Cinco de Mayo 4th of July 4th Friday of September

Native American Tribal Groups in California

This is one of those opportunities for all of us to celebrate freedom, heritage and independence, especially here in California. As you probably know, today commemorates the day that Mexico gained its freedom from Spain. The Spanish had conquered a huge portion of the western United States as well as Central America over a period of the centuries after the ‘discovery’ of these continents in the 15th Century. Here in California, Father Junipero Serra traveled the coast from Baja to the northern counties establishing missions along the El Camino Real – the King’s Road. In the process of his evangelistic fervor, the first tribes of California, were converted and their land, like the land of the Aztecs and Mayans, was confiscated:

“The territory of the present State of California was discovered in 1542 by a Portuguese navigator in the Spanish service, J. R. Cabrillo. In 1578 Sir Francis Drake landed at Drake’s Bay, opened communication with the natives, and took possession of the country in the name of England, calling it New Albion. It was explored by the Spaniard S. Viscayno in 1602, but no attempt was made at colonization until the Franciscan Fathers established a mission at San Diego in 1769. Within the next 50 years they founded 21 missions and gathered 20,000 Indians about them…” Access Genealogy.

Native American languages spoken in California
Native American languages spoken in California

By 1910, the population of California Native tribes had shrunk and very few of the Yuki, Aqusta, Wintun, Pomo, Salinan, Koso, Achumawi, Chimariko – to name only a handful of the tribal groups once living in the state, remained. In the most recent census, only 4% of Californian residents are Native American, although many of us are proud to claim Native American ancestors.

California Native American Day is celebrated on the 4th Friday of September. This date was set by legislature in 1998, to celebrate the rich contribution of the California native peoples to the heritage of this state.

My family arrived in California in the mid 1950s. We lived in the Haight-Ashbury community and every year, the Neighborhood Council brought us together to celebrate the wide variety of the heritage of our community with potlatch* meals in school auditoriums.  These meals are some of my most treasured memories of my childhood — a time of celebration of our American heritage in all its colors and creeds.

The maps included here are from the site.

*Potlatch is from a Native American word meaning to gather and share food, similar to the 16th Century English pot luck meaning the same.

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