The following is an article excerpt from the Winter 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member to subscribe and read the full story!
By Gayle Keck
At Mak-‘amham restaurant in Berkeley, California, you can sample “old school acorn bread” or more contemporary “acorn-flour brownies with walnuts + bay salt,” on a menu created from traditional Native Ohlone ingredients. In San Bernadino, elementary school students read a series of historical novels approved by Chumash tribal elders, tracing California history from a Native viewpoint, rather than constructing models of colonial Spanish missions like past generations. And Julia Parker, a Native Coast Miwok-Kashaya Pomo basket-weaver—whose works are owned by the Smithsonian Institution and Queen Elizabeth II—passes on her skills to four generations of her family.
The mission church is the centerpiece of Santa Clara University. The church itself is a twentieth-century reconstruction of an 1820s church and associated quadrangle that were located on the same site. Like many other California missions, Santa Clara had to be rebuilt several times during the colonial period due to floods and earthquakes. | Photo: Lee Panich
Santa Clara University students excavate a portion of the Native American rancheria at Mission Santa Clara. The adobe building in the background is the remnant of a dormitory used to house Native American families in the colonial period. Projects like this offer insight into how Native people coped with colonialism in the privacy of their own homes. | Photo by Lee Panich
A Santa Clara University student measures faunal bone recovered from the Native A Santa Clara University student measures faunal bone recovered from the Native American rancheria at Mission Santa Clara. Although the missions provided Native people with a diet of beef and various grains, archaeological research shows that many mission residents continued aspects of their traditional hunting and gathering practices. | Photo by Haven Kato
Spanish missionaries and other colonists brought large quantities of glass beads to California as a way to forge connections with local Native people who already had well developed shell bead traditions. The Natives quickly incorporated glass beads into their cultural practices. These beads, recovered from a mission dormitory that housed a Native family, were originally produced in Venice, Italy. | Photo by Lee Panich
All of these activities may come as a surprise to many who assume Native Californians and their traditional lifeways didn’t survive the Spanish Mission era (1769 – 1834). When California’s twenty-one missions were secularized in 1833, the popular belief was that Native Californians had all died, assimilated into other cultures, or intermarried, losing any traces of their traditions and practices. But in fact “Native people found ways to weather that period and survive,” according to Tsim Schneider, an enrolled citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo) and an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“For so long, all of the scholarship focused on the missions as a colonial space,” said Rebecca Allen, a mission researcher and president of the Society for California Archaeology. “Even when Native American peoples are talked about, it’s their role in that colonial space. The more archaeology and research, and the more Native Americans get involved in this dialog, we realize we need to reframe this and start to recognize the missions as Native space.”