Pomo Culture

  1. History of Pomo


The Pomo tribe is a California-based Native American tribe that existed free from colonization before the 1800s. The Pomo culture is unique from other American tribes with their own religion and tribal structures that vary between each Pomo subtribe. Prior to Colonial contact, the Pomo were free to populate their California territory, practice their religion, and maintain their native way of life.
The Pomo people are a tribe consisting of many different subtribes located in northern California. There are approximately seven Pomo subtribes scattered across their territory in northern California each with their own dialect. The Pomo people typically knew two to three different languages, each believed to vary about as much as the Romance languages. While the Pomo are located in northern California, most of the subtribes preferred settling around the Russian River valley rather than the Pacific Ocean coast for the fresh water. The subtribes consisted of multiple villages each with their own main village where one or more chiefs resided. Each chief in a given village was assigned a specific role such as head councilman or religious leaders. The religious practices of the Pomo people is another factor that differentiates the tribe from the rest of the Californian territories.
Depending on the location of the Pomo subtribes in the California territory, the tribe was either part of the Kuksu Cult or the Jimson weed Cult. The Kuksu religion was common in the northern part of the Pomo territory. Northern Pomo tribes believed Kuksu was a god of the south who they worshiped through god-impersonating ceremonies. The cult originally consisted of shamans and a hierarchy of priests in a tribe to pray for medicinal purposes. The ceremonies were held in secret, underground or covered houses, similar to a temple, where only shamans and a select few tribal members could gather. Shamans would disguise themselves with paint, feathers, ornaments, and grass veils to the point where they were unrecognizable and dance to the beat of a log foot-drum. The ceremonies eventually developed into initiation ceremonies, and coordinating ritualistic and secular powers.
The southern Pomo tribes were typically part of the Jimsonweed cult. This cult is similar to the Kuksu cult in the sense that they placed a great deal of importance in initiation ceremonies, especially when young girls and boys in a tribe became men and women. Jimsonweed is a toxic plant located in California which plays a large role in the cult ceremonies. The plant is used to make a sacred drink, toloache, that was important for religious ceremonies because of its hallucinogenic effects.
Aside from the unique religious “Ghost Dance” ceremonies that the Pomo practiced, the Pomo, much like other native tribes, adapted to their landscape through their diet, housing, and clothing. The Pomo subtribes located close to the coast lived primarily off of fish, seals, sea lions, and seaweed (a delicacy for the Pomo people). Other subtribes relied on men to hunt elk and deer which are indigenous to redwood forests. A typical Pomo home was a large oval-shaped building to house many families made from tule reeds. The ritualistic houses used for special ceremonies were dug into the ground and covered by grass and dirt to look like a hill. The Pomo also used the redwood forests for clothing, using tule reeds or shredded redwood bark for their apparel. In the winter, the Pomo would wear rabbit skins to stay warm. Wealthier families in the tribes wore deerskin clothes. It was also typical for all Pomo people to adorn themselves with ornaments made from wood, bird bone, or feathers in their ears. The clothes worn by Pomo people were usually an indication of their status in the tribe.
The Pomo people were able to enjoy their unique way of life freely prior to colonization in the nineteenth century. The subtribes were conscious or each other’s territory in northern California and free to practice their Kuksu and Jimsonweed rituals before the whites changed their culture through colonization.


  1. Edwin M. Loeb, “Creator Concept among the Indians of North Central California,”American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1926), pp. 467-493, Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association, Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/661094, Page Count: 27
  2. E. M. Loeb, “The Religious Organizations of North Central California and Tierra Del Fuego,” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1931), pp. 517-556, Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association, Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/661011, Page Count: 40
  3. DOROTHEA J. THEODORATUS, “Cultural and Social Change Among the Coast Central Pomo,” The Journal of California Anthropology, Vol. 1, No. 2 (WINTER 1974), pp. 206-219, Published by: Malki Museum, Inc., Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27824792, Page Count: 14
  4. http://factcards.califa.org/cai/pomo.html
  5. http://www.native-languages.org/pomo.htm


  1. Colonial experience of the Pomo

            California indian tribes have suffered a huge decline since the Americas were discovered. Once estimated at 330,000 people, by the early 1900’s the number of Native Americans in California declined to only about 15,000 individuals. That only includes about 1,200 Pomo people in the 1910 census.
            During the first half of the 1800’s there were an estimated 10,000 to 18,000 Pomo people dispersed between about 70 different smaller tribes. They spoke a wide range of languages as mentioned above and practiced their own religions. The arrival of the Russians at Fort Ross in 1812 was the first long term contact the Pomo had with foreigners. The pomo did a lot of of trading of baskets and furs which could have attracted the Russians to return after coming in to hunt during the early 1700’s
The Pomo that lived on the coastline, known as the Kashaya interacted primarily with the Russians and mainly traded furs with them. The Russians were the first to exploit the Pomo people. They began living among each other and the Russians attempted to preach and convert the Pomo people, which occurred also with the Europeans. Although there were many colonists in the area before, american families and settlers arrived in bulk with the completion of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869 and in search of gold.
With the arrival of the new people, infectious diseases spread very quickly such as measles and smallpox as the Pomo people were not immune to such disease. The first of these outbreaks occurred in 1838 and originated in Fort Ross. This particular outbreak affected more than just the Pomo tribe but also neighboring tribes in the area such as the Sonoma and Napa regions.
During this time of mass arrival, many different tribes had different experiences. Some conformed to the new way of life while some tried to preserve their own way of life. Others joined together to find comfort in numbers and tried to avoid contact with the new people. As more people began to arrive to the region, in search for gold and land, people began to realize the richness and value of the land. The federal government decided to relocate the Pomo people to established reservations, or “rancherias”. This relocation was called the “Marches to Round Valley” and occurred in 1856. The settlers who saw this operation through were known to use bull-whips and guns to force the relocation. Within the Pomo tribe this was one of the “most destructive” in their history and is called the “Death march”.
During the period of relocation a group of settlers named Kelsey and Stone forced a group of Pomo people into slavery. They forced the Pomo to work in cruel conditions and often mistreated them, including rape. The Pomo people rebelled against this ranch and ended up killing both Kelsey and Stone. Once the U.S government found out about this event, they sent in an army to retaliate which ended in a horrible massacre. This is now call the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850. After this massacre happened only about 400 Pomo remained in this area of Clear Lake.



  1. http://factcards.califa.org/cai/pomo.html
  2. http://www.mendorailhistory.org/1_redwoods/pomo.htm
  3. http://www.kstrom.net/isk/art/basket/pomohist.html
  4. http://www.native-languages.org/pomo.htm
  5. DOROTHEA J. THEODORATUS, “Cultural and Social Change Among the Coast Central Pomo,” The Journal of California Anthropology, Vol. 1, No. 2 (WINTER 1974), pp. 206-219, Published by: Malki Museum, Inc.,
  6. http://nativeamericanhistory.about.com/od/Policies/a/The-Pomo-Death-March-A-Little-Known-Relocation-Event-In-Native-American-History.htm


  1. Contemporary developments or issues for the Pomo

Since the introduction of casinos and the many benefits associated with enrollment for American Indians, many tribes are fighting disenrollment throughout the United States.  Although there are many helpful benefits like healthcare, education, and childcare, some powerful leaders in tribes, like the Pomo, have tried or been accused of disenrollment to increase the amounts of benefits for each member by decreasing the amount of members total.  
            The process of enrollment consists of verbal or legal documentation of association with a tribe or blood analysis.  Enrollment can mean simply a person is one-eighth blood of the tribe, or that their great grandmother was a “full-blood”.  Once in the tribe, members are given many benefits provided by the tribe, including moderate health care, child services, substance abuse prevention groups, land rights, education, and equal pay cuts from casino revenue.  However, as more and more people are enrolled into the tribe, the smaller the pay-cut is per person.
            With relevance to the Pomo Tribe, in 2009, Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins received and denied allegations towards a “money-grab” scheme, for consistently and more prevalently dis-enrolling members in the Pomo tribe.  Although he claimed that the disenrollment actions are to “maintain the pure culture of the tribe,” many members felt the disenrollment correlated to a higher monthly payment.  With a tally in 2009 of more than 500 adult members of the tribe, it came as a shock to the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians that 73 members would be dis-enrolled from the tribe. The disenrollment of many members split some long-standing members and families, and left tribal members on both sides of the dispute questioning Hopkins’ motives. Some dis-enrolled members blamed their disenrollment on Hopkins’ personal grudges against them or their family members.
            In 2007, it was reported that the casino on the Pomo land (River Rock Casino), brought in revenue of 139 million dollars.  With this being said, it can only be inferred that the revenue has since risen, and the monthly payout has increased.  Since revenue is split evenly among general members of the tribe, it’s estimated that each member of the tribe receives roughly $600 dollars, whereas the members of the board receive much higher of a payout.  As each member of the tribe is dis-enrolled, the payout for each board member increases, and with 73 people as of 2014 (possibly more today) dis-enrolled, the payout could rise to easily more than $1000 per member per month; a substantial $12,000 without working a day. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also been stated that enrollment reductions “have been used to get rid of political rivals and intimidate members from running for political office” as well.
            In 2014, the disenrollment of members was put to a stop. The tribal members voted to put a 10-year moratorium on disenrollment.  With this in mind, the tribe is also taking action towards changing their constitution to include the disenrollment moratorium.  Within the next few years, disenrollment will hopefully be an issue of the past of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians.


"Dry Creek Pomos Halt Controversial Disenrollments." Santa Rosa Press Democrat. N.p., 23
May 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/1863316-181/ dry-creek-pomos-halt-controversial>.

"Dry Creek Pomos Split Spills into Public." Sonoma West Publishers. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar.