Column: A history of tribal societies in northern California

"Anthropologists have long been interested in how prehistoric populations collectively made decisions with their associations and with one another. To better understand such relationships, we think of the word “tribe.” Tribal societies were generally organized on the basis of kinship. Kinship is defined as a relationship between any entity that shares a genealogical origin. Most tribal societies had a chief whose position generally included legislative and judicial powers over tribal members.

Prior to about 1770, tribal areas around San Francisco bay, were approximately twelve miles in diameter and contained between two to four hundred people. By 1810, most of these tribal areas had disintegrated and assimilated into the Spanish mission system. Only in the north, for instance in Sonoma, were tribal areas still somewhat intact. Recall, the first missions north of the Golden Gate, Mission San Rafael Arcangel and San Francisco de Solano (Sonoma), were established in 1817 and 1823, respectively.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the San Francisco bay region a populated by many independent tribes. In this part of California, the term “triblet” has often been used by antrhopologists. First coined by Alfred Kroeber, triblet seems to be more appropriate than tribe, as each group was governed by their own chief. For example, there was no central authority in Coast Miwok territory; each triblet practiced their religion, hunting and gathering, and social interactions, under the authority of the local headman."

Get the Story:
George McKale: What is a tribe? (The Sonoma Valley Sun 2/2)

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