The Effect of Spanish Colonization on California Indians

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This paper will discuss the impact Spanish colonization and Mexican control had on the indigenous Indian population in California between 1769 and 1848. As well as discussing the historical origins, social organizations, material conditions, and world-view of the California Indians prior to 1769, this paper will explain the impact of New Spain’s Mission System on the Alta California Indian population between 1769 to 1821 and the response of its system by the Indians. Before the Americans and the Spanish there were many indigenous Indian tribes living and thriving with structure and culture in California. The Paleo-Indians were the first people who entered and inhabited the American continent from Asia during the late Pleistocene period (2 million years to 12,000 years ago). This period was known as the Ice Age. Evidence suggests hunters crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into North America over a land bridge and traveled well into the west coast of California hunting big game carnivores. After the Ice Age, the Indians found themselves in a environment rich in natural resources where wildlife was abundant, the climate was temperate, and had all the advantages for fishing and gathering shellfish with rivers and a bay close by. Having no metal tools and having a technology base of being very primitive, the California Indians relied and had a vast knowledge of living with basic natural resources passed down generation after generation from their ancestors. According to James Rawls, California Indians believed that all of nature was interconnected and was suffused with a sacred power. Killing an animal, drinking from a spring, or entering a cave was to be accompanied by a ritual act. They managed their land with the upmost respect and never wasting their resources. We now know that the California Indians practiced burning of ground cover to replenish the soil of minerals, as well as pruning plants and trees. This is a perfect example of exploiting their land to yield the most resources from it as possible. The California Indians took advantage of every possible natural resource California had to offer, and used these natural resources to live a basic but flourishing life with meaningful culture. The California Indians’ material culture was simple and basic. According to James Rawls, the California Indians were remarkably skilled in basketmaking. He mentions during this time there were no other culture in the world as skilled in the utility in the product or the beauty of the designs. For being very primitive and basic, they mastered every technique and art with the upmost precision and respect. The dwellings they lived in were mainly domed shaped and made out of brush and poles. Though living in primitive conditions, the California Indians practiced good hygiene with sweathouses. Only men would be allowed into these sweathouses and they would sit or lie in these dwellings with an open fire and as they would sweat they would jump into a nearby stream or lake as method of keeping clean and as a purifying act. When they needed protection from the cold, they would use blankets and robes made of fur and sea otter. Language varied among the California Indians, but a common dialect was known in North America. According to James Rawls and Walton Bean, there were perhaps an estimated 300,000 California Indians living in California in the years after the Ice Age. Out of this amount, there were 120 ethnic groups with 5 basic languages stocks. They also mentioned the Indian California was the region of greatest linguistic diversity in the world, excepting, according to some scholars, only Sudan and New Guinea. Although they had no system of a written language, they passed on customs and traditions orally and by artwork with designs and symbols in rocks over generations. Since the California Indians believed that all of nature was intertwined and was connected with a sacred power, a human ruler of the land was nonexistent. They had a...
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