Tag Archives: vigil


NorCal Counties Map
Northern California Counties ~ Courtesy Wikipedia

— Northern California

Northern California is not a formal geographic designation. California’s north-south midway division is around 37° latitude, near the level of San Francisco. Popularly, though, “Northern California” usually refers to the state’s northernmost 48 counties. This definition coincides with the county lines at 35° 47′ 28″ north latitude, which form the southern borders of Monterey, Kings, Tulare and Inyo counties. The term is also applied to the area north of Point Conception and the Tehachapi Mountains.

The human history of the west coast of North America is believed to stretch back to the arrival of the earliest people over the Bering Strait, or alternately along a now-submerged coastal plain, through the development of significant pre-Columbian cultures and population densities, to the arrival of the European explorers and colonizers. The west coast of North America likely saw the first sustained arrival of people to the continent. Although there are other theories, most scientists believe that the first significant groups of people came from Asia, through today’s Bering Strait area, then through modern Alaska, and from there spread throughout North America and to South America.

Although the cultures on the west coast of today’s Canada and United States are not known to have developed substantial urban centers and sophisticated writing or scientific systems, it is likely that, before European contact, the population density along the west coast of today’s Canada and United States was significantly higher than in the rest of the northern part of the continent. For example, it has been estimated that in 1492, one-third of all Native Americans in the United States were living in California because of the temperate climate and easy access to food sources.

Map Land Bridge Migration
Land bridge migration trail of ancient peoples ~ Courtesy American Indian Civics Project

In the western half of Mesoamerica (western portions of Mexico and northern Central America), the oldest known settlements date to approximately 2000 BCE A succession of cultures started with the very early Capacha culture, which appeared on the Pacific coast of modern Mexico about 1450 BC and spread into the interior. The following cultures developed into “high civilizations” in Mesoamerica, with extensive urban areas, writing, astronomy and fine arts: Olmec (beginning about 1150 BC), Mixtec (beginning perhaps 1000 BC), Maya (settled villages along the Pacific coast appear from 1800 BC, and ceremonial architecture by approximately 1000 BC) and Aztec (from the 14th century AD). Farther south, Panama was home to some of the earliest pottery-making, such as the Monagrillo culture dating to about 2500–1700 BC; this culture evolved into significant populations best known for spectacular burial sites (dating to c. 500–900 AD) and polychrome pottery of the Coclé style. Each of these cultures rose, flourished, and was then conquered by a more militarily developed culture. While not all of these civilizations had large settlements along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, their influence extended to the Pacific coast.

Early Native Californians were hunter-gatherers, with seed collection becoming widespread around 9,000 BCE. Due to the local abundance of food, tribes never developed agriculture or tilled the soil. Two early southern California cultural traditions include the La Jolla Complex and the Pauma Complex, both dating from ca. 6050—1000 BCE. From 3000 to 2000 BCE, regional diversity developed, with the peoples making fine-tuned adaptations to local environments. Traits recognizable to historic tribes were developed by approximately 500 BCE.

The Indigenous peoples of California are the inhabitants who have lived or currently live in the geographic area within the current boundaries of California before and after the arrival of Europeans. With over one hundred federally recognized tribes, California has the largest Native American population and the most distinct tribes of any US state. Californian tribes are characterized by linguistic and cultural diversity. However, the California cultural area does not exactly conform to the state of California’s boundaries. Many tribes on the eastern border with Nevada are classified as Great Basin tribes, some tribes on the Oregon border are classified as Plateau tribes, and tribes in Baja California who do not cross into California are classified as Indigenous peoples of Mexico.

The indigenous people practiced various forms of sophisticated forest gardening in the forests, grasslands, mixed woodlands, and wetlands to ensure availability of food and medicine plants. They controlled fire on a regional scale to create low-intensity fire ecology; this prevented larger, catastrophic fires and sustained a low-density “wild” agriculture in loose rotation. By burning underbrush and grass, the natives revitalized patches of land and provided fresh shoots to attract food animals. A form of fire-stick farming was used to clear areas of old growth to encourage new in a repeated cycle; a primitive permaculture (a site that sustains itself and the gardener) that was successful.

One of the difficulties with American Indian research in California is in the terminology used. In most of the United States, the difference between the term tribe and band is quite clear. In California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs seems to have used the two terms almost interchangeably. At least some bands, or subdivisions, of some tribes are sometimes identified as tribes. And in a few case, smaller trust areas of land are called villages or colonies or settlements.

What are called reservations in most states are sometimes identified as such in California, but smaller land areas are also called Rancherias. Jurisdictions are also sometimes confusing. Agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs certainly existed and operated in California, but sometimes the duties of an agency were carried out by a school or a subagency. While that happened in other states, too, it seems to have been more common in California. Another unique part of California Indian research is the need to be fully aware of the influence of the Spanish Missions, especially from 1769 to the mid-1800s. Much of the native population associated with these early missions and some were converted to Catholicism and have their names included in the Mission records.

Pre-Contact map of Indigenous tribes
Pre-Contact Tribal Territories map ~ Courtesy Wikipedia

The original inhabitants of the territorial area that is now known as California included these 64 Tribes: Achumawi, Atsugewi, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Chilula, Chimariko, Chumash, Cocopah, Ohlone (Costanoan), Cupeno, Diegueno (Kumeyaay), Esselen, Gabrielino (Tongva), Halchidhoma, Hupa, Juaneno, Karok, Kashaya, Kato, Kawaiisu, Kitanemuk, Klamath, Konkow, Lassik, Luiseno, Maidu, Mattole, Miwok, Modoc, Mojave, Mono, Nisenan, Nomlaki, Nongatl, Northern Paiute, Panamint, Patwin, Pomo, Quechan, Salinan, Serrano, Shasta, Shoshoni, Sinkyone, Southern Paiute, Tataviam, Tolowa, Tubatulabal, Wailaki, Wappo, Washoe, Whilkut, Wintu, Wiyot, Yana, Yahi, Yokuts, Yuki, Yurok, and spoke over 300 dialects of approximately 100 distinct languages.

Most indigenous languages of California belong to three language families: HokanPenutian, and Uto-Aztecan, the first two being somewhat controversial classifications. Historically preceding these families are two ancient lineages, the Chumashan and Yukian families. Algonquian and Athapaskan languages are also found, the latter being characteristic of relatively recent immigrants. The large number of languages may be related to the ecological diversity of California, according to research released in 2013.

The distinctive northern rainforest environment encouraged these tribes to establish their villages along the many rivers, lagoons and coastal bays that dotted their landscape. While this territory was crisscrossed with thousands of trails, the most efficient form of transportation was the dugout canoe used to travel up and down rivers and cross the wider and deeper ones such as the Klamath and Sacramento. These tribes used the great coast Redwood trees for the manufacture of their boats and houses. Redwoods were cleverly felled by burning at the base and then split with elkhorn wedges. Redwood and sometimes cedar planks were used to construct rectangular gabled homes. Baskets in a variety of designs were manufactured in with the twined technique only. Many of these arts survived into the twentieth century and traditional skills have enjoyed a great renaissance in the past twenty years.

The elaborate ritual life of these tribes featured a World Renewal ceremony held each Fall in the largest villages. Sponsored by the wealthiest men in the communities, the ceremony’s purpose was to prevent future natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods or failure of acorn crop or a poor salmon run with supplication to supernatural spirits. Because such disasters directly threaten the community, great attention to detail and the utmost solemnity accompanied such ceremonies. This and other traditional rituals continue to be practiced, despite the grinding poverty that plagues many of these groups. These tribes were governed by the most wealthy and powerful lineage leaders. The great emphasis on wealth found in these cultures is reflected in the emphasis on private ownership of food resources such as oak groves and fishing areas.

The Nomlaki (Central Wintun) and Southern Yana people originally inhabited the area along the banks of the Sacramento River where Red Bluff was built. Inhabited for millennia by Native Americans, from the Shasta tribe in the north, to the Miwoks in the central coast and Sierra Nevada, to the Yokuts of the southern Central Valley, northern California was among the most densely populated areas of pre-Columbian North America.

— Darkest Nightmare of Oppression to Indigenous Peoples 

Warning: this article is a true historical account which may affect sensitive people who can feel emotion directly from reading (Examples: Star Trek's Mr. Spock feeling an entire planet screaming as they were being destroyed or the similar - Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi feeling the Death Star Weapon's destruction of an entire planet). The account sickened this author in discovering this atrocity was of our local history. ***The healing ceremony at the article's end provides contact information for Wiyot tribe's "Celebration of Healing" plus where and how to attend the ceremony.
In 1848, somewhere between 70,000 and 150,000 Indians and less than 1,000 Euro-Americans lived in America's new acquisition - California. At the time of white contact, Indian people occupied all the land that we now know as California. Most of the native populations of the area are thought to have died in a malaria epidemic or smallpox epidemic brought by trappers in the early 1830s, shortly before white settlers arrived in the 1840s. 
As more history becomes public knowledge through the Internet, many cover-ups within of the past are released, so historical facts once hidden, are fast becoming exposed and the wrong-doings are slowly becoming open knowledge, so they can be dealt with openly. Many schools are beginning to teach historical truths to our children so they not only know what was done, but also can participate in the beginnings of healing to prosecutions of our historical past. 

While the official policy of the Federal government was to protect Indian people, California policy and the desires of its growing white population sought to remove Indian people and ensure that they did not present. All three goals clashed with the wishes of the native population who did not wish to be protected, removed, or used as a labor force. During its first ten years as a state, California neither recognized Indians as citizens with civil rights, nor did it treat Indians as sovereign people. The famous historian of California, Hubert Howe Bancroft, summed up the state politics towards Indians in a few sentences:

“That part of the early intercourse between aboriginal Americans and European which belongs to history may be briefly given …The savages were in the way; the miners and settlers were arrogant and impatient; there were no missionaries or others present with even the poor pretense of soul saving or civilizing. It was one of the last human hunts of civilization, and the basest and most brutal of them all.”

Despite inconsistent federal efforts to “protect” the Indians of Northern California, the legal policies of elected California representatives and the vigilante actions of white citizens were deliberately genocidal. To some degree, their genocidal actions were successful: by 1870, the vast majority of the Indians who had lived in Northern California had either been forcibly removed to Indian reservations, or they had been killed.

Indeed, the Indian population of 1850 which ranged between 70,000 to 150,000 had dropped to about 30,000 just twenty years later. By the 1900 federal census, only 16,000 Indian were recorded in California. Those who survived suffered great indignities, as well as the loss of much tribal sovereignty. On the other hand, despite the many attempts to destroy the Indians of Northern California, within cultural, political, economic, and spiritual traditions.

By the end of the twentieth century, California had more Indians than any other state in the nation. About one-sixth of the estimated Indian population lives in California – approximately 320,000 Indians. The Bureau of Indian Affairs serves about 56,000 Indians who live on California’s 104 federally recognized Indian reservations, about one-third of which are located in Northern California. About 200,000 urban Indians and 75,000 other indigenous Indians live on about 80 reservations that are not federally recognized. (As of late 1999, approximately 52 California Indian Nations had applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition.)

Tribal members in dugout canoes make their way from Indian Island to the Adorni Center  for a ceremony marking the return of part of the island to the Wiyots. Photo by Ryan Palmer.
Tribal members in dugout canoes make their way from Indian Island to the Adorni Center or a ceremony marking the return of part of the island to the Wiyots. Photo by Ryan Palmer, NorthCoast Journal

An Indian Island Candlelight Vigil is held every February to remember those who lost their lives in a Massacre that occurred 145 years ago. Early morning February 26th, 1860, a massacre occurred on Indian Island, the center of the Wiyot world, decimating the tribe. Visit www.wiyot.com for more information on this annual event or go to their February Events section.

The first vigil was held on the last Saturday of February in 1992. A vigil has been held each year in February ever since. With each year, the number of participants has grown.

This Vigil may be the first memorial for the lives lost where the Wiyot, other Indian nations, and the non-Indian communities have come together. This process helps heal the whole community. A fire is lit. A Wiyot elder lights their candle from the fire and from that candle all candles are lit. A moment of silence is observed, a prayer is given remembering all who have gone before us, songs are sung, poems are read, and one leaves with a feeling of accomplishment.

Excerpt from the North Coast Journal (2014):

“It was Feb. 22, and it was indeed the Wiyot’s last vigil. The tribe has held one every year since 1992, on the last Saturday in February, to memorialize the hundreds of ancestors killed by white men in a series of premeditated massacres in villages around Humboldt Bay in the last week of February 1860. As many as 100 of them, mostly women, children and elders, were murdered in their sleep at Tuluwat, on Indian Island — the center of the Wiyot world — where the tribe’s annual World Renewal Ceremony was underway. The tribe was shattered, the people dispersed. Wiyot land became white people land. Tuluwat, over time and heavy use, became virtually a toxic waste dump.

Last year the tribe finished cleaning up Tuluwat. The land was ready. The tribe declared the mourning period over. It was time to dance again.

Next week, beginning March 28 on Tuluwat, for the first time since that terrible February 154 years ago, the tribe will once again hold its World Renewal Ceremony.The Wiyot, you might say, are back — though they’ve been here all along.”

(Sources: [Wikipedia: Indigenous peoples of California, History of west coast North America], CA Indian History, Native American Tribes of California, Indians of California, American Indian Civics Project, Intro to CA Native Peoples)

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