A Survey by the members of American Indian Studies 410: California Indians
San Francisco State University, Fall 2001- June 2002

Vital Statistics - People and Land:

Is your tribe recognized?  Unrecognized?    (Y: 83%,  N: 17%)

About how large is your population?    (Average:  300)

Does your tribe have land set aside on a rancheria or reserve?  (Yes:  74%,   No: 26%)

Is your rancheria/reserve located on or near ancestral land?  (Yes: 92%, No:  8%)

Do members of your tribe have access to ancestral land?  (Yes:  79%,  No:  21%)

Do members have access to resources that allow you to practice traditional ways of hunting, fishing, religion, artistry, etc.?  (Yes:  58%,   No:  42%)

Sacred Places, Sacred Objects:

Is your tribe in a position to have sacred objects and/or remains repatriated? (Yes:  57%,  No:  43%)

Have you ever had a repatriation of anything sacred?   (Yes: 35%,  No:  65%)

Do you have a repatriation case pending?  (Yes:  24%,  No: 71%,  Unknown: 5%)

Has your tribe had to deal with the issue of pesticides in any repatriation? (Yes: 10%,  No: 86%, 
Unknown:  4%)

Has your tribe recently had any objects stolen that are sacred to your culture? (Yes: 26%,  No:  65%,  Unknown: 9%)
Does your tribe hold certain animals and plants sacred?  (Yes:  91%,  No:  9%)

Has the State/Federal government designated any of your tribal sites as historical landmarks?
(Yes:  39%, No: 57%,  Unknown: 4%)

Cultural Preservation and Language:

Is your tribal language recorded in dictionaries or tapes?  (Yes:  78%, No:  22%)

Is your language still passed down?  (Yes:  83%, No: 17% )

Does your tribe have a program to restore or record your language?   (Yes:  43%, No: 57%)

Does your tribe have an Indian Center, which specifically caters to your community?
(Yes: 26%,  No: 74%)

Does your tribe have a museum or cultural center for the public to visit?
(Yes: 13%, No:  87%)

Does your tribe hold cultural gatherings, like Big Times, Powwows, ceremonies, potlatches, or storytelling?
(Yes:  57%, No: 36%,  NA:  7%)

Do you have any contemporary artists?  (Yes: 57%,  No: 39%, Unknown: 4%)

Is there funding available for your artists?  (Yes:  9%, No:  86%)

Does your tribe have an official website?  (Yes: 50%, No: 50%)

Additional Responses

The most frequently mentioned barrier of access to sacred tribal land was private land ownership, followed by poorly managed public lands.

Current practices that require access to specific natural resources included: gathering materials for basketry, medicinal herbs, vision quests, regalia making, sweats, fishing, hunting, dancing, gathering (among others).

Inaccessibility to ancient tribal land impacts the community in these ways:  the private land concept is counter to tribal beliefs, culture suffers, no places to gather, destruction of ancient sites.

Some of the landmark designations of tribal lands include:  ancient sites (archaeology sites), rock art sites, girls puberty rock, battle sites, village sites, sacred caves, and massacre sites.

Tribes that are not able to receive repatriations mentioned these as the reasons:  museums slow to repatriate, lack of a tribal museum, inadequate storage or housing for materials, inability to identify tribal items, lack of funding, lack of access to land to reinter certain items.

Animals or plants that are held sacred by tribes include:  Coyote, Eagle, Hawk(s), Bear, Owl, Deer, Salmon, Snake(s), Sage, Anjelica, Bay Laurel, California Tobacco, Medicinal Herbs, Teas (from various plants), Wormwood, Acorn-Oaks, Lizard, Woodpecker, Road Runner, Turtle, and Eel (among others).

Gatherings listed by tribes include:  Big Times, Bear Dance, PowWows, Brush Dance, Sweats, Burning Ceremony, Solstice, Equinox, Harvest gatherings, winter storytelling, Spring Festival, Strawberry Festival, and various ceremonials specific to each tribe.

During the 2001-2002 academic year, students in Andrew Brother-Elk's class at San Francisco State University (SFSU: California Indians: AIS 410) developed a survey and distributed it to all California Indian tribes.  The goal of this class project was to establish a baseline understanding of cultural issues that currently affect California Indian people.  Results of this study are useful for identifying common successes and problems across California's indigenous populations at this particular time.  These results are also useful to tribal and governmental policy makers as California's indigenous people make strides on cultural matters in the next few years.  Recommendations are summarized below.  This research may also yield more in-depth studies in the future.

It is significant that the vast majority of respondants (83%) come from federally recognized tribes.  Not only does this skew the results of the survey, it also may indicate forced instability among the many unrecognized tribes in California.  For instance, the majority of mailed surveys returned for lack of a current address came from unrecognized tribes. Since most addresses we used came from governmental sources, this indicates that governmental agencies have not done a very good job staying in close touch with unrecognized tribes, and that the stability of these tribes may be negatively affected by the failure of government support.  Recognition processes by the US government are notoriously long and convoluted for tribes to endure.  The US Department of Interior may wish to explore some form of provisional support for tribes that are going through this process, which often takes decades.  Such support could be geared towards basic infrastructure and communication expenses, for instance for postal services, websites, phone and internet lines, etc.  At the very least, it is imperative for public funded agencies to have accurate and up-to-date contact information for all tribal groups in California and the United States generally.

Major Findings:  Successes

The ancient connection between California tribes and the land comes across clearly from this survey.  91% of respondants still hold certain plants and animals as sacred.  It is important to note that this finding is regardless of religious background: follow-up interviews with respondants indicate a variety of religious faiths (Christian primarily, followed by tradtitional tribal religious affiliations). 92% of respondants report that their current rancheria, reservation, or reserve is located on or near their ancestral land.  This is somewhat surprising, given the forced relocation policies of the State of California and the US government during the ethnic cleansing and 'extermination'  (ie. genocide) era of California history (1849-80).  79% report that their tribe has maintained some access to tribal lands.  74% reported that the tribe had land set aside on a rancheria, reservation, or in reserve.

Tribes report a wide variety of activities that they continue to perform related to natural and land resources. (see listings below).  These include gathering natural items for use in ceremonies, medicines, and other cultural practices. These activities also include annual dances, performances, and ceremonies.  Some tribes asked that their activities not be shared publically, and we have respected those wishes.  Others encouraged public sharing of information on certain types of activities.

Another significant success is in the area of tribal languages. 83% of respondants report that their tribal language is being passed down to new generations.  78% report that their language is recorded in dictionaries or on tapes.  This indicates the importance of ancient languages to current tribal members.  Again, this finding is somewhat remarkable given the severe and sometimes violent language eradication practices by invaders (Spanish, Mexican, American) against California Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries.  This lends support to the notion that California Indians are at the beginning of a cultural renaissance process, led by the restoration of languages, storytelling, word books for plants and places, songs, and other linguistic processes.

Many tribes (50%) reported having websites, and this clearly indicates success in sharing tribal information with the wider public.  A majority of tribes (57%) also reported that their tribe had contemporary artists.  This indicates that artistic expression continues to be a very important part of tribal education and support.

Major Findings:  Problems

California tribal groups clearly lack the resources to properly share their cultures with others. 87% lack a museum or cultural center for the public to visit.  This contributes to the erasure of California Indian culture from public awareness and education, and is a legacy of cultural genocide practices earlier in California history.  (The Native American Cultural Center, co-sponsors of this cultural survey, also lacks a physical space for its many activities).  As other ethnic, cultural, religious, and affinity groups have received funding for a variety of cultural centers, California's indigenous people have been left out of this notable trend.  The lack of cultural facilities is an important finding for local, state, and federal officials, as well as for private funding sources such as foundations, corporations, and individuals.

Another finding of importance to cultural survival is the 74% of respondants that lack an Indian Center to serve the needs of tribal members.  Combined with the overwhelming lack of cultural space (above), both of these findings indicate a severe facilities problem for California Indian tribes. Key to understanding the severity of this problem is the finding above that 83% of survey respondants are from federally recognized tribal groups. One might assume that if more unrecognized groups had been able to respond, the percentage of tribes that lack even a basic Indian Center would be even higher than 74%.  Indian Centers have been the modern places where social services are offered, community events are held, health and medical programs are housed, and where tribal business is conducted.  These spaces are key to the healthy operation of tribes.

While many tribes reported contemporary artists among their members-- some with international reputations-- over 86% of the survey respondants reported that there was no funding available for tribal artists, and 5% reported they were unaware of funding sources.  The combined total of 91% who cannot identify sources of funding to support tribal artists contrasts sharply with resources available to artists in other communities throughout California. This indicates there are clear problems of outreach and efficacy in state arts programs, as well as in foundation and private funding for indigenous artists.

Despite ten years of processing federal NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act) issues, it is clear that many issues remain for tribes.  86% of respondants reported they had not had to deal with  the issue of pesticides in repatriated items.  This despite recent evidence from SFSU and other universities that pesticides (including DDT) routinely show up in repatriated items stored by museums and universities.  This finding raises the question of how much information has been shared with tribes, and what health consequences are being openly discussed when items finally are repatriated.  71% reported they did not have a repatriation case pending, which is remarkable given the vast amount of material collected from tribes.  65% reported that they had never had items repatriated to their tribe. This raises important questions about how much information is being shared with tribes about their cultural and sacred objects by larger museums and universities.  It also indicates that many tribes are unable to accept returned items due to lack of funding, facilities, or places to properly store or reinter sacred items.  The lack of cultural or museum facilities would seem to reinforce this problem.

Finally, over 57% report that there are no state or federally designated historical landmarks among their tribal lands.  This finding is remarkable because nearly every tribal group in California is associated with at least one significant historical event, such as an act of genocide, ethnic cleansing, resistence to invasion, battles, relocation, or treaty.  For many tribes, the number of events to recognize and educate the public about is more than a few. Comparable historic designations for non-Indians (Mark Twain for instance) are high, even when indigenous sites are adjacent or nearby (such as in the Gold Rush foothills). Perhaps this serious omission is related to the nature of these historic events: a culture of denial seems to pervade landmark status and California's indigenous populations.  Failure to recognize genocidal actions on California soil is an effective means of denying that they happened, despite ample historic evidence supporting them. The lack of designation also contributes to the destruction of important indigenous sites, many of which are thousands of years old. Policy makers should be aware of these very serious omissions, and support efforts to expand historic landmark designations related to First Nations inhabitants of California.


1.  Speed up the federal recognition process, and provide interim communications support for tribes undertaking the long recognition process.

2.  Explore new methods, such as MOUs, for tribal groups to have secure access to their ancestral lands, especially those that are now under public management (Interior, Forestry, BLM, State Parks, etc.)

3.  Provide targeted public and private funding for language restoration efforts by tribal groups, including new dictionaries, recordings, videos, and language acquisition efforts by tribal members.

4.  Develop significant new efforts to build and maintain tribal cultural facilities, such as museums and cultural centers.  Leadership and funding for new cultural facilities should be the State's responsibility, which has a special obligation to tribes as a result of its extermination policy against tribes in the 19th century.

5.  Develop significant new efforts to build and maintain tribal centers that can support social, health, and administrative services. Leadership and funding for new tribal facilities should be the Federal government's responsibility, which has a special sovereignty relationship with First Nations, as well as a special obligation to tribes as a result of its funding of extermination efforts against tribes in the 19th century.

6.  Provide targeted funding for contemporary California Indian artists, and reassess the outreach and efficacy of state arts funding programs.

7.  Explore new methods of improving the pace of repatriations to California tribes, as well as legislation that enforces transparent communication by museums and universities to tribes on all matters related to objects that have been removed from tribal ownership.

8.  Pass new legislation that significantly increases the number of historical designations related to California Indians, and helps to add indigenous voices to the history of the state.

9.  Pass new legislation that treats ancient sites in California with as much reverence as other world cultures treat their ancient sites, and find new methods of encouraging private landowners to respect ancient sites.

                  The students of AIS 410 at SFSU wish to acknowledge and thank all of the people who responded to the survey.  Special thanks to those who wrote additional comments and provided additional information.  We hope that our work has raised important issues for all of us to consider, and that we have accurately captured the spirit and flavor of your responses.  We also wish to acknowledge the gracious assistance of the staff of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University, as well as its chair, Clay Dumont.  Finally, we offer heartfelt thanks to our mentor and teacher, Andrew Brother Elk, for suggesting this class project and guiding us through the many issues we did not even KNOW we had to consider!
By San Francisco State University
Co-Sponsored by NACC
June 2002

ABALONE is the online virtual cultural center for the Native American Cultural Center.  All rights reserved.
There is a great deal of cultural activity happening in California Tribes, and a surprising amount of success in the areas of land connection, language preservation, tribal communication, and artistic expression. The wealth of cultural activity currently underway indicates that California Tribes have entered into a new phase of cultural renaissance.  On the other hand, resources are severely constrained that could support cultural activities and basic facilities are lacking. Finally, governmental processes (recognition, landmark designation) are slow and disproportionately biased against California tribes.