WEBSITE OF TRIBE: http://californiavalleymiwoktribe-nsn.gov/

1. Historical information about the culture

The Miwok are often admired for their respect of the land and their philosophy of minimizing disruption to it as much as possible. The Miwok tribes were located in valleys of central California and near the Sierra Nevada. They would strictly hunt and gather and did not take part in any form of agriculture. The game varied from large animals, such as deer and elk, to small ones, such as rabbits and ducks. Simply because of the availability to nearby waterways, fishing was also an important food source. While their most important food crop was acorns, their diet also consisted of mushrooms, insects, berries, roots, bulbs and greens. For hunting and fishing, the men had a range of tools. They used bows and arrows, spears, nets, clubs, snares, and baskets for fish and small animals.
Usually, they constructed only temporary houses, and their villages consisted of populations in the range of 70 to 200 people in order to avoid irreversible damage to the land. The villages were built around one large open space for gatherings and ceremonies, and were generally located near a stream or a creek. The houses were constructed from willow branches, weaved vines and twigs, and sometimes mud in the winter for additional insulation. They could be built relatively fast, so for the purpose of cleanliness and a strong foundation, they were burned down and rebuilt whenever necessary. They did not make pottery or even fabrics, which is possibly the reason for an account depicting the “naked men” who encountered Father Vincente in 1775. Animal skins were commonly worn as clothing however.
The Miwok were great basket weavers. The styles varied in design and complexity—taking months, sometimes years, to finish. Despite the years of suppression, the art survived and is still a valued craft to this day. In addition, many tribes in the region held special Kuksu dances that, among other things, ensured a good harvest. The tradition and practices varied slightly from tribe to tribe, but they shared a general purpose. Other forms of dance were also used to celebrate marriages, honor the ancestors, enact creation stories, and cure the sick. These ceremonies took place at the gathering space in the middle of the village.
The Shaman was an important figure in the village. The powers of the Shaman included the ability to communicate with animal spirits, predict the future, commence the rain, and reduce—if not completely extinguish—pain in someone’s body by sucking on the wound. Song and dance were very important tools in the Shaman’s practices but were eventually overshadowed by the religious beliefs of the Europeans.
The appearance of the Miwok was disputed when in 1985 a professor at California State University claimed that the Miwok migrated from Siberia and arrived later than most other tribes. The Miwok, he claims, came around 1000 BC while they were following salmon, as opposed to some other tribes who migrated from Asia 20,000 years ago. His evidence revolves mostly around the similarity between the language of present day Siberian tribes in Russia and some of the tribes in California, including the Miwok, who share roughly 10,000 words in common.
























2. Colonial experience of the culture

The location of the majority of the early Miwok tribes was in California, an area that was soon colonized by three different societies. The first people to imperialize the Miwoks were the Spanish, led by Sir Francis Drake. This wave of colonization lasted from around 1579 to the 1820s. During the 1820s, after the Spanish were overthrown by the Mexican people they had colonized, the Miwok came under Mexican rule. Finally, when California became annexed as a state in 1850, the Miwok were colonized for a third time.
With the arrival of Sir Francis Drake in 1579, Spanish missionaries began to establish themselves in the western coastal region, an area which is present day Marin County and San Francisco. The original intent of the Franciscan missionaries was to establish educational institutions, and through these institutions, educate the native population on European beliefs. These missionaries originally intended to humanely pass their knowledge onto the native people, and avoid violent and cruel treatment of native peoples, as was present at the time in South America and Central America.1
Native Coastal Miwoks were placed in missions, where they were schooled by Franciscan missionaries. The original plan of the missionaries was to condition the Miwoks into the European lifestyle for a few years, and then move to establish themselves in other regions, leaving the Miwoks to live their new European-like lifestyles. However, the Spanish soon began using the Miwok as a source of human labor, contrary to their initial intentions.4
This practice ended after the Mexican overthrow of the Spanish in the early 1820s. Although the Miwok were free from Spanish oppression, they were still facing issues regaining recognition and independence.1
The last wave of colonization was due to American inhabitation of California, starting with the annexing of California in 1850. By then, most remaining tribes survived through farming and fishing.4 In 1920, the United States government purchased approximately 15 acres near Sebastopol, California, with the intention of dividing up the purchased land and distributing it for local tribes to inhabit.4 Local tribes were constricted to these portions of land, and had very little say in the matter. In 1958, the United States government passed the California Rancheria Act, which gave the state government control over management of California tribes. As a result of the change in management, there was an attempt to assimilate the Miwok into American society and were declared as an extinct tribe in 1966.4 In 1979, the Miwok, along with other California tribes began a class-action lawsuit against the United States government to regain status as Native Americans, and prevailed in 1983, when the United States government granted them their status and rights as Native Americans. From the year 2000 to now, California has 107 federally recognized tribes, including the Miwok.
The effects of colonization on the Miwok have been heavily apparent. The once peaceful hunter-gatherer society had lost its rights to its own land, lost its rights to self-management, and lost much of its fundamental and rich culture through the three waves of colonization by the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Americans over the span of 400 years. Though they currently have regained land and recognition under the United States government, much of their original culture has been lost through the ages.

3. Contemporary developments or issues

There are no welfare programs designed specifically for Miwok Indians; these programs are extended only to eligible Northern California Indians through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  However, the welfare programs available to the Miwok Indians are cited to be “grossly underfunded for the needs that exist.”  In fact, many Miwok leaders believe welfare programs are exceedingly deleterious to the Miwok psyche in the sense that they create an ingenuous sense of security.  Consider the following excerpt from Eugene Conrotto’s, Miwok Means People.

“Miwok Indian leaders believe that any “paternalistic-elitist reform or welfare programs which may subsequently be administered by the dominant population” tends not to ameliorate the life-style of a conquered people: apathetic, withdrawn, irresponsible, shy, lazy, etc.  Such programs, they argue, serve simply to reinforce a sense of inferiority and incapacity.”

This excerpt demonstrates how such programs may be perceived as offensive, and mentions a greater cultural issue affecting the dominant population.  And, the fact that such programs remain so “grossly underfunded” almost necessitates these strident attitudes toward welfare programs.

In Miwok culture, education, in all forms, is highly valued.  Formal educational programs are considered equally as important as those derived from informal sources such as the home, community, and mass media.  Unfortunately, and despite high regard for education, Native Americans (Miwok included) have some of the highest high school dropout rates in the nation. 
Education has been prioritized by the Miwok nations in contemporary times, and this is evidenced by large, annual conferences such as the California Conference on American Indian Education (CCAIE).  The focus of these conferences is to promote academic excellence among American Indian nations, provide unique networking opportunities, and to formally recognize academic achievement among American Indian students.  Conferences, like the CCAIE, provide American Indian educators with the tools they need to remain flexible in a fast-paced, contemporary environment.
            More importantly, is the preservation of Miwok language, which is not only crucial to the cultural identity of the Miwok, but also represents a vast knowledge of the culture itself.  Miwok cultural identity hinges upon passing down ceremonies, dances, songs, medicines, foods, crafts, spiritual beliefs, sacred stories, as well as hunting and gathering practices.  This is why the California Valley Miwok Tribe – Miwok Language Retention Program (CVMT-MLRP) was created in the year 2000.  The CVMT-MLRP seeks to both retain and promulgate the Miwok language by promoting fluency among the tribe; efforts even include the creation of a Miwok dictionary. 
Conrotto, Eugene L., Miwok Means People, Valley Publishers, Fresno, CA, 1973.