A Very Brief Overview of California’s Achumawi Indians

The aboriginal homelands of the Achumawi (also spelled Achomawi, Achomowi, Achemawi) people of North America was along the drainage of the Pit River between the Warner Range and Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen in present-day California. Achumawi villages were located along the Pit River or its tributary streams. The Achumawi villages, whose names were not recorded in the historical records, do not appear to have been politically united.

Linguistically, the Achumawi language, together with the Atsugewi language, form the Palahnihan branch of the Hokan language family.

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The Salish Language Family

The Salish language family is found on the Northwest Coast and in the Columbia Plateau. Salish is generally felt to have great antiquity in the Northwest Coast. Salish-speakers were the earliest settlers in the Fraser River area of British Columbia. Linguists estimate that this language family may be 6,000 years old, although some feel it may be as young as 3,000 years old.

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Some Apache Ceremonies

Traditionally, Apache religious ceremonies focused on curing, hunting and gathering rituals, puberty ceremonies, and obtaining personal power and protection. While spiritual power is available to most people, spiritual leaders–usually called medicine men and medicine women–are people who have greater access to spiritual power than other people.

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The Muskogean Language Family

Muskogean was the most important language family of the Native American Southeastern Culture Area. In her introduction to Florida Place Names of Indian Origin and Seminole Personal Names, Patricia Riles Wickman writes:

“We shall never know with any certainty how many dialects derived from this mother tongue and from the social template that contained an orderly system for the genesis of new villages and the growth of towns and cities, all of which are based on an inherent dynamism that has been consistently underestimated ever since the poniards led the boat parade of European colonialization.”

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Death Valley National Park

Death Valley, located in California, is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. It is an area of sand dunes and wilderness. Non-Indian tourism into this desolate region actually began in 1926 and in 1933 President Herbert Hoover created the Death Valley National Monument by Presidential Executive Order. While some saw this act as the first step in transforming one of the earth’s least hospitable spots into a popular tourist destination, for the Timbisha Shoshone, the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, this action made them landless. While the Timbisha Shoshone were not forced from their traditional homeland, the control over their land (and thus over their lives) was assumed by the National Park Service. Death Valley officially became a National Park in 1994.

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Apache Warfare

While many non-Apache scholars and popular writers have labeled all the Apache as a fierce, war-like people, in actuality warfare was not glorified as it was in some other culture areas, such as the Great Plains. Warfare, in the form of raiding, was often an economic activity. Anthropologist Keith Basso, in his book The Cibecue Apache, notes:

“In pre-reservation days a significant portion of the Western Apaches’ meat supply consisted of stolen livestock.”

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The Athabaskan Language Family

The Athabaskan (also spelled Athapaskan and Athabascan) language family is found in the western American Indian culture areas. Linguists feel that the Athabaskan language family is one branch of a larger genetic grouping called Athabaskan-Eyak. Eyak is a single language which was spoken on the south coast of Alaska and which is nearly extinct. Proto-Athabaskan and Proto-Eyak became differentiated from each other by 1500 BCE. Michael Krauss and Victor Golla, in their entry on the Northern Athapaskan languages in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:

“Whenever it occurred, the linguistic split between Proto-Athapaskan and Proto-Eyak was apparently followed by a total cessation of communication between the two groups, for there is no evidence of subsequent linguistic interinfluence.”

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American Indians and the Korean War

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The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and ended on July 27, 1953.  As with other twentieth century wars, American Indian men did not hesitate to enlist. Many men came from Native cultures which had traditionally emphasized a warrior tradition. For many young men the Korean War provided them with the opportunity to count coup and obtain traditional war honors.

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Tribes and Reservations in 1917

During the nineteenth century, the United States had attempted to settle all Indians on well-defined reservations on lands deemed unsuitable for non-Indian development. Here Indians were to remain until they became extinct or had fully assimilated into the Christian American lifestyle. By the end of the nineteenth century, the government began the process of dismantling Indian reservations and increasing the pressures to assimilate. During the early twentieth century, for example, the United States had dissolved all of the tribal governments in Oklahoma so that the territory could become a state. By 1917, a majority of Indians still lived on reservations where they were considered wards of the government. In general, the reservations were pockets of poverty with poor health care and few educational opportunities. Briefly described below are a few of the events of 1917 which are related to Indian reservations and tribes.

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World War I and American Indians

In 1914, the nations of Europe began the conflict which would become known as the Great War and later as World War I.  In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called for the United States to enter what he called “the war to end all wars” and “to make the world safe for democracy.” The military estimated that a million men would be needed for the war and in the first six weeks following the declaration of war only 73,000 men volunteered. In response, Congress implemented a draft and 2.8 million men were called to service. American Indians, however, were not citizens and could not be drafted. Many Indians volunteered for service.

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American Indians in 1717

The fur trade was an important part of the economic history of North America and incorporated American Indian economies into a larger world economy. Furs were valuable, easily portable, and renewable resources. The prime furs—marten, otter, fox—were sold at high prices in the European and Chinese markets. Of less value, but still profitable, were pelts from buffalo, beaver, muskrat, and squirrel.

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The Algonquian Language Family

In North America, linguists generally recognize 58 language families and isolates. Understanding language families is one of the keys to understanding the historical relationships between the Indian groups. The Algonquian language family is a large American Indian language which is found in the Eastern Woodlands, the Plains, and California.

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Apache Spirituality

Bands or tribes known collectively as the Apache ranged widely throughout the American Southwest at the time of the first Spanish exploration and invasion. The Apache are Athabascan-speaking and migrated into the Southwest from Canada perhaps as early as 850 CE, but most likely between the late 1200s and early 1400s. In her entry on the Western Apache in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Elizabeth Brandt writes:

“Evidence from archaeological sites suggests a date around A.D. 1450 for the entry of Athabaskan peoples into the Southwest, but some scholars call for earlier dates.”

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American Indians in 1617

By 1617, four European nations—Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands—were staking their claims in North America through exploration and colonization. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book The Timucua, describes the reasons for the European expansion into North America:

“The driving force behind these initiatives was a desire for wealth: precious stones or metals, fertile lands suitable for productive plantations, human populations to be sold into slavery, and animals and plants that could be hunted or harvested and exported.”

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Spirituality and Jimsonweed Among California Indians

Throughout the world, different religious and spiritual traditions have used hallucinogenic drugs to enhance the mystical experience. These drugs can trigger the experience of flying or floating. In Southern California, many tribes traditionally used jimsonweed (a part of the nightshade family Datura, also known as toloache and datura) to help produce visions. Most frequently this was used during the initiation of boys into full manhood. During this time the initiates would drink an infusion made from jimsonweed root. The visions received at this time would guide people for the rest of their lives. In recognizing the spiritual power of jimsonweed, the tribes also knew that the plant could be deadly if used incorrectly and thus it was used only in ceremonial context and administered by knowledgeable elders. Even with these cautions, there were occasional deaths from using the plant.

Briefly described below are some of ceremonial uses of jimsonweed by California tribes.

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The Uto-Aztecan Language Family

Linguists studying and comparing languages throughout the world have noted that some languages are similar to each other in terms of vocabulary, sound patterns, and grammatical structure. Using these comparisons, they group languages into language families. According to linguists Laurence C. Thompson and M. Dale Kinkade, in their chapter on languages in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Language families are groups of languages that can be shown to be genetically related, using techniques developed by comparative linguistics.”

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