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Native American Heritage

indiginous peoples

The Indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada have been living and taking care of this land for thousands of years. At the time of the Spanish colonization in the late 1700s, California was home to more than 300,000 Native people in more than 200 tribes.

The Native people’s centuries-old way of life was brought to an end relatively quickly starting with the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 1700s. American Indians were intimidated, slaughtered, bribed, and diseased while having livestock, fields, orchards, and lands stolen from them. As land was take, treaties broken, and populations decimated, the numbers in California plummeted to 20,000 by 1900.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that a shift occurred with more action to support the descendants of these harmed tribes. With the creation of the Native American Heritage Commission in 1978, a jumping-off point was established as a liaison agency to help state, federal, and tribal governments work together. And in 1987, a controversial US Supreme Court decision affirming Native Americans’ right to build casinos on reservation lands dramatically changed the economic, political, and social landscapes of many of California Native’s lives.

Today, there are many recognized and unrecognized tribes in the Sierra, and folks are interested in acknowledging Indigenous land. This is great! However, we know that we can do better. More than words, we must take action to support Indigenous communities. We are aware this is not a quick and easy process, and relationship building takes time, understanding, vulnerability. We are committed to being more than an optical ally and you can be too.

Did you know?

From the Shasta and Modoc in the North to the Tubatulabal and Western Shoshone (Panamint) in the South, each tribe has unique languages, artistry, and longstanding traditions.

By the late 1800s, the Washoe were wellknown around the world for their exquisite basketry. Indigenous peoples of the Mono Lake Basin, the Kuzedika, harvested brine fly larvae from the salty lake and traded this delicacy with other local tribes.

What can you do?

The Native Governance Center shares three ways to show solidarity:

  • Donate time and money to Indigenous-led organizations
  • Amplify the voices of Indigenous people leading grassroots change movements
  • Return land

Do a self-assessment and see if your current behaviors are harming Indian Country. Ask yourself:

  • Am I appropriating Native culture?
  • Am I hiring Native artists and entrepreneurs?
  • Am I voting against Indian Country?
  • Am I putting Native communities at risk while on vacation?
  • Am I adventuring responsibly?