Investigative Question

Who were the first people in my community?

Third-graders prepare for learning California history in the fourth grade and United States history in the fifth grade by thinking about continuity and change in their local community. In exploring their local community, students have an opportunity to make contact with times past and with the people whose activities have left their mark on the land. Students ask questions, read and analyze texts, including primary and secondary sources, engage in speaking and listening activities, and write a variety of texts.

In third grade, students build on their knowledge of geography, civics, historical thinking, chronology, and national identity. The emphasis is on understanding how some things change and others remain the same. To understand changes occurring today, students explore the ways in which their locality continues to evolve and how they can contribute to improvement of their community.

Finally, teachers introduce students to the great legacy of local, regional, and national traditions that provide common memories and a shared sense of cultural and national identity. Students who have constructed a family history in grade two are now ready to think about constructing a history of the place where they live today. With sensitivity toward children from transient families, teachers may ask students to recall how the decision of their parents or grandparents to move to this place made an important difference in their families’ lives. Discovering who these people were, when they lived here, and how they used the land gives students a focus for grade three. Teachers should also work collaboratively with their colleagues who teach kindergarten and grades one and two to avoid repetition. The content themes they begin in kindergarten, such as understanding of and appreciation for American culture and government, geographic awareness, and (starting in grade one) economic reasoning, serve as a multi-grade strand that can allow an extended and relatively in-depth course of study.

In Standard 3.2, students study the American Indians who lived or continue to live in their local region, how they used the resources of this region, and in what ways they modified the natural environment. It is most appropriate that American Indians who lived in the region be authentically presented, including their tribal identity; their social organization and customs; the location of their villages and the reasons for settlement; the structures they built and the relationship of these structures to the climate; the methods they used to get their food, clothing, tools, and utensils and whether they traded with others for any of these things; and their art and folklore. Local California Indian tribes and organizations are important sources of information for describing how indigenous cultures have persisted through time. Teachers may invite local California Indian representatives to share cultural information and help students understand Who were the first people in my community?....Working with maps of natural regions and Indian tribes, students can describe ways in which physical geography, including climate, affected the natural resources on which California Indian nations depended. Investigating the plants and animals used by local Indians, students explain how Indians adapted to their natural environment so that they could harvest, transport, and consume resources.

The first inhabitants of California developed very diverse and complex cultures over thousands of years. According to anthropologists, human settlement in California began at least 10,000 years ago. However, most Native peoples’ creation stories trace their presence in California back to the beginning of time. Over the centuries, the total population of Native people in California grew to somewhere between 310,000 to more than 1 million people, according to some estimates (310,000 is the most widely accepted population figure, but many researchers argue that the population was probably larger). The diverse and abundant natural resources throughout the region supported Native Californian communities to develop the largest indigenous population north of modern-day Mexico.

Native Californian communities developed in different ways, depending on the physical environment and natural resources that were available in their tribal homelands. Most Native people lived in small family-based village communities that ranged from 100 to 300 people, with local leadership. In most areas, each community functioned independently with its own leadership families, healers, ceremonies, songs, and language or dialect. Although each community was distinct, most groups had relationships with neighboring villages and often interacted, traded, intermarried, and/or competed for resources and land with them.

Many villages within a region shared the same or very similar languages, cultures, and religions. Anthropologists have organized groups with similar languages and cultures into “culture areas” (Source 1). But a great deal of diversity also existed within relatively small regions. There were many different types of settlement patterns, ranging from small, dispersed villages in desert areas to more dense settlements in areas rich with natural resources. For example, larger villages developed along the Santa Barbara coast and in the lush San Joaquin Valley, where the land supported separate villages of nearly 1,000 people. Native people in California spoke over 80 different languages and more than 160 separate dialects.

The people known today as California Indians were generally not militaristic and enjoyed relative peace in comparison to other Native people in other regions of North America because many did not need to compete for land and resources. Most Native Californian communities created local gardens and were hunters and harvesters rather than rigid farmers. Native horticulture practices included pruning, weeding, thinning, burning, and planting seeds near villages to encourage additional growth of preferred plants.

Acorns were an important part of many people’s diets. The mush and bread created from processing acorns provided valuable nutrition and calories. In contrast, the arid desert environment along the Colorado River where the Mojave (also spelled Mohave), Quechan, and Chemehuevi peoples lived necessitated the use of farming techniques and the development of militaristic cultures in a vast region where people competed for resources.

The tribal homelands of Native communities did not conform to political boundaries that exist today. For example, Modoc people lived in villages in northern California and southern Oregon, Southern Paiute peoples lived in eastern California and western Nevada, and Kumeyaay villages spanned the US –Mexico border in the greater San Diego and Tijuana areas. Native Californians knew the boundaries of their tribal homelands and were expected to respect the boundaries of their neighbors. Conflict would arise between groups if people hunted or took food from land within another group’s boundaries without permission.

Stories, songs, music, ceremony, and dances played important roles in Native people’s lives. Many songs and stories established the moral and ethical rules for people to follow to live in a good way. Native Californians developed expert basket-weaving skills. Today, many continue to keep alive the songs, traditions, and languages of their ancestors.

This collection of sources shows the ways that indigenous people in California interacted with their environments (natural resources, geographic location, climate). To account for the extreme diversity of Native communities throughout California, even within relatively short distances, this set is divided into 11 regions, with a brief description of the region noted at the beginning of the Source Title.

Although many of these images appear to represent pre-contact lifeways of Native people in California, almost any photograph with Native people as the subject means that they had been in contact with non-Native communities and had experienced some degree of change. Furthermore, many photographers, such as Edward S. Curtis, staged photographs of Native people in the late 1800s and early 1900s, after the establishment of the state of California. Viewers must examine these images with the understanding that each image includes non-Native aspects of life introduced to California Indians after the late 1700s. For example, many Native people in images in this set are wearing clothing made from trade cloth — a non-Native material that reflects some of the basic changes brought by Euro-American contact.

A graphic organizer, compare/contrast diagram, and sentence frame exercise help students understand differences and similarities between Native people in the different regions of California. The activities encourage students to consider what these sources reveal about the features of early indigenous communities. This set provides introductory information that students can build upon when they take local field trips or enjoy school visits from Native Californians who live in their community today.

The Native communities represented in this set are not inclusive of all Native groups in California. Importantly, many tribes throughout California have created curricula that reflect the particular experiences and priorities of indigenous people in their own regions. Teachers are encouraged to search for credible tribal websites and other resources for local Native communities, especially if their local indigenous community is not represented in this set.

Directions:

1. Examine each source with the students. Have them read the For the Student section for each source, including the citation. Teachers can supplement the student section with information from the For the Teacher portion of the source.

2. Have students complete the graphic organizer in Student Handout 1. This can be done first with modeling from the teacher, then by having groups work collaboratively. Students can examine what the images reveal about the features of the community and record their thoughts in the Community/Settlement column.

3. Student Handout 2 is the compare/contrast diagram. After completing the graphic organizer for the California Native Peoples, students select two tribes to compare. With guidance from the teacher, students will list the similarities and differences of each native group using the Venn diagram.

4. Using information from the completed table and compare/contrast diagram, students will complete the writing template (Student Handout 3 and ELD Support sentence frames Student Handout 4), to answer the question How did each region’s environment influence the Native Californians who lived there? 

 

Handouts

3.2 Native Californian Communities Student Handouts

3.2 Native Californian Communities Teacher Keys

  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.

 

  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.

1. Be as specific as possible when discussing local Native communities. Use the name that the local people use for themselves. For example, the Spanish named Ohlone peoples in the San Francisco Bay Area “Costanoan,” but many people today consider this to be an unacceptable term. Instead people use Ohlone for the larger group name, with more local names for specific communities, such as Amah Mutsun in reference to the people living around Santa Cruz.

2. California Indian is a generally acceptable term; however, some people prefer Native Californian, indigenous people, or first people.

3. Do not use role-playing activities in which students dress as, sing like, or otherwise imitate Native people.

4. The terms digger and Digger Indian are derogatory and demeaning terms used in reference to California Indians in general, and Paiutes more specifically. Some images from the late 1800s and early 1900s may include this terminology in the original caption to generally identify people as California Indians, but it is not acceptable to use today.