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California Indians  

Benjamin L. Madley

Human beings have inhabited the region known as California for at least 13,000 years, or as some believe since time immemorial. By developing technologies, honing skills, and implementing stewardship practices, California Indian communities maximized the bounty of their homelands during the precolonial period. Overall, their population grew to perhaps 310,000 people. Speaking scores of different languages, they organized themselves into at least sixty major tribes. Communities were usually politically autonomous but connected to larger tribal groups by shared languages and cultures while dense networks of economic exchange also bound tribes together. Newcomers brought devastating change, but California Indians resisted and survived. During the Russo-Hispanic period (1769–1846), the Indigenous population fell to perhaps 150,000 people due to diseases, environmental transformation, and colonial policies. The organized mass violence and other policies of early United States rule (1846–1900) further reduced the population. By 1900, census takers counted only 15,377 California Indian people. Still, California Indians resisted. During the 1900–1953 period, the federal government continued its national Allotment Policy but initiated healthcare, land policy, education, and citizenship reforms for California Indians even as they continued to resist and their population grew. During the termination era (1953–1968), California Indians faced federal attempts to obliterate them as American Indians. Finally, California Indian people achieved many hard-won victories during the self-determination era (1968–present).