A History of American Indians in California:
A new era for Indians was about to begin, and just as the social scientists had predicted in 1954, tribal governments and tribal identity did play an important role. "Nationally the civil rights movement ushered in an era of social consciousness among White Americans. In conjunction with the end of the claims and termination issues among native leadership, the climate was again ripe for reform in Indian affairs." (Heizer, 1978:716)
As previously mentioned, the Indian Claims Commission awarded California Indians $29,100,000 as redress for land from which they had been evicted. While most California Indians eventually would accept the payment, some would not. Members of the Pit River and Feather River groups opposed the settlement. So, when the settlement was awarded, many Indian people were not satisfied with the 47 cents per acre they were to receive.
During the 1960s and 1970s, people who had not previously identified themselves as Indians began to do so. A new awareness was rising, and with this came an increase in the number of Indians listed in the census. However, another program that had an effect on the number of Indians in California was the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) program of relocation. "During the war about 23,000 Indian men and 800 Indian women served in the armed forces, and an estimated 46,000 Indians left the reservation to find employment. Many remained to make California their home. Then, in 1950, the BIA established a job-placement program . . . [and] the program to assimilate Indians into the mainstream expanded from that point. Strangely, the BIA didn't keep records of its relocation pro gram, but nearly 100,000 Indians were relocated to California between 1952-1968 to find employment lacking on reservations. . . . " (Sacramento Bee, Sept. 6, 1982, p. 23) Indian people who had lived on reservations were now faced with the new problems of living in an urban environment and the inability to find services. Many were just not ready to live in a city.
In 1964, a monumental case concerning Indian religion occurred in California. On April 28, 1962, a group of Navajos met in Needles to perform a religious ceremony in which peyote was used. Peyote is a drug derived from the buttons of the mescal cactus. The Indians were arrested and tried for violating the law which prohibited unauthorized possession of the drug. Judge Mathew O. Tobriner of the California Supreme Court issued the court's decision, In responding to a lower court's verdict, Tobriner wrote, "The court ruled to deny Indian use of peyote was a violation of their religious freedom. 'We preserve a greater value than an ancient tradition when we protect the rights of the Indian who honestly practices an old religion. . . .' " (35 CAL Reporter, 1964:708) At this point, public consciousness began to recognize Indian religion and the value it had to the Indian people.
The year 1964 also saw the formation of the American Indian Historical Society by Rupert Costo, a Southern California Indian. "The AIHS was especially concerned with bringing an Indian viewpoint to bear upon historical writing but it also became concerned with many related issues including the white biases of school textbooks and the non-Indian orientation of school curricula." (Forbes, 1969:120) Since its formation, the society has published The Indian Historian, and from 1973 until recently, it published the Wassaja, an Indian newspaper.
The 1960s and 1970s brought the concept of Indian self determination to reality. Indian Self Determination is a program in which Indians determine their future through the development of policies that meet their needs as they have defined them. It is too early to say if the program is a success. However, an early example of Indians having control over their lives was evidenced in the California Indian Health Demonstration Project. "This project originated in the State Department of Public Health, Bureau of Maternal and Child Health in 1967. Nine projects were set up among reservation communities throughout the state. Funded by state and federal health departments, these pilot projects stressed Indian participation and control and have acted as a catalyst for community cooperation in bringing medical and dental services to rural and reservation Indians. . . . By 1973, sixteen projects had been set up. . . ." (Heizer, 1978:124) With the formation of the California Rural Indian Health Board in 1969, an Indian-controlled coordinating body took charge.
In 1967, the California Indian Education Association was founded. In October of that year, a conference in North Fork, California ". . . brought together about 200 Indians who thoroughly analyzed the problems involved in Indian education. . . . Basically, the North Fork Conference called for increased Indian involvement at all levels of the education process. It especially emphasized the role of the Indian family and community in the education of children and advocated the development of Indian-directed out-of-school educational projects. Stress was placed upon the value of the native heritage. The North Fork Conference also called for the restoration of Johnson O'Malley funds. . . ." (Forbes, 1969:121) With the formation of the California Rural Indian Health Board, the American Indian Historical Society, and the California Indian Education Association, California Indians were involved in the process of controlling their past, present, and future.
The acknowledgment of Indians continued in 1968 when Governor Ronald Reagan signed a resolution calling for the fourth Friday of each September to be American Indian Day in California. This acknowledgment has done much to inform the general public about Indian heritage and the problems that are confronted by Indians in California.
"Another important development since the 1960s was the creation of Native American studies departments at major universities in California. In the fall of 1969, Indian students at the University of California at Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Davis and at Sacramento State University demanded that these institutions begin programs and offer courses in Indian culture and history." (Heizer, 1967:125) Today, much valuable information has come from these programs. They have also assisted Indian students by providing them with needed services, and have promoted a better Indian self-image.
"Indian land issues became international news in November 1969 when a group called Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and held the site for nearly two years." (Heizer, 1967:716) "Within two months, the Pit River Tribe learned the lesson of Alcatraz." (Balin, 1971) On June 5, 1970, the Pit River Tribe issued a proclamation that stated: "We are the rightful and legal owner of the land. . . . No amount of money can buy the Mother Earth; therefore, the California Indian Land Claims Commission has no meaning. The Earth is our Mother and we cannot sell her." (Ibid.) Since then, the Pit Rivers have successfully reoccupied a number of pieces of land.
By 1970, the census showed that there were 91,018 Indians in California. This number did not differentiate between California Indians and Indians who came here from other states. In 1972, 120 years after the Indians signed the 18 lost treaties, 60,000 California Indians received $633 each as compensation for land covered by the treaties. Some Indians refused the payment, and some failed to cash the check, but others who had waited for generations and had spent much time and money trying to resolve the issue accepted the payment. The land claims case was finally over.
Ten of the original terminated rancherias left Indian ownership by 1974. The same year, California reservation Indians filed and won a class action suit known as the Rincon decision. The suit charged that the Indian Health Service had not provided California Indians with health care comparable to that provided in other states. The U.S. District Court in San Francisco agreed. The State of California began to supplement federal Indian Health money in 1975, the first state to do so. (Heizer, 1978:126; Sacramento Bee, Sept. 6-7, 1981) In 1982, California Indians received most of the $8,700,000 supplemental funds from the Rincon ruling award.
In 1976, the California Native American Heritage Commission was established. Since that time, the commission has assisted Indians in preserving cultural and religious sites important to them. By 1980, the number of Indians in California had grown to more than 201,000, more Indians than in any other state. Probably a little more than half of these are the descendents of aboriginal Californians. Their population is still far below the approximately 310,000 Indians living in California when Europeans first arrived on these shores.
NEXT> Historic Sites