Most Americans from the past have stereotyped the Native Indians of California as a primitive and unintelligent race. The Anglo-Americans have forced their culture on these Indians, insisting they give up their primitive ways. Historian Richard B. Rice explains, that nearly all thought of them as “one of the most degraded of God’s creatures. ” He says, “Such negative stereotypes salved the consciences of the nineteenth-century pioneers as they murdered California’s indigenous peoples, stole their land, destroyed their cultures, enslaved their children, and confined the survivors to barren reservations.
” They made do with what little resources they had on the small reservations and managed to function with much of their traditional culture, especially the acorns that were still a very important part of their diets. I have found that even though the goal of the Federal government was to transform the Indians into what they called “a white man” it was not a successful transformation. The Indians held tightly to their old traditions and left little room for the white culture, except that which was forced upon them.
Before the first Anglo-American encounter, the regular traditions for the California Indians included hunting and gathering, trading between tribes, hierarchy systems of poor and wealthier people in power, and the practice of medicine. The Indians were very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna that surrounded them. They would even sow wild seeds to bring the plants closer to their homes. They hunted a variety of animals like desert animals, salmon, shellfish, rodents, snakes, and birds. Even with all this food available to them, they had a much more reliable staple, the acorn.
The acorn was used as a main staple as early as 5000 BCE. Rice explains, “One tree might provide fifty-five pounds of acorns for one day’s labor. ” They could round up a year’s supply of this food in just over a week of labor. They were sophisticated people who had a trade system in place that served their various needs. It offered items to each tribe that were not available to them due to the area they lived it. Trade also supported harmony between the tribes. Another tradition for the Indians was the different levels of classes.
It was inevitable into which class an Indian would be placed because class is something that they inherited according to the family they were born into. The class was inevitable by which family you were born into because it is an inherited state. The Indians had people who ranged from slaves to the elites who had slaves, all in which was an inherited status. The Indians in California were very smart and had their own doctors, but called them “Shamans. ” They set bones, and experimented with plants to create chemicals that would serve as medicine to heal.
This life systems and culture took thousands of years to evolve, but it was a system that worked well for them. Historian Richard B. Rice explains that the Indians were believed to have a, “more dependable standard of living than would have been possible with farming. ” All of this proves that the Indians were far from being a stupid race. In 1850, treaties were put in place that would state the land did not belong to the Indians. The Indians were to stay on a very small portion of land segregated from the whites. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created by the government to make sure the treaties were being employed.
The BIA had made many efforts to transform the Indians for one main reason. Historian Mary Ann Irwin explains that the Federal Government thought that if they could civilize the Indians or as they branded it “kill the Indian, save the man” then there would not be conflict anymore, the greatest of which was over land. Due to the treaties, the Indians must come to terms with the American Government’s authority because it was forced upon them. The Feds also thought that if the Indians could be converted they would not need the treaties; therefore, the Americans could take even more land, the Indian land.
The government moved the Indians to reservations and rancheros at that point and trained them in the white man’s way of life. As you could imagine, by forcing the Indians onto small pieces of land it made it difficult for them to continue to live as they use to. They could not hunt as they did before or forage for wild plants and reseed closer to the reservations. For this reason alone the efforts to convert the Indians was successful as they had no choice but to take whatever commands or resources the Americans gave them.
BIA efforts to assimilate the Indians continued in 1852 when they created boarding schools. The boarding schools were there to teach the Indian women how to become more domesticated. The school taught the women tasks like sewing, housekeeping, and how to be domestic servants. BIA also hoped to teach the men through the school occupational skills like mechanics, blacksmith, and agriculture. Most importantly, the school was there to teach all the Indians English. However, the Indians held onto key components of their traditions. L. D. Creel was an agent of the BIA.
He was sent in 1923 to interview and observe the Mono and Chukchansi Indians in California. Part of his responsibilities as the agent of the BIA was to administer the federal government’s treaty to the Mono and Chukchansi tribes. He reports back with seven photos, each with a detail caption. These photos show mostly the lack of Native Indian assimilation into mainstream American culture, but later I will show the few ways BIA was successful at changing the Indians. The photos and captions show the failures of the BIA’s attempt to assimilate the Indians.
The failures included the continued use of acorns, the methods the Indians used to prepare and store their food, the tools they used, and the resourceful way they utilized the “benign and generous landscape. ” Primarily, Creel made it clear that he did not exactly approve of the use of acorns when he said, “Although the family is one of the most progressive of any I met, the acorn is a matter of regular diet. ” Therefore, they had not succeeded at removing this main staple from the Mono and Chukchansi’s diet. This proves how committed they were to this part of their culture.
Even though it took major effort to process the acorns, it was very important to the Indians. It may be because there is fifteen native species of acorns, and it is a food source that has been very reliable to the Indians over the past thousands of years. Creel states that, “The acorn now supplies fifty per cent of the bread food of the Indians of Madera and Fresno Counties. ” Though this may prove that the BIA was partially successful at converting the Indians’ bread food away from the acorn, it also showed how the Indians were still apprehensive to letting the acorn go as a main staple in their diet.
With all these efforts you will see that the Indians resisted where they could and accepted some efforts willingly and adopted others reluctantly. Even if the Indians wanted to convert away from the use of acorns and switch to a substitute, they did not know how. The acorn is a necessity to the Indians, as Creel states when he said, “Were it not for the acorns these Indians would have a hard time for bread food, as they do not understand how to combine the substitutes with white flour to make satisfactory bread.
” I think a very important point is the fact that the Indians do not know how to use the substitute to make bread, but the food controller has provided the substitute in the event the Indians need it. It does not seem to be much use if they cannot properly use the substitute. This is a failed attempt to change the Native Indian’s diet. I see either a strong cultural persistence with the Indians or lack of guidance on the BIA’s part when it comes to the method in which the Indians use to process the acorn.
Rice gives details on how difficult it was to process the acorn, “Grinding was time-consuming, perhaps as many as three hours for six pounds of finished meal. ” The Indians used homemade mortars and pestles from giant rock formations to grind the acorn into a fine meal. The government failed at “killing the Indian,” because the Indians still used the landscape formations and mortars to grind the acorn when there were other extremely efficient tools. Creel states, “If these Indian communities could have one or more of the small iron mills now upon the market, a great deal of labor would be saved.
” One part of me believes that Creel wanted to help the Indians and saw that the State had not done a good enough job at teaching the Indians. If the government was going to rip the Indians from their way of life, they should have properly equipped the Indians with all resources necessary to live like a white man. It must have been very difficult being forced from hunting and gathering to living in a small area that did not provide them with the tools that the rest of civilization around them used.
Even though the Indians always groun the acorns by hand, it made it worse now due to the lack of access to all the other staples they once had, which to me would mean the need to process even more acorn meal. Rice observes that there were many other sources of food they had before the Anglo-Americans took their land, “California offered Natives a broad array of staples, including seeds, nuts, roots, stems, leaves from a multitude of grasses, shrubs and trees. ” Now they found themselves cut off from these resources, put onto reservations, and expected to manage!
I believe that most Indians resisted the change and kept using their own ways to keep the acorn supply available. In one of Creel’s photos, it shows how the Indians stored their acorns just as they had for hundreds of years, thus showing the failure of assimilation. They continued to store the supply with their own means as Creel explains, “A whicker basket is woven loosely and placed on the platform above the ground high enough to keep larger animals out of reach. ” The materials used for the storage were branches and handmade thatches that Indians used as covers.
The Indians seemed to have all their bases covered to preserve the acorns. They could store their acorns in a more modern way, but instead they used what the earth had given them to create a safe place above ground, like a vault secured with the twigs around them. The Indians were still very resourceful. Resisting the use of industrialized products, they continued to use nature in 1923 to accomplish some everyday, household tasks. As an example, they use one plant that they managed to have access to to achieve three purposes.
This is explained in one of Creel’s captions, “They make a brush from the fiber of a plant called the soap weed which is used for three purposes. ” This plant called the soap weed has fibers that the Indians use to make a brush. The brush gets the flour out of the basket’s holes and is used to scrub the baskets clean. The soap weed is also used as a cleaning agent. Even though the American Government wants to train the Indians to become more and more like the whites, they still use their customs and resources to create, clean, and perform many of their everyday tasks.
Finally, another evidence of their cultural persistence is the continuing of the creative basketry. The baskets play probably the most important role in the acorn process. Due to the bitter toxins in the acorns, the fine meal must be heated and rinsed repeatedly to rid the toxins. Without these baskets, this would be impossible. The Native Indians weave the baskets so tightly that they can hold water. The Indians have made life simple with their inventions that prove that these people were absolutely civilized.
Each step in the process has different types of baskets: One that can hold water, another that holds the fine meal and allows water through for rinsing, others to hold the meal for storage, and of course a basket for eating from. Rice sums it up like this, “Over thousands of years, tribes developed distinctive methods of basket construction, and decorative styles, which skilled craftswomen further refined. ” Even Creel sees that this art is very much in demand when he says, “These women are the most expert basket makers now living and their baskets demand high prices.
” He speaks greatly about these baskets and seems to be impressed. This is not a skill that can be easily be stripped away from the Indian culture. The Mono and Chukchansi Indians did assimilate to mainstream American culture by the 1920’s to some degree, and most likely, they had no choice. In each picture, the Indians are wearing American clothing. This includes long dresses on the women, and pants with button up shirts for the men. Both men and women are wearing American shoes. The man in the fourth photo I believe is wearing an American hat for shade.
Considering that the Indian children are forced to attend boarding school, it is appropriate for them to have proper attire. Another assimilation I notice is in picture five. In the background, it seems to be some sort of building. In the past, the Indians lived in teepee type of huts. With the government forcing the Indians onto such small land, I am sure they do not have as many resources to build their traditional homes with. The building in the picture is not one you would see form an Indians culture, it is very much American. In picture six, there are three tin buckets in the left background.
The Indians do not make tin pots. It looks like the Indian-made baskets are not the only source for holding items. The Indians as shown in pictures one, four, and five are using cloth. Indians did not make cotton cloth like this. They have incorporated this into their lives most likely because of the lack of freedom they had to hunt for resources they used in the past or possibly because they enjoyed the convenience of the cloth. Their cultural dress was made up of animal skins, leather and fur, but now it is mostly cloth that was most likely bartered for.
They may have traded their expertly crafted baskets for it. There were other issues being imposed upon the Indians to assimilate. Marriage, as an example, was for life and a must for a man and women to be together. The Americans expected the men to do the agricultural work, when it usually would have been a woman’s job in their Native culture. Native men’s jobs were more masculine than agriculture as Historian Rice states, “the male sphere extended to politics, religion, and harvesting and processing of animal, rock, and wood products, as well as dealing with outside groups in trade, diplomacy, and warfare.
” The Native Indians did not have many other choices but to go along with the imposed authority by the Americans because the American weapons out-powered the Indians’ bows and arrows. The Indians did not have a political system strong enough for the tribes to come together and fight the Americans. Mostly, it was all the different languages that prevented this united front from happening. Indians also quickly died off due to their lack of resistance to the diseases the Europeans brought over. This further weakened the Indians and was probably very discouraging to those who were still strong enough to fight.
Even though there were several aspects where the Mono and Chukchansi Indians looked as though they were assimilated into the American culture, they still seized every opportunity they could to do things the way they had for thousands of years. The Native Indians’ main source of bread came from the acorn as it did thousands of years ago. They still processed and stored the acorn meal just as they did thousands of years ago. Their art still was very much a strong and important part of their culture and trade system in the 1920’s.
I believe that because the boarding school still operates now in the 21st century and offers a special place just for the Native Indians, that there is still a strong connection to keep the culture of the Indians alive and going. I believe that if it was a place of segregation and humiliation the Indians today would not attend it. This is why I feel it must be a place for them to unite and stand proud. Bibliography Irwin, Mary Ann. “Native California. ” Video lecture. Blackboard, HIST 3500 Sec 04, Course Materials, Week 2. Irwin, Mary Ann. “The Fed, the State, and the Indians. ” Video lecture.
Blackboard, HIST 3500 Sec 04, Course Material, Week 2. National Archives Pacific Region, San Francisco, CA. National Archives Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Sacramento Area Office. “Survey of Fresno and Madera Counties, L. D. Creel, ca. 1920. ” Coded Records Relating to Programs and Administration, 1910-1958, Box 44. San Francisco: National Archives Pacific Region. Also available online at http://www. irwinator. com/3500/acorn-handouts. doc. Rice, Richard B. , William A. Bullough, Richard J. Orsi, and Mary Ann Irwin. The Elusive Eden: A New History of California, 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012.