Research Paper on California Indians

Posted on February 4, 2009

Historian Kenneth King said about California Indians: “If they did not have the ability for organization shown by the Six Nation (Iroquois) in the Eastern part of the United States, they were, on the whole, child like and affectionate and willing to accept the gentle rule of the padres.” The ignorance of this statement is astoundingly obvious if one looks at the indigenous people of California and the Padres of the Spanish missions without the rose-colored glasses of a romantic, euro-centric, manifest destine point of view that suggests industrial, Christian societies conquer all. The indigenous people of California were not a “primal” people that needed to rely on the Spanish and hence the Spanish were not invited into their lands. As Costo said, “The Native Californians were by no means “primitive”; rather they were singularly complex hunters and gathers.” (Costo, pg 10) King’s statement tries to justify the colonization, exploitation and murder of the indigenous Californians by asserting that the natives were too unorganized to resist or some how inviting to the padres. This assertion, in essence masks the policies of institutional reduction and practical colonization that terrorized the natives and reluctantly drove them inside the mission walls for safety, which unfortunately harbored only more exploitation.

In his quote, King refers to the Seneca people, a member of the Iroquois League of Six Nations. They are one of the few tribes to survive in America, intact to this day on their ancestral land, because of their continuous warring with the Europeans. One could accurately state that they were not willing to accept the rule of others, because they fought and held their land. On the contrary, one may not just reverse this logic and hold it to the indigenous Californians. California Indians were not necessarily willing to “accept the gentle rule of the padres” just because they could not stop them from invading. Just as the Polish people of modern Europe were not necessarily willing to accept Hitler’s Nazi led invasion of their country, to practice his similar form of “gentle rule”. There is no logical connection that says if the natives were conquered, than they must have had a desired to be so. In fact, much evidence will prove the contrary. The statement King made disguises the real forces that drove Indians to the missions. The indigenous people of California that were forced into the missions were driven by two main factors- reduction and colonization.

The padres colonized the lands and practiced the institutionalized policy of reduction to convert the land, animals, and natives to their way of life. Both colonization and reduction are a strategy instituted to usurp control over a people, their land and their culture. The most evident form of reduction was the blatant theft of land from the natives. A priest and his soldiers would occupy the high ground in an area and drive the Indians off to other clans or into their missions. Then they would reduce the number of surrounding villages by including them into the mission system and group them together, closer to the mission. Military force backed all these operations and frequently killed the men of villages and stole the women and children for the mission system.

The policy of colonization and reduction also affected the ecology of the native land. The priests would grow their own colonizer plants and graze their own colonizer animals on the newly stolen land. The introduction of European traditional agriculture reduced the amount of land the natives had to survive off of and changed the native environment to unfamiliar flora and fauna, of which the natives did not know how to survive. The Spanish brought livestock with them, such as sheep and cattle, which ate the indigenous grasses. Soon indigenous animals, such as rabbit and deer, could not find food and their populations were reduced. The natives were driven inside the mission walls because of scarce indigenous greens and small game populations.

The colonizing padres also took on a plan to institutionally reduce the traditions, customs, culture, language, societal standards and freedom of the natives. Natives were baptized upon entering the mission and forever binding them to its gates. A baptized native could never leave. Many escaped and were tracked down and killed by soldiers. Once in the mission they were force to pray to Jesus. A supposed pail skinned God, which dictated a new set of rules and represented oppression. The rules consisted of restricting original language, prayer, medicine or historical reciting. The padres wanted to completely rid the “savages” of their “heathen ways.” They controlled every aspect of the natives, even their sexuality, which was limited to the “missionary position. ” The natives” minds were washed of their culture inside the missions. (Hurtado)

Outside the missions the Spanish soldiers destroyed bodies of the natives through murder, rape and the spreading of disease. Diseases such as pneumonia and diphtheria spread amongst the people quickly. Their bodies had no tolerance to the foreign viruses and were hit especially hard. The spread of disease pushed the natives toward the Spaniards, looking for a cure. Many natives were taken to the missions upon their death beds, in a last resort to cure a European illness. (Lecture)

A more blatant form of murder was the slaughter of men and women by the soldiers, who were managed by the padres. The barbaric padres and soldiers would destroy, relocate, rape, breed and brain wash the natives. Whether it was the spoils of victory or just boredom, rape was prevalent. Murder was expected when over taking a new village or traveling on the coast. As San Juan Batista wrote, that anytime the Spanish passed two Santa Barbara the killing of a few natives was inevitable. (Lecture)(Hurtado)

The indigenous people of California were not “childlike” or in anyway unsophisticated. In fact they had complex social groups that existed with reciprocity for thousands of years. When King describes the natives as childlike and unorganized, he suggests that they are a lower society and the missionaries felt the same. Fray Francisco Garces said “Oh, what a vast heathendom!…Oh what a heathendom so docile!” (Costo, pg 10) As Rupert Costo points out in The Indians Before the Invasion, “The concept of agriculture was a prerequisite for the development of civilization” Native people were not primitive, they has their own economic system. “Money” was in the form of beads. The Indian name for their money is Koy Koy. (Bean, pg 304) They had established trade routes and systems of passing on goods on to distant tribes. Just because they did not industrialize production or use European traditional agriculture didnТt mean that resources were not organized. Once again Europeans see technology as the bar of civilization, rather than examining the balance a society has with its surroundings and its prosperity through non-material eyes.

As Kroeber’s maps point out, the natives in California were very organized and had structured territorial regions. Costo points out that “such conditions of territorial stability were generally true throughout California” (Costo, pg 15) California was one of the most diverse places in the entire world, with many languages, customs and religions. Native people managed to prosper, through respect and communication through local general counsels. Costo confirms this when he said, “the society began to use tools and set up laws establishing its governing bodies.” (Costco, pg 18) They generally used natural ecological borders. As Tharon Weighhill said, there was a secret language called the – Sylyux language, that chosen members of a clan would speak at intertribal meetings. These meetings discussed local concerns and kept relations strong. They used reciprocity and respect to let each other live. An example of this is exhibited when Bennae Calac, a Lesuno, spoke of not interfering with George Zuniga’s people, the Kumia, when speaking of modern local issues. She said that she would have no business telling his people what to do. This exemplifies the balance the clans/tribes had with each other.

King uses the word “affectionate” to describe the native, because they did not reject the Spaniards upon their first meeting. The truth is that the natives were accepting to the new comers and they did not war until after they were encroached upon. This tolerance is a sign of an advanced society. They were welcoming until there was reason not to be, just as a new neighbor is today. I believe that King is using a warped sense of societal ranking to asses that accepting a stranger or tolerance is a flaw.

California natives did fight back in many violent and spiritual rebellions and the following are just summaries of a few of the most famous:
In 1775, the Kumayaay resisted Spanish rule and burned their local Presidio. In order to do this, they sought out the Quchans, whom had more military knowledge on how to burn and attack the missions. The Kumayaay were successful in capturing San Luis Jayme the padre in command. They killed him in accustom to killing a man possessed with witchcraft. The shot him with arrows and crushed the head. Unlike the Spaniards, they did not slaughter the soldiers and all others that resided in the mission. They merely killed the leader in hopes that the mission would fall. Of course the Spaniards sent another priest and Jayme became a Christian martyr.

By 1780, eight missions had been founded, but in no way does that indicate an accepting state of affairs by natives. In 1781, the Quechan removed the Spanish from the Colorado River bordering California. The Quechan had agreed to let the Spanish in if the Quechan were left alone, but once again reduction was practiced by the padres. Learning from the past the Quechan killed all the Spaniards and never again could the Spanish colonize South Eastern California.

On Oct. 25th 1785, there was a rebellion by the Gabrielinos in San Gabriel. Local Gabrielinos attacked the mission inspired by the rape of a chief’s wife. Led by an Indian doctor, leaders Toypurina and Nick Jose were captured. In an interview the leaders said that they were upset that the Spaniards had invaded and that they were perpetrating “pagan abuses” on the Indian people.

In 1791, at San Jose non-Christian Indians threatened baptized Indians to leave the mission or die. Spanish soldiers slaughtered the village were the threats had originated and capture the women for labor.

In 1793 another movement of combined baptized and non-Christian natives attached Santa Cruz. The non Christian man who led the charge found a baptized wife. Eventually the church found her, took her an sent her to a mission in San Francisco

In 1794 there was a conspiracy in San Louis Obispo. Baptized Indians told the soldiers of a plot to kill them.

In the 1790’s in Santa Barbara constantly attacked and there was constant rebellion. Most notably in 1801, when a woman named Chupu led a rebellion against all of the Spanish ways. ChupuТs Rebellion was inspired by her vision and focused on conducting reverse Baptisms. She hoped that rejecting the church would free people of the diseases that had ravaged them. The rebellion was continuous because the missions were savage. The Spaniards were the people who brought the idea of rape as a spoil of war and genocide as a common practice.

Before the Spanish invasion he native people were organized and balanced spiritually, ecologically, territorially and intertribal. They fought the insurgence of the missions through violent and psychological rebellions. King’s quote is grossly inaccurate and speaks to his misunderstanding of California Indian History.

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