crops of corn, beans, squash, melons, and tobacco. They also hunted deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, and quail with bows and arrows. They gathered acorns, pine nuts, seeds, berries, and cactus fruits. They made baskets from willow and yucca fibers that were used for storage, cooking, or carrying. They also made pottery from clay that was fired in kilns.


The Cahuilla had little contact with Spanish explorers until the late 18th century. They were named after the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, which was founded on their land in 1771. Many Cahuilla were forced to join the mission, where they were converted to Christianity, taught Spanish and European skills, and exploited for labor. Some Cahuilla rebelled against the Spanish domination in a series of uprisings known as the Cahuilla Revolt of 1810-1811. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it secularized the mission and granted some lands to the Cahuilla who had remained faithful to the mission. However, these lands were soon taken over by American settlers who invaded California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Cahuilla faced displacement, discrimination, and violence from the Americans. Some Cahuilla survived by maintaining their sovereignty and culture in their ancestral lands. Others assimilated into other groups such as the Mexican Americans or the Anglo Americans. Today, there are several Cahuilla communities that are federally recognized or seeking recognition. They continue to preserve and revitalize their culture and traditions.


The Kumeyaay (Diegueno)




The Kumeyaay, also known as the Diegueno, were a tribe that lived in what are now southern San Diego county and northern Baja California. They spoke a dialect of the Yuman language family, which is related to the Hokan languages. They were divided into two groups: the Ipai or Tipai, who lived in the northern part of their territory; and the Kamia or Kumiai, who lived in the southern part. They were desert nomads and coastal villagers who had diverse crafts and ceremonies. They made baskets from willow and juncus fibers that were used for storage, cooking, or carrying. They also made pottery from clay that was fired in open pits. They made bows and arrows from wood and sinew that were used for hunting and warfare. They made musical instruments from gourds, reeds, shells, and bones that were used for entertainment and ritual.


The Kumeyaay were among the first tribes to encounter Spanish explorers in the 16th century. They were named after the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, which was founded on their land in 1769. Many Kumeyaay were forced to join the mission, where they were converted to Christianity, taught Spanish and European skills, and exploited for labor. Some Kumeyaay resisted or escaped from the mission and joined other tribes such as the Cocopa or the Quechan. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it secularized the mission and granted some lands to the Kumeyaay who had remained loyal to the mission. However, these lands were soon taken over by American settlers who invaded California in the 1840s and 1850s. The Kumeyaay faced displacement, discrimination, and violence from the Americans. Some Kumeyaay survived by resisting Spanish invasion and American occupation in their ancestral lands. Others assimilated into other groups such as the Mexican Americans or the Anglo Americans. Today, there are several Kumeyaay communities that are federally recognized or seeking recognition. Conclusion




The indigenous peoples of Southern California are a diverse and resilient group of nations and peoples that have lived in this region for thousands of years. They have adapted to various microenvironments and developed complex cultures that reflect their worldview and values. They have faced colonization and genocide by Europeans and Americans, but they have also resisted and survived. They have maintained and revitalized their languages, traditions, and identities. They are an integral part of the history and the future of Southern California.


FAQs




How many tribes are there in Southern California?


  • There is no definitive answer to this question, as different sources may use different criteria to define a tribe. However, according to the California Native American Heritage Commission, there are about 40 tribes or tribal bands that are indigenous to Southern California.



What are some of the common features of the indigenous cultures of Southern California?


  • Some of the common features of the indigenous cultures of Southern California include: a reliance on acorns as a staple food; a use of shell beads as currency and ornaments; a practice of basketry and pottery as forms of art and utility; a division of labor and social roles based on gender and age; a belief in a creator deity and a trickster figure; a participation in ceremonies, dances, songs, games, and stories; and a respect for nature and all living beings.



What are some of the challenges and opportunities that the indigenous peoples of Southern California face today?


  • Some of the challenges that the indigenous peoples of Southern California face today include: a loss or endangerment of their languages and cultures; a lack or denial of recognition and rights by the federal or state governments; a marginalization or discrimination by the dominant society; a degradation or destruction of their lands and resources; and a transmission or prevention of intergenerational trauma. Some of the opportunities that the indigenous peoples of Southern California have today include: a revival or preservation of their languages and cultures; a recognition or assertion of their sovereignty and self-determination; a collaboration or partnership with other tribes or organizations; an education or empowerment of their youth and elders; and a healing or reconciliation of their past and present.



How can I learn more about the indigenous peoples of Southern California?


  • There are many ways to learn more about the indigenous peoples of Southern California, such as: visiting their websites, museums, cultural centers, or reservations; reading their books, articles, blogs, or newsletters; listening to their podcasts, radio shows, or music; watching their documentaries, films, or videos; attending their events, festivals, or workshops; supporting their causes, projects, or businesses; or contacting them directly and respectfully.



How can I show respect and appreciation for the indigenous peoples of Southern California?


  • There are many ways to show respect and appreciation for the indigenous peoples of Southern California, such as: acknowledging their presence and contributions in this region; learning about their history and culture from their perspectives; using their preferred names and terms for themselves and their places; avoiding stereotypes, myths, or misconceptions about them; respecting their sacred sites, ceremonies, and objects; asking for permission before taking pictures, recording sounds, or collecting materials; following their protocols and customs when visiting their lands or communities; giving credit or compensation when using their knowledge or products; honoring their diversity and individuality as nations and peoples; and standing in solidarity with them in their struggles and aspirations.



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