American University of Armenia Analogy of Hoopa Valley Book Report

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University of Washington Press
Chapter Title: Dining’xine:wh-mil-na:sa’a:n Hupa People—With Them—It Stays, There Is
Book Title: We Are Dancing for You
Book Subtitle: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Ch a P t er 1
Hupa People—With Them—It Stays,
There Is a Hupa Tradition
or Al nArr Atives AnD
nAtive Feminisms
Hupa people, Na:tinixwe, the people of where the trails return,
I think are a more gynocentric people. Some of our medicines
for people, a lot of our ceremonies involve the medicine happening at night because you are tying it to the moon, which we
would associate with water, which we would associate with
the water from women.
—Melodie George-Moore (Hoopa tribal member,
Karuk, Cherokee, Whilkut)
m Y e ng Age m e n t W i t h n At i v e F e m i n i s m s Be g A n Be c Ause oF m Y
own experiences as a Native woman. On one hand I was raised among vocal
women who assertively advanced Indigenous issues and actively engaged with
traditional cultural practices. I was taught to do the same from a young age.
Hupa ceremonies include cycles that have continued uninterrupted since time
began. For neighboring tribes, these ceremonies were revived after periods of
significant disruption. This process involved community members stepping
forward to occupy traditional leadership roles and formulate contemporary
articulations of cultural values and traditions. Over time I became aware of
unsettling themes emerging in various ceremonial and community contexts.
I recall returning after one particular ceremony to my parents’ house and
sitting on the couch with my auntie Mary Jane Risling.1 I shared with her that
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in several ceremonies and community events I had attended there was a growing undercurrent of what can best be described as patriarchal “concern trolling” of young women.2 On some occasions young women were told that there
were rumors about them not being virgins, and that virginity was of utmost
importance for our traditions and dances. This felt antithetical to what I had
learned growing up about Hupa people, who did not exclude or dismiss women
in this way. These traditions did not treat virginity as sacrosanct, but rather
held that in certain ceremonies women should not dance after they had their
first child. This, coupled with people starting to say that women could no
longer wear red at ceremonies because it reminded people of menstruation
and that women shouldn’t wear pants but only long skirts, had left me disheartened. I had even heard people say that women generally should not touch
men’s regalia and that women who are menstruating should not be at public
educational cultural demonstrations, because they could “hurt” or “curse”
people. In community conversations I was told that the reason women had to
wear long skirts while they danced in ceremony was because otherwise they
would be perceived as trying to attract men and would entice them away from
their prayers and good thoughts.3
I don’t remember it being this way when I was younger. I have pictures of
my mother and Auntie wearing jeans and basket hats at ceremony. I had worn
red to ceremonies before. We have many red things on our regalia: woodpecker scalps, beads, and red abalone. Growing up, I had never experienced
someone asking me about my virginity or commenting on the length of my
skirt. How these seemingly patriarchal conversations about women had
become so prevalent I could not understand. Had Native culture always been
this way, and I only started to notice as I got older? On the couch that day with
my auntie, I asked her, “Do you think our cultures are inherently misogynistic?” She was adamant in her response: “No. I don’t think our cultures were
misogynistic, not at all. Women occupied key and powerful roles as healers,
leaders, and regalia holders. I think our cultures have become imbalanced in
a way that looks, walks, and quacks like misogyny, but it is something that is
learned. And you know how I know that? Because traditionally our cultures
are tied to the land and rooted in nature, always the best teacher. Nature
strives for balance, and the feminine is central to existence. Women are central
to Hupa culture. They are central to our spirituality. We respected women, we
knew they were important to our future.”
I have felt a very personal longing to explore Native feminisms because,
for me, we cannot build our futures without decolonization and we cannot
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decolonize or enact self-determination without Native feminisms. This conversation has been a growing discourse not only among Native academics but also
in Native communities. The intimate ties between Native feminisms and the
enactment of sovereignty and self-determination are a foundational framework built by scholars like Kathryn Shanley, Paula Gunn Allen, Ines HernándezÁvila, Mishuana Goeman, Jennifer Denetdale, Renya Ramirez, Audra Simpson,
Joanne Barker, and others. Barker notes that gender, sexuality, and feminist
studies are central to sovereignty and self-determination because they critically
analyze how sovereignty and self-determination are “imagined, represented
and exercised” so that sovereignty and self-determination do not mirror heteropatriarchal standards.4 On a community level, Native feminisms can help to
formulate a more open discussion about how to empower Native peoples in
order, as Barker notes, to confront the “normative gendered and sexed bodies”
that seek to create Indigenous peoples as “citizens of the state.”5 In Native cultural epistemologies there is a complex engagement with feminism, which
values the empowerment of all people in ways that support gender equality
and gender balance.
I have seen this type of engaged feminism demonstrated in women’s
coming-of-age ceremonies, which enact an epistemological framework that
(re)writes, (re)rights, and (re)rites Native feminisms as foundational building blocks of Native culture and society. The (re)riteing aspect of this project
requires an intervention in the previous anthropological and historical work
that silenced Native feminisms and supported interpretations of Native culture
as traditionally patriarchal. Modern understandings of ceremony can become
intertwined with patriarchy and misogyny, so much so that contemporary
practices of ceremony are used to reinforce this patriarchy in the name of
“tradition.” Andrea Smith and J. Kehaulani Kauanui argue that “the imposition
of patriarchy within Native communities is essential to establishing colonial
rule, because patriarchy naturalizes social hierarchy.”6 The patriarchal invasion of our stories, the foundational building blocks of our cultures and epistemologies, has allowed scholars and even community leaders to create a
mythological Native past that mirrored the heteropatriarchal structure of settler colonial society.
In this chapter I approach the (re)writing, (re)righting, and (re)riteing of
Native feminisms by engaging a Native feminist analytic of the oral tradition
to establish that Native feminisms are not introduced by Western culture and
are not conceptualized only through a Western cultural framework but are
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instead integral to the enactment of our culture and to our survivance, decolonization, and Indigenous futures. I am in agreement with Renya Ramirez, who
argues that “rather than viewing a Native feminist consciousness as a force
that could cause internal conflict or as a white construct, it should be emphasized as furthering an essential goal in indigenous communities: to combat
sexism.”7 Pueblo scholar Paula Gunn Allen believed that “a feminist approach
reveals not only the exploitation and oppression of the tribes by whites and
white government but also areas of oppression within the tribes and the
sources and nature of that oppression.”8 She saw feminist analytics as
addressing the effects of patriarchal colonialism to help tribes reclaim their
“egalitarian and sacred traditions.”9 And Lisa Kahaleole Hall argues that
Native feminisms must look not only at how patriarchal ideas of the “dominant” society have affected Native peoples, but also at how “patriarchal colonialism has been internalized within indigenous communities.”10 This chapter
demonstrates that internalized patriarchal expressions of ceremonial practices are not traditional and illustrates how the revitalization of women’s
coming-of-age ceremonies center and reclaim Native feminisms.
Throughout history, Native women have been portrayed as either Pocahontas or the squaw.11 Either Native women are assisting in the colonization
of their people, or they are dirty and disregarded as overtly sexual, stupid, and
lazy. Native women have also been left out of historical scholarship and treated
as peripheral to their nations, cultures, and societies rather than shown as integral or as serving in leadership positions. Reframing Native women as central
to oral narratives and cultural practices is imperative for (re)righting and (re)
riteing Indigenous epistemologies, because as Seneca feminist scholar Mishuana Goeman argues, “Native women are at the center of how our nations, both
tribal and non-tribal, have been imagined.”12 It is through engaging Native
feminisms as foundational to our traditional cultures as well as our revitalizations that we can truly build a future with our past.
The crux of this chapter uses a Hupa feminist analytic of oral narratives to
center Native women’s experiences, because, as Michelle Jacob notes, this type
of feminist analysis can work “toward envisioning a society in which our traditional cultural norms which respect and honor women’s contributions are
upheld.”13 I aim to reconfigure discussions of Hupa oral narratives and material culture to reflect a gendered analysis focused on how Hupa people valued
gender equality in their culture and society as well as their spiritualities and
philosophies. Bringing our frameworks of gender balance and equality to bear
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on how we understand material culture and societal organization demonstrates the feminist practices that should be a part of our contemporary revitalizations of ceremony and culture.
In Weaving Strength, Weaving Power, Venida Chenault argues that “by
reconnecting to and utilizing the strengths of the traditional cultures, the wisdom of the origin narratives, the gendered teachings within these creation
stories, and the systems and processes that support strong tribal women, the
full power of Indigenous peoples is embraced.”14 As Chenault highlights, Western scholarship does not provide interpretations of Indigenous societal organization that “accurately interpret roles, status, power, and influence of tribal
women. Instead, disparaging portrayals of Indigenous women are mired in
constructed images advanced in cowboy movies, cartoons, and stereotypes
that continue to serve as the basis for information and shaping public opinion.”15 My Native feminist analytic is built on a tribally specific methodology
that shows how oral stories inform Native feminisms and reinscribe them, not
as modern-day liberal cultural values masquerading as tradition but instead as
dynamic parts of our Indigenous past, present, and futures. My argument is that
women’s coming-of-age ceremonies engage Native feminisms and dismantle a
heteropatriarchy that is often characterized as “traditional” or even “modern”
in some contemporary Native nations. It is important that the types of critical
engagement offered in this chapter clearly demonstrate that women’s comingof-age ceremonies are not vehicles to oppress women, nor a longing for an idealized past, but instead support the (re)writing, (re)righting, and (re)riteing of
Native feminisms. As Joanne Barker notes, locating Indigenous gender, sexuality, and feminist study in Indigenous territories contextualizes the relationship
between land and people and holds the analysis accountable to specific communities.16 My feminist study is necessarily accountable to Hupa people. And
while I have experienced occasions when patriarchal ideology is held up as
tradition, I have also seen engagement with values of gender equality and
respect that continue as a part of Hupa cultural practices. I aim to provide a
theoretical framework for what Native people already practice in community
revitalizations so as to reinforce that their focus on gender equality and the
rejection of patriarchy has always been part of Native culture and society.
n At i v e F e m i n i sm A n D t h e or A l t r A Di t ion
Many scholars have written about Native societies as “egalitarian” groups
where the roles of women and men were balanced and women had religious,
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economic, and political autonomy.17 Scholars who study the role of Native
American women in Indigenous societies believe that the centrality of a female
divine spirit demonstrates how important Native American women are to
Indigenous cultures and societies.18 Kim Anderson writes in A Recognition of
Being that “many native creation stories are female centered, and there are
many stories that speak about the role of women in bringing spirituality to the
people. The Iroquois attribute the beginnings of the earth to a female, rather
than a male. Among the Sioux, the White Buffalo Woman is recognized as the
culture bearer, as she brought the sacred pipe.”19 Devon Mihesuah provides
a summary of some of the divine roles of women in Indigenous American
Women. She notes that for the Navajo “‘mother’ symbolizes earth, sheep and
corn.” Apache also have a central female spirit person, known as Changing
Woman. There are also central female spirit people for the Cherokee (Selu),
Tewa Pueblos (Blue Corn Woman and White Corn Maiden), and the Shawnee,
who refer to their creator as “our grandmother.”20
Native women participated in governmental affairs in a number of Indigenous societies, a fact that highlights their central role in the structure of the
society. Sally Roesch Wagner writes that Haudenosaunee women were
“involved in all decisions of governmental policy, from the local to the federal
level.”21 Jennifer Denetdale notes that for the Navajo Nation, “Although written reports do not mention women as leaders or chiefs, Navajo oral tradition
and other accounts make note that it was not unheard of for women to serve
as headmen or chiefs. . . . [E]arly American accounts have noted Navajo
women’s presence in council proceedings between Navajo and American leaders.”22 In Being Again of One Mind, Lina Sunseri describes the Haudenosaunee
women’s roles in traditional society, which included the ability to “exercise
sexual autonomy, to divorce, to own property, to approve of war or to order
its end.”23 She also notes that lineal descent had to “run through the female
line.”24 Lisa Kahaleole Hall notes that in Hawaii “there were women chiefs as
early as 1375” and that in religious systems of Native Hawaiians both male
and female gods had power.25 Marilou Awiakta writes at length about the role
of women in traditional Cherokee society. Awiakta explains that in negotiating their treaty with Western colonizers, the Cherokee people included
women in these talks. When Westerners came to negotiate, however, they did
not invite or involve women, which inspired a Cherokee leader to ask, “Where
are your women?” thereby noting the fundamental differences in worldview
and ideas about gender and gender equality that separated these two very
different cultures.26
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The (re)writing and (re)righting of the historical record of gender equality
in Native communities has been an important and necessary intervention made
by Native studies scholars. While anthropological and archaeological studies
have attempted to recreate this history through ethnographic interviews and
studies of Indigenous burial and village sites, they did not fully engage with or
attempt to discuss oral narratives as complex philosophies, methodologies, or
ontologies. Early ethnographic studies significantly misinterpreted gender in
Indigenous cultures and societies. This has led to several misconceptions about
how Indigenous peoples valued and conceptualized gender. It has been up to
contemporary Indigenous scholars to reclaim the historical, anthropological,
and ethnographic record with a more discerning analysis in order to (re)write,
(re)right, and (re)rite gender epistemologies and Native feminisms from a perspective that values oral narrative accounts as “archive” and “documentary
evidence.” These stories were and are how Native peoples define and redefine
their sovereignty, cultures, knowledges, and feminisms. Calvin Martin highlights how Native peoples “survived equally as long” as Western societies
around the world and that, much like other cultures throughout the world,
Native peoples in the Americas had “scrutinized and pondered the great cosmic
and existential issues and produced answers just as complete and satisfactory”
as Western civilization.27 It is through stories that Native people engage theories, philosophies, law, and systems of government. Dian Million argues that
Indigenous stories are powerful not because they fit a Western framework of
methodology or structure but “because they are engaged in the articulations
that interpret who we are in the discursive relations of our times. We engage
in questioning and reformulating those stories that account for the relations of
power in our present. That is theorizing. It offers new experiential frames, in
our case, often from our lives, from our own felt experience, from our stories,
from our communities, from our languages.”28 I argue that in records and documentation of oral narratives and material culture we can discern a foundation
of Native feminisms that build Indigenous epistemologies. I am particularly
engaged by Million’s insistence that our stories are not only interpretations and
documentation of the past, but also part of our theory making and research
paradigm as contemporary Native peoples.
Indigenous scholars have led the way in exploring the many rich, illustrious
aspects of the oral tradition that encompasses Indigenous thought, philosophy,
histories, literatures, and knowledges. Vine Deloria Jr. compared the oral tradition to science.29 Christine F. Black utilizes Australian aboriginal language
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to develop an Indigenous jurisprudence.30 Creek scholar Craig Womack utilizes Creek oral narratives to analyze and develop a Creek methodology for
literary analysis that values Creek nationalism.31 Indigenous scholars also
continue to build a critical and theoretical analysis of the oral tradition to
support methodologies and theories of history, culture, and sovereignty.
Taiaiake Alfred utilizes Indigenous oral narratives to develop culturally based
epistemologies of politics and leadership.32 Gerald Vizenor uses the oral tradition to inform and build a postmodern discussion of tribal philosophy. Vizenor
ties the oral tradition to the vitality of Native spiritual and cultural philosophies. He also uses the oral tradition to build modern discourse and theoretical
concepts for analysis, his most cited being the “trickster discourse,” where he
argues that trickster stories build tribal survivance.33 Native survivance is
intimately tied to the continued existence of Native people and stewardship
of lands and cultural practices. Indigenous narrative histories like Vizenor’s
decenter Western notions of historical chronology by building history from an
Indigenous framework.
Native feminists like Mishuana Goeman have explored Native literature
and storytelling as narrative tools that must be part of Native feminisms. Goeman writes that stories “serve as fertile grounds” and can “disorient colonial
narrations of ‘authentic’ Native places, bodies, and sets of relationships that
sever ties between Native communities, families and individuals.”34 In regards
to the importance of reconfiguring historical analysis of material culture, I
draw from Goeman’s articulation of this as a “spatial narration” and agree
with her argument that “Native communities need to promote the forms of
spatiality and sovereignty found in tribal memories and stories . . . by critically
engaging the epistemologies and practices found in these stories.”35 For this
reason, this chapter uses a Hupa feminist analytic to critically engage epistemologies and practices of gender equality found in oral narratives. Both
Angela Cavender Wilson and Deborah Miranda tie stories and storytelling to
the very survival of Native people. Wilson writes that “when our stories die,
so will we.”36 This is a testament to the fact that these stories are built from
Indigenous survivance. Native peoples went to great lengths to preserve them
even as they faced “the end of the world.”37 In this chapter I argue that stories
not only build a foundation of survivance into Native cultures and futures but
are grounded in Native feminisms, and these feminisms, wholly targeted for
eradication and erasure by settler colonial society, are necessary to a decolonizing praxis.
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h u PA F e m i n i sm A n D t h e or A l t r A Di t ion
The story of the “Formula of Medicine for Going to War,” told in December
1901 by Henry Hostler, begins with a warning.38 Chickenhawk, a K’ixinay
woman living in the before time in the Hoopa Valley, tells her brother, “Tomorrow a company will come to kill us,” and she quickly goes about developing
the armor, prayer, song, and medicine to protect those who are going to war.
She does this by first testing the armor and then teaching her brother to follow
her example. It is not seen as out of the ordinary that she takes action to protect
her brother. In fact, he listens intently to what she asks of him.39 Chickenhawk’s
story ends with her instructions for Native people, as they may one day fight
to secure and protect their futures. “Indians are about to become,” she says.
“This will be the medicine. The Indians will say of me when they become, ‘This
one, I hear, did that way.’ Even if many men come against him, there will not
be blood on him. When he puts the twigs and black oak leaves on his head,
tied together, this way, he will be ready to fight.”40
Chickenhawk is one of the K’ixinay people for the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Many
California Indian tribes attribute their ancient history and knowledge to the
“First Peoples.” The Hupa call them the K’ixinay, and they are immortal beings
who left instructions for how to live in this world. The K’ixinay, in some cases,
carry names that would become associated with certain species of animals,
like Xontehł-taw (Coyote), K’ist’ay’-chwing (Blue Jay), and Ch’ahl (Frog), though
they are not animals.41 The K’ixinay are a fully realized race of beings who
provide knowledge to Native peoples in the form of oral stories, songs, prayers,
ceremonies, medicinal formulas, and environmental practices, all of which
make up the history and literature that ground the Hupa people in their epistemologies and culture. The K’ixinay are not metaphors or mythological characters, but instead embody powerful philosophies. The story of Chickenhawk
is just one example of how Hupa culture is built with gender equality and
empowerment of women as well as men. In many California Indian cultures,
there are central and important feminized First People. In these stories,
K’ixinay women create formulas and medicines that are essential to the health
and well-being of Native peoples. Nowhere is this more evident than in the
numerous prayers, formulas, medicines, and rituals surrounding menstruation and women’s coming-of-age.
For my engagement with the oral tradition, it is not only important that I
configure my analysis from a tribally specific point of view but also that I situate myself as an interpreter of these stories and acknowledge that my
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understanding of Hupa creation stories may differ from others. This is a key
part of how I engage with a Native feminist analytic. The beauty and complexity of oral literatures is that they support and encourage multiple interpretations. Vine Deloria Jr. notes that where the oral tradition was concerned, tribal
elders did not worry if their version of creation was entirely different from
neighboring tribes.42 In fact, Indigenous philosophies often stipulated that oral
narrative accounts deserved multiple representations. History would then
reflect “contrasting or overlapping vested interests, differing modalities of
accounting and interpreting and culturally divergent senses of what it all
meant.”43 The multiple versions and accounts and also the multiple interpretations and retellings of oral narratives are the “defining benefit,” according
to anthropologist Peter Nabokov. Nabokov argues that in any culture, society,
or history, “it is hopeless to search for any single, authoritative narrative as it is
to look for paradise. Keeping many versions of its primordial claims and cultural experiences fluid and available for discussion enables a society to check
and adjust its course through uncertain times. Any of those interest groups
might provide a version that privileges its ancestral role in the account.”44
My interpretations are informed by my family, my villages, my position in
the tribe, my cultural experiences, my spirituality, and my academic background. As with any oral narrative or story, my interpretation will serve as
a guide for this work but should not be considered the definitive analysis of
these stories.
The Hupa people have a long history that includes not only more recent
histories of contact with Western civilization, or even the history of Native
people prior to invasion by Western settlers, but also stories of a time before
humans existed, or what is often referred to as “the before time.” This ancient
history is mirrored across tribal nations from Northwest California and predominantly features stories of a race of immortal beings who lived in the
“before time.” These “First People” are particularly difficult to codify or summarize. Each of them embodies a full, complicated spirit that features in
numerous stories. The K’ixinay, who are the Hupa First People, have been
described as “deities,” “divinities,” “prehuman spirit deities,” and in the Hupa
Online Dictionary and Texts as “immortals.” According to the Hupa Online Dictionary, the direct translation is “immortals, spirits, ‘angels’ [literally, the ones
who escape, the ones who are safe]. Note: The people who inhabited this world
before human beings arrived to claim it. They had no fire and didn’t know
death. They now live in Heaven—a world across the eastern ocean, beyond
the sky—and are prayed to. Equivalent to Yurok wogey, Karuk ikxareeyav.”45
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For the Hupa, K’ixinay stories are creation stories that provide information
about how things came to be, where knowledge was formed, or why the world
works in the way it does. These creation stories are not only told in different
versions, but can also feature several points of view on the same moment. For
instance, many K’ixinay stories focus on the period when the K’ixinay realize
their time on the earth is over and that it is now the time of people. To prepare
the world for people, the K’ixinay must document their adventures, ideas, and
histories, which they pass on to help the Indian people survive and be responsible for the world. They leave their instructions in the form of stories, formulaic prayers, and songs.46 Hupa scholar Jack Norton explains: “The decisions
of humans and their responsible destinies were based, therefore, upon each
individual’s willingness and awareness to enact the codes or ‘medicine’ of
the [K’ixinay], the first beings.”47 After they have finished their preparations,
the K’ixinay leave this earth, some by going into and becoming the rocks,
rivers, trees, and other parts of the earth and others by going across the ocean
and to the K’ixinay afterworld, where they perform certain ceremonies for
all time, except for those times when the Hupa people call the ceremonies
down for use on earth.48
Many of these creation stories are about the time before people existed. It
is an ancient time. The world is described as new and unspoiled. The K’ixinay
world was balanced and free of death and disease.49 Stories often feature the
land, river, and landmarks of the Hupa world, which encompass the valley and
other aboriginal territory. Wailaki/Concow scholar William Bauer calls this
“place making,” and he writes that “creation stories emphasize the indigenousness of their respective people by featuring and naming the important features
of the land.”50 These stories, however, also extend and solidify Hupa ties to
the peoples and places of surrounding areas. Stories feature villages located in
Yurok and Karuk land and communities. Stories mention tribes from Central
California, like the Wintu, and also tribes from the coast, like the Wiyot. The
K’ixinay people came into existence in various places. Their creations are
traced back to both inside and outside the valley, something that ties the Hupa
people to areas outside the valley center.
At first, the K’ixinay live in a peaceful, abundant time. There is no death or
sickness. One story tells about a time when a dark cloud moved over the valley.
The huge cloud “blocked the sun, the acorns and madrone berries didn’t grow
and soon many animals, particularly deer and birds, began to weaken and
die.”51 The K’ixinay, realizing that their world has become unbalanced, respond
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by creating concrete, embodied ways of addressing this imbalance. For ten
days “they sang and danced in a certain manner,” and the dark cloud receded.
This put the world back into order. In turn, the Hupa people continue to repeat
these sequences of informed rituals so that “the people know the propriety of
their manners, behavior and customs. Thus, specific words or songs became
more than culturally defined symbols.”52 Many of these rituals continue today
in the Hoopa Valley. And it has also become a special focus of the Hupa to
revitalize rituals that were not as prevalent following colonization. Singing
and dancing “in a certain manner,” as laid out by the K’ixinay, is a tangible
way to disperse the dark cloud that has settled over our valley. Our ceremonies
were built as a decolonization praxis from the very beginning to help put our
worlds back in order.
This story in particular showcases how these creation stories are about
much more than placing Hupa people in relativity to their world, providing
methodologies for living in this world “in a good way.” This frames Hupa
people as a central part of keeping their world in balance, tying them to the
health and well-being of the earth. The stories of surviving dark, destructive
moments, coupled with the K’ixinay’s resistance to this attempted destruction
of their way of life, also prompt the K’ixinay to demonstrate the power of the
culture, ceremonies, and knowledge they will give to the Hupa people. These
ceremonies and knowledges will lay the foundation for how the Hupa people
navigate and enact survivance long after the K’ixinay people have moved on.
The K’ixinay are sometimes described as giants who have physical traits
reminiscent of animals. These stories not only feature what some anthropologists call “cultural heroes” but also focus on First People who share the names
of animals that we know today. Yima:ntiwinyay, whom the Hupa consider a
central figure in their culture, is a complex First Person. He is not perfect or
infallible. He often makes mistakes, and then is tasked with finding or creating ways to address the consequences of his actions. He must constantly learn
from his obsession with lust and pleasure and from his tendency to make
hasty decisions that satisfy his immediate desires at the expense of others.
He is also a guide and teacher who is invested in the human race. In several
stories Yima:ntiwinyay mentions that when humans come, they will “spoil
the earth.” He immediately makes plans and encourages the other K’ixinay
to leave instructions about the best ways to care for the earth. In some versions of the story Yima:ntiwinyay mentions that he will one day return—or
he may not.53
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At the time of human creation, many of the K’ixinay leave by going across
the ocean and to the world above, or by going into the rocks, rivers, trees, and
other flora and fauna of this earth. It is this moment of creation, when some
K’ixinay people become travelers who extend their reach across the ocean and
to the skies, and some remain, becoming part of the landscape and environment where the Hupa people will live “until the end of time.” By extension, Hupa people become responsible to all things of creation, including the
rocks, mountains, rivers, and streams. Each of these things is endowed with
a spirit, a literal “force of nature” that the Hupa regard as a creator of their
These stories link together Native people from different nations. Stories
not only feature landmarks, villages, and people from other tribes, but they
also link Native people through the rivers and oceans that run through their
Indigenous landscapes. Consider how some of the K’ixinay people leave the
Hoopa Valley to explore “the world” by going over the ocean. The Hupa were
taught and knew that there was an entire world beyond the valley where they
lived. Yima:ntiwinyay explores “the world” so he can find all the things the
Hupa people will need to thrive. He comes back with animals, plants, knowledge, and medicines. The reach of Hupa culture and epistemologies therefore
extends to conceptualizing the ocean as part of their Indigenous space.54
These creation stories mark Hupa people as explorers of the world and also
as sharing in a world history shaped by intercultural exchange. The K’ixinay
embody the rivers and other bodies of water, so that in the Hupa context, the
K’ixinay nourish and are part of other tribal nations. Built into these stories
are ideas about sharing across oceans, rivers, and borders, suggesting that
the Hupa have always been a trans-Indigenous culture and society.55 From
the very start of creation, borders were conceptualized as fluid, and sharing
ceremonial and cultural landscapes was essential to living in the world in a
balanced way.
Hupa oral narratives focus intently on a “balanced” society, which includes
equality of genders or Hupa feminist epistemologies. In many stories, K’ixinay
women are seen as leaders, as the core of culture and society. K’ixinay women
also create formulas and medicines for important aspects of everyday lives.
They develop a specific formula for medicine for making baskets, which provides luck and wealth to those who make baskets. They also leave behind
instructions for shortening the period of “exclusion after menstruation.” In
this story, told in Hupa in December 1901 by Emma Lewis, a K’ixinay woman
provides the instructions for making medicine and finally having her body
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“become another one” so that she can return to her everyday activities.56 This
story demonstrates clearly the agency that K’ixinay women (and by extension
Hupa women) have in self-determining their role in the culture and society of
the Hupa people, especially in regard to cultural practices at menstruation. A
woman had every right to decide how she could best participate in cultural
The Hupa creation stories constantly play with “women’s” and “men’s” roles
and show how men and women are important to each other’s lives. For
instance, though K’ixinay women are responsible for many of the formulas
used to protect and bless a child, male K’ixinay are also important to the formula for giving birth and the origin of the women’s coming-of-age ceremony.
The “Formula of Medicine for the Birth of the First Child,” told in November
1891 by Emma Lewis, features Yima:ntiwinyay,57 who has sex with several
women and an oak tree while he is traveling. It is his sexual encounter with
the white oak tree that results in a child. Yima:ntiwinyay must use a medicine that he develops from the bark of the tree to make the tree open so he
can take the baby out. He says, “This way it will be, when Indians become.”58
Yima:ntiwinyay knew that with this medicine it would be easier for women to
give birth, and he passes this along to the Hupa people. The story provides
clear instructions about which type of medicine (white oak bark) will be
used to help women give birth. The story continues with Yima:ntiwinyay and
Panther each trying to bury their first child in the ground to leave them behind
for the Indian people. Where the children are buried becomes the site where
the medicinal herbs that are important for giving birth will grow.59 This
involvement of men specifically in helping to create medicine for giving birth
speaks clearly to Hupa beliefs about the importance of both men and women
in all aspects of each other’s lives. It is not just a woman’s responsibility to
create medicine for birth, and men can play a very active role in helping with
the birthing process. Other aspects, like blessing the child or making the medicine for the child during the first ten days of life, are created by K’ixinay women
and passed to both Hupa men and women as part of a balanced society.
In the Hupa creation story of the Flower Dance told in June 1901 by Robinson Shoemaker and recorded by linguist Pliny Earle Goddard, Yima:ntiwinyay
displays the trademark cunning, manipulation, and also deference that he has
in several other stories. While the story begins with Yima:ntiwinyay’s deception of his daughter and his teasing of her for being so trusting of her father,
it is ultimately about how this young girl becomes the perpetual kinahłdung,
brought to the K’ixinay afterworld to be danced over for all time. In this story
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Yima:ntiwinyay asks his daughter to make eels for him and also for her uncle
who lives just up the hill from their house. Each day she does this. She then
carries the eels up to her uncle’s house to leave them for him. Yima:ntiwinyay
has told her that she must not see her uncle or watch him take the food. After
she leaves each day to bring her uncle the eels, Yima:ntiwinyay hoists his
house onto his back and runs up the hill, where he plants his house and waits
for his daughter, thus tricking his daughter so that he can get more eels to eat
each day. This goes on for quite some time, until one day Yima:ntiwinyay’s
daughter looks and sees the house running up the hill. She immediately goes
to her father with this information, and instead of chastising her or becoming
angry, he puts her in the corner of his house and makes a kinahłdun-ts’e:y
dance rattle stick to celebrate that she is no longer a child.60 Eventually the
“invisible people” join him in singing and dancing for her. In the end they take
her with them back to the world above, where she becomes the perpetual
kinahłdung and they will always dance for her. The continuous honoring of
the young woman is at the heart of this creation story. The story does not center
the perpetual kinahłdung as being valued for her fertility or reproductive powers, nor is it centered on her physical pubertal changes. Instead, the ceremony
is ritualistically performed as a great honor for the young woman, so much so
that the K’ixinay insist on performing it for all time in the heavens above.
The importance here is how the role of the first/perpetual kinahłdung
supports the empowerment of women in Hupa culture and society and intimately ties them to the foundations of spirituality in Hupa culture. There is
a clear link here between the kinahłdung as a spiritual being, one who now
exists for all time in the K’ixinay afterworld, and the K’ixinay people. This
connection will remain for all time and will continue to be resolidified when
the dance is performed for young women of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Carol
Markstrom, a developmental psychologist who did extensive research on
women’s coming-of-age ceremonies among the Apache and Navajo, remarks
that in these types of creation stories, women of the tribe become linked to
the power of a female First Person, which is also important to the communities.61 This means that women, through their puberty ceremonies, were able
to harness a close and personal relationship with a K’ixinay person, which
each woman could use during her ceremony to offer blessings to others and
also carry with her as she continued menstrual rituals and customs throughout her adult life.
Clearly Hupa feminism is intimately tied to spirituality and cultural ceremonies. This grounding in spirituality and culture will sustain the Hupa
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people as they confront, survive, and heal from the historical invasion of Western civilization. Their K’ixinay First People, having provided the knowledge
for living peacefully with the earth, will also be central to providing the Hupa
with the methodologies by which to enact survivance before, during, and after
ge n De r B A l A nc e i n h u PA c u lt u r e A n D s o c i e t Y
Native feminisms are not only epistemological frameworks for ceremony and
spirituality but are also part of material culture and societal organization,
which value gender equality. Ethnographies of Native people, like the Hupa,
often frame Native societies as “primitive hunter-gatherers” instead of engaging with them as complex, multivalent organized structures. Native feminisms
are part of the fundamental organization of Native societies but are not often
identified as such in interpretations or scholarship. For many Native cultures,
there are clear groundings in gender equality that run throughout the basic
tenets of everyday life. Like many tribes, the Hupa people center their world
around the land where they came into being. The Hupa call the valley Na:tinixw, “where the trails return” and they call themselves Na:tinixwe, “the people
of the valley.” The Hupa aboriginal territory centers around the Trinity River.
The river provides much of what the Hupa need to survive, they include the
river in their ceremonies and cultural practices, and they consider the care of
the river central to their purpose as Hupa people. Hupa directions are expressed
as “upriver” or “downriver,” centralizing the river as a grounding point and
demonstrating how Hupa people understand their world. The river was also
a central travel route, where the Hupa traveled by redwood dugout canoes
that they traded for with the nearby Yurok people. Bathing in the river was
particularly important to the Hupa people. Men and women bathed separately
but often in the same designated spots. Certain bathing spots were set aside
for particular time periods; for instance, there were bathing spots used by
menstruating women (these bathing spots were known as tim or “lucky
spots”). These same bathing spots were used by men during times when they
needed to be the most lucky or powerful.
Tending to and caring for the land is a central epistemological belief for
the Hupa people as well. The Hupa were adept at caring for, tending to, and
sculpting the natural world. They considered humanity to be an essential part
of nature instead of divorced from it. Hupa people, like many tribal peoples,
created and shaped their ecosystem diversity through interaction, cultural
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activities, and Indigenous management practices “that can still be seen
today.”62 The Hupa, like many California Indians, practiced controlled burning,
which contributed to habitat diversity, allowed certain plants to thrive, and
helped support the continuation of ecosystems by creating an environment
that encouraged the growth of trees and plant materials. They maintained
what Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish call “a flexible relationship with local
food sources. Plants and animals did not become dependent on human intervention for their reproductive success and survival. . . . Consequently, they did
not need to tend to specific food crops throughout the growing season but
could incorporate them into the management of the landscape on a multi-year
rotational cycle.”63 This type of complex harvesting and horticulture is much
different from the “hunter-gatherer” designation often used by Western scholars. Instead, Native peoples, the Hupa included, were hunters, gatherers, harvesters, ecologists, botanists, biologists, and much more in a fully realized
agrarian society that could support “relatively dense populations, complex
political organizations, craft specialization and sophisticated ceremonial
Hupa horticulture and agriculture is intimately tied to gender equality as
well. Hupa women became what Kat Anderson refers to as “superb natural
historians,” with a knowledge of the natural world that was “grounded in
ancient tradition and encompassed what today we call ornithology, entomology, botany, zoology, ichthyology, ecology, and geology.”65 Hupa interactions
with the land were made intimate because the land was part of their everyday
activities. Women were the primary caretakers of different land spaces, tasked
with harvesting certain areas and managing other areas so that the resources
would be replenished each year. Women were also the primary basket weavers
of the Hupa, which meant that they had intimate and interrelated understandings of the natural materials required to make baskets. The tending of the land
practiced by these women was also in respect for how best to care for the land
while also promoting the healthiest basket-making materials.
Villages were a central component in Hupa life and identity. People were
often identified by their village. Their personal names reflected the village
where they were from and tied them to a certain part of the valley. Village
names reflect Hupa epistemological ideas about place and focus on descriptive
terms. Names like Me’dil-ding (Canoe Place) or Xonsah-ding (where the water
is deep) are just some examples. Villages were much more than communities
or neighborhoods; they were political representative bodies, municipalities
that participated in government, culture, spirituality, and law. Each village site
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had its own headman who served as the political leader and in some cases the
spiritual leader. This headman was blessed with wealth, but as Hupa scholar
Jack Norton notes, “their positions of honor were not gained at the expense of
others. Individual exploitation was not tolerated within the communal system
of values. Honor, wealth and respect were not solely dependent upon social
status. A prestigious person was also a responsible religious person.”66 Women
could be the primary owners of homes, regalia, and goods. This meant that
women sometimes held the largest amount of accumulated wealth, which
afforded political autonomy. Women could be ceremonial regalia owners and
dance leaders, though they would also hire men to help them work with the
parts of ceremonies that primarily concerned men. In various villages doctors
were primarily women. These doctors were spiritual guides as well as healing
and curing doctors. Doctors were rigorously trained in the herbs, medicines,
songs, and prayers required to treat their patients and also to guide the spiritual practice of ceremonies. These medicine women were central actors in
each ceremony held by the village and were also invited to take part in important political and societal decisions as advisers and leaders.
Villages have specific roles in the culture and society of Hupa people.
Ta’k’imił-ding, the heart of the valley, is particularly significant because it is
the site of three Hupa ceremonies and the place from which the tribe’s main
spiritual leader is chosen. It is also considered the spiritual center for the people of the valley. Famed photographer Edward S. Curtis, who visited Hupa in
the 1920s, wrote that Ta’k’imił-ding was “the principal settlement of the northern division” and “the scene of the annual ceremonial acorn feast,” which made
it “the most important of all their villages.”67 Ta’k’imił-ding is the site of the
xontah-nikya:w or Big House, which is the most sacred house for people of
the valley. Goddard wrote that the Big House was “said to have been built by
the people of long ago and to have sheltered the first dwellers of the valley.”68
This is also the home of the tribe’s spiritual leader. The xontah-nikya:w represents this ceremonial way of life, and even as it was destroyed on occasion
by flood or fire, it was always rebuilt as a testament to the Hupa’s strength and
survival and stands to this day.
Villages were at one time divided into two districts. The central village of
the north was Ta’k’imił-ding, and the central village of the south was Me’dilding. The Hupa people lived in peace with one another through this village
system, and the people came together in ceremony, for celebrations, for feasts,
and in matters relating to the governing of the valley. Hupa historian Byron
Nelson explains, “The leaders of [Ta’k’imił-ding] and Me’dil-ding had
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influence over the other villages because they had the greatest wealth, but
warfare rarely involved more than one village. . . . A medicine woman often
accompanied the soldiers, and other women could join the party if they chose
to. . . . Warfare in the area did not involve large-scale fighting, pitched battles,
many casualties, looting, or intentional attacks on women and children. The
war party tried to inflict enough damage to bring about negotiations without
incurring heavy settlements.”69
The Hupa people lived in relative peace and harmony with surrounding
tribes as well. Their system of balance stretched to their interactions and
exchanges with neighboring tribes. Political and social ties were solidified
through participation in each other’s ceremonies. Tribes often intermarried,
and this system of exchange was important to the maintenance of tribal
relations throughout the region. Jack Forbes notes in Native Americans of
California and Nevada that because of this intermarriage and intercultural
exchange, “if one were able to construct a genealogical chart for the Hupa
people it would be most probably that their ancestry shared with the Yurok,
Wiyot and Karuk peoples would be very much greater than that shared with
Navajos, Apaches, Sarsis and other Tinneh language groups.”70 The complex
sociopolitical structure of Northwest California tribes like the Hupa is illustrated by the “well-developed inter-tribal system of commerce” that existed
between neighboring tribes. Hupa scholar Jack Norton further illustrates this
system, explaining that “the Yuroks, who were considered to be the principal
boat-builders, often traded with the Karuk and Hupa for inland foods and
materials such as bows, arrows, ceremonial feathers and obsidian. There was
extensive trade with more distant peoples such as the Tolowas, Wiyots, Mattoles, Shastas and Wintus.”71 Karuk medicine woman Mavis McCovey explains
that these extensive economic ties between tribes involved considerable traveling, and “it was not unusual for a messenger to travel forty miles in a day.”
She contends, “I don’t care how isolated we look, the tribal people did move
around and trade all the way out to the East Coast.”72 While the economy often
focused on trade for food and goods, there also existed a complex monetary
exchange that centered on dentalium shell money.73
Hupa houses were permanent plank house structures. There were three
main living quarters. Men primarily resided in the sweat house. It was here
that they prayed and learned from each other. Adolescent boys went into the
sweat house “to be taught the manners, customs, songs, dances, prayers and
stories that reaffirmed the people’s being.”74 Women primarily resided in the
main family house. Male and female children stayed in this house with their
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mothers. Men would join the house during certain times of the year. Young
girls remained with their mother in this house until they were married. It was
here that their mothers taught them to weave, cook, and sew “all with ‘proper
respect.’ ” 75 The third main living dwelling of the Hupa was the m’inch, or
women’s house, commonly referred to as the “menstrual hut.” The role of this
housing structure in Hupa cultural practices is explored in depth in chapter 4.
Women used this house while they were menstruating, after giving birth, and
after a miscarriage. It functioned much like the sweat house, as a place to be
in concentrated meditation and to “reaffirm the people’s being.”76
The staple foods for the Hupa were acorns, salmon, and deer. Acorns are a
staple food of Indians throughout California; they were readily available
because of the proliferation of oak trees throughout the state. This staple food
was so central to Native cultures in California that the Hupa referred to Indian
people as K’iwinya’n-ya:n, or “acorn eaters.”77 Basket weaving is “among the
most ancient of all arts” that existed in California. There was no denying the
craftsmanship that went into Northwest California basketry. This “art” was
part of everyday Hupa society. There were baskets for a multitude of uses: storage, all phases of acorn preparation (gathering, drying, grinding, sifting, making, and eating), everyday use, and ceremonial use. Babies were carried in a
xe:q’ay’, which was made of hazel and willow sticks and structurally engineered
to keep the child safe.78 Baby baskets were also important to the development
of children. The basket is designed with a tie to hold babies safely in the basket.
It also mimics being held closely by someone and gives infants a sense of always
being held.79 Women were the primary weavers of baskets, although some baskets were made by men (including eel trap baskets).80 Lila O’Neal, who worked
in Northwest California with renowned basket weavers, commented that “a
weaver’s ability to make a good one will give her a widespread reputation as
an expert.”81 Baskets were part of everyday life, they were used in important
ceremonies, and they were central to the cultural practices of Northwest California peoples. Basket weaving demonstrates how Native Northwest California
women were integral to the culture and societal organization. The fact that
many of these baskets are central to everyday life, cultural practices, and spirituality demonstrates how integral women are to the society. Native people grow
up learning respect for baskets and basket materials, and by extension respect
for the fact that women contribute immeasurably to the society.
Spirituality and ceremony brought together multiple villages and also
tribes and resulted in building not only spiritual relationships but also sociopolitical relationships that would determine the course of exchange, economy,
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and future partnerships of various villages and tribes. Jack Forbes refers to
these as “ceremonial exchange systems,” and he believes that “such ceremonial exchange systems are particularly significant in California regions where
distinguishable political units above the level of the village life are absent,
because the people who shared a common ceremonial life doubtless also
shared kinship . . . and more significantly, probably operated as an informal
political group (exchanging information, settling disputes, planning mutual
activities, etc.).”82
Hupa people guided their everyday lives, politics, medicine, science, and
community by their spiritual understanding of the world. Prayer was essential
to how the Hupa lived as part of their world. These prayers were spoken,
formed part of songs, or could be passed on through formulaic stories told
about the “before time,” or time of the K’ixinay people. Pliny Earle Goddard
wrote, “It was not only on these dance occasions that the Hupa’s religion manifested itself. Every day and all through the day he maintained a pious frame
of mind. When he awoke in the morning he greeted the dawn with a silent
prayer that he might see many of them.”83 Hupa scholar Jack Norton echoes
this writing: “The Hupa lived a life that would, more than likely, be conducive
to the graceful K’ixinay world of song and dance. Those who were not so spiritually inclined were considered ‘poor’ in all connotations of the word, in this
world and the next.”84
Hupa historian Byron Nelson has a lengthy account of many of the ceremonies that were and in many ways still are central to a Hupa life. He organizes
these into a yearlong timetable to show the consistent ever-present performance of ceremonies that created the Hupa world. He begins with the First
Eel Ceremony in the spring, the First Salmon Ceremony in the summer, and
the building of the annual fish dam in the winter, which is also a religious
activity. In the late fall was the First Acorn Ceremony, which “like all Hupa
ceremonies” was “a celebration as well as a religious occasion.”85 Gambling
games were often played at these ceremonies; women played a dice game and
men a guessing game with a bundle of sticks. While these ceremonies were
tied primarily to food harvest, there were other ceremonies as well. In late
summer there was the Deerskin Dance and Jump Dance, known in contemporary contexts as the world renewal ceremonies.86 There were also ceremonial
dances that could be performed upon request, like the Brush Dance (to heal
or bless a child), the Flower Dance (women’s coming-of-age ceremony), or the
Kick Dance (doctor-making dance).
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The Xonsił-ch’idilye (White Deerskin Dance) and the Xay-ch’idilye (Jump
Dance) are often referred to as the world renewal ceremonies of the Hupa
people. The cornerstone of the dances is the renewal of the world, and each
time the dances are performed, the Hupa people are helping to renew, rebalance, and recenter the earth so that it will be safe and free of disease, death,
and destruction. Both the Deerskin Dance and the Jump Dance primarily feature men, although this interpretation is limited because of the perspective
from outside looking in, primarily by white male anthropologists. There are
only male dancers in the Deerskin Dance, although women play central roles
in the medicine, feeding of the medicine people, and organization of the
dance giving. Women are also a central part of the planning, cooking, and
feeding of the dancers, something that is a key part of Hoopa epistemologies.
In the Jump Dance there are two young women who participate as dancers,
and again women play central roles in the medicine, feeding, and organization. Both dances are rigorous ten-day ceremonies that require dedication and
a lot of time and energy on the part of dancers, dance givers, and community
Alfred Kroeber and Edward Gifford identify the Jump Dance and the Deerskin Dance as being central to Hupa culture because “there is a single word
which denotes the performing of either dance in distinction from all other
kinds or ways of dancing-—a word, in short, meaning ‘world renewal dance’
or ‘major dance’ only.”87 The Hupa word Kroeber and Gifford are referring to
is ch’idilye. This term also ties these dances to the K’ixinay afterworld, or the
ch’idilye:-wint’e:-ding. The only other dance that is done in the ch’idilye:wint’e:-ding is the Ch’iłwa:l, or Flower Dance.
The fact that the women’s coming-of-age ceremony is the third dance done
by the K’ixinay in the ch’idilye:-wint’e:-ding is incredibly significant. Ch’idilye:wint’e:-ding translates to “religious dance—always—place” or “the place
where they are always dancing the world renewal dances.” Since the term
ch’idilye was used to establish the Jump Dance and Deerskin dance as “religious dances” tied to world renewal, it is particularly illuminating that the
only other dance specifically tied to this K’ixinay dance place is the Ch’iłwa:l
or women’s coming-of-age ceremony. This dance is focused on young women
and their coming-of-age, menstruation, and the role of the community in supporting these young women; its inclusion in these world renewal ceremonies
is a significant indicator as to how Hupa people valued the role of women in
their culture and spirituality.
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c onc lusion
I end this chapter with the women’s coming-of-age ceremony precisely because
it has always been central to Hupa spirituality. By revitalizing their comingof-age ceremony, the Hupa people would once again prove that their First
People’s history is a living history and that their ties to land, culture, spirituality, and the K’ixinay will continue to provide them with the guidance to heal
and decolonize.
The reclamation of this dance necessarily focused on a tangible recapitulation of Native feminisms. At the root of this revitalization is the engagement of a self-determination that embraces Native feminisms. The root of
self-determination is a deep respect and connection to one’s own body and to
the community that is created during this ceremony. Our revitalizations, when
built with Native feminisms, disrupt settler colonial and heteropatriarchal
intrusions in our contemporary cultures. As we look to women’s coming-of-age
ceremonies as key to our continued movement toward decolonization, we must
understand how our renewal is tied to the renewal of our Native feminisms
and gender equality. This reclamation of Native feminisms is important to our
futures because it helps to dismantle a heteropatriarchal and heteropaternal
system of oppression that attempts to divest Native people of their rightful
claims to culture, ceremony, and lands. Coming-of-age ceremonies help demonstrate how women are integral to culture and how our cultures embody
feminism. Alanna Nulph (Hupa, Yurok) notes how her Flower Dance demonstrated for her that in Hupa culture and society women are very important and
that Hupa culture depends on understanding this importance: “[In Hupa culture] women own a lot of property and regalia and did a lot of the work. [Hupa
people] are acorn eaters, and who gathered all the acorns? Women! And who
weaves all the baskets? The women, with exceptions sometimes, you know.
Who cuts up the fish? Who dries the fish? The women. So women are important
just the same as men are important in the bigger dances. You need something
to celebrate women or else women will get mad at you and you don’t want
angry women in your society.”88
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University of Washington Press
Chapter Title: Ninis’a:n-na:ng’a’ The World—Came to Be Lying There Again, the World
Book Title: We Are Dancing for You
Book Subtitle: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Ch a P t er 2
The World—Came to Be Lying There Again,
the World Assumed Its Present Position
cAliFor niA inDiAn historY,
genociDe, AnD nAtive Women
When the militia and soldiers came to this area, and the miners came, they came without women and they started kidnapping Indian women and stealing them, raping them, taking
them away from their families. When they would go and interview the miners or interview the militia that took them, one
of the things that they said was “Well, they had a dance. The
Indian people had a ceremony that said that the girls were
ready to be with men.” And that’s how they interpreted it. . . .
And then later, when the missionaries came and the matrons
came for the boarding schools, all these issues were such that
Indian people didn’t want to have Flower Dances anymore or
they went underground. And people would have ways to recognize and to do things but they didn’t want to have public
aspects of those dances.
—Lois Risling (Hupa, Karuk, Yurok)
i n 201 4, t h e W i Yo t t r i Be h e l D t h e i r F i r s t Wor l D r e n e WA l c e remony in over 150 years, at the site of one of the most brutal massacres in California history. In February 1860 Humboldt County citizens massacred over 150
Wiyot people in the early morning hours after the Wiyot had finished their
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world renewal ceremony to pray for the health and balance of the earth. That
had been the last time the Wiyot performed a world renewal ceremony on what
became known as “Indian Island.” But in 2014 the Wiyot people were dancing
again. And though Humboldt County had been one of the most violent places
in California during the Gold Rush, the tribal peoples in Humboldt County—
Wiyot, Hupa, Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa—were still dancing. All over California, recognized, unrecognized, even terminated Native people are dancing.
Indian Island is not just a place where a bloody massacre occurred; it is once
again a place of world renewal. Our landscapes once more feel the stomp of
our feet and the warmth of our fires. I remind myself of this constantly as I
begin this chapter on California Indian history.
It is necessary to explore the brutal and unrelenting history of genocide in
California to grasp the importance of cultural revitalization as decolonizing
praxis. The narrative in this chapter focuses on the postinvasion history of
California and critically analyzes how this invasion by settlers led to the suppression of women’s coming-of-age ceremonies. This historical analysis shifts
the focus of California history to demonstrate the systematic attempts to denigrate Native feminisms. The targeting of women and women’s coming-of-age
ceremonies would ultimately influence the continued practice of these ceremonies, and while many tribes would maintain the public practice of ceremonies
that primarily featured men dancing and singing, women’s coming-of-age
ceremonies would become more secretive and little practiced. Engaging California Indian history to understand how this change came about and the subsequent profound effects on Native people requires an analysis of gender
violence and settler colonialism, which can then build a foundation for healing
through methodologies that (re)write, (re)right, and (re)rite history to address
the many lasting effects of this violence on Native communities.
The brutality of California Indian history is palpable to contemporary California Indian peoples, and it is difficult to summarize the widespread violence
and destruction that invaded the once peaceful and abundant territory of my
own people. As my mother, Lois Risling, has said in many of her own public
lectures, “My grandfather once told me, ‘Remember, Granddaughter, you are
alive because some miner was a bad shot.’ ” Our histories as Indigenous peoples
in California are real, lived, and continuing. Yet not enough people know about
what happened in California. There are no public memorials to the hundreds
of thousands of people killed in order to claim their land, their children, their
homes, and their resources. History books erase the brutality of the missions,
rancho system, and Gold Rush. In contemporary California politics and
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academia, there is still pushback from scholars who refuse to acknowledge
how genocide formed California. In 2015 a Navajo/Maidu student by the name
of Chiitaanibah Johnson challenged a history professor at Sacramento State
who had, according to Johnson, stated that the word genocide was “too strong”
for what had happened to Native people in California. After trying to discuss
this with the professor during the class and presenting research she had done
to show that genocide was precisely what happened in California, she was told
by the professor that she was “hijacking” his course and asked to leave. Johnson’s story set off a firestorm in the media, including several stories in Indian
Country Today.1 In the end, the Sacramento State University president, Robert
Nelson, concluded that the history professor had not violated any university
policy, but suggested that “we as a university must learn from this incident
and the discussions surrounding it.”2
Although there are numerous public records, oral histories, and firsthand
accounts to support Hupa scholar Jack Norton’s assertion that genocide is how
the state of California was founded, there is still not public awareness of or
engagement with this history; instead children learn in schools about the
founding of the state of California as an expansion of the west through a benign
mission system and a prosperous Gold Rush led by the “forty-niners.”3
In this chapter I explore the postinvasion history of California to critically
analyze how women experienced this genocidal landscape and how this invasion led to the suppression of women’s coming-of-age ceremonies. Preinvasion
cultures of Native people and Native feminisms were systematically attacked
by the settler colonial state precisely because Native feminisms challenged
settler colonial claims to legitimacy. This chapter focuses on the genocide
perpetrated in Northwest California as part of the Gold Rush, including legislative attempts by the State of California to legalize and justify genocide against
the original inhabitants of the land, in order to show that this genocide, which
extended not only to legislative but popular support for the murder of Native
peoples, is why women’s ceremonies and practices around menstruation were
nearly abandoned by Native people in California.
I aim to establish the difficult negotiations by Native peoples throughout
the history of settler colonial invasion, so that moments of ethnographic
refusal, as articulated by Audra Simpson, are understood in their historical
context. Simpson explains that her notion of refusal “articulates a mode of
sovereign authority over the presentation of ethnographic data, and so does
not present ‘everything.’ This is for the express purpose of protecting the concerns of the community.”4 While anthropologists and ethnographers would
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go on to write treatises about how women’s coming-of-age ceremonies and
menstrual practices represented a more primitive time and Native people
abandoned the ceremonies as they became more civilized (see chapter 3), with
historical context, it is clear that these ceremonies and menstrual practices
were targeted as part of continuing gender violence meant to subjugate,
fracture, and oppress Native societies.
Violence was clearly a central part of the settler colonial invasion of California, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz notes that settler colonialism “requires violence or the threat of violence to attain its goals” because “people do not hand
over their land, resources, children, and futures without a fight, and that fight
is met with violence.”5 Women especially, once centrally important to many
Native societies, were targeted for gender violence because of how important they were to culture and politics in their communities. Antonia Castaneda
writes that “in California as elsewhere, sexual violence functioned as an institutionalized mechanism for ensuring subordination and compliance. It was
one instrument of sociopolitical terrorism and control—first of women and
then of the group under conquest.”6 Attempts to subvert the roles and place of
Native women were built into settler colonial policies because Native women,
who at one time exercised autonomy in Native societies, represented a threat
to the settler colonial state and settler colonial societal organization.
Scott Morgensen calls this a “terrorizing sexual colonization” of Native
peoples.7 He writes, “Colonists interpreted diverse practices of gender and
sexuality as signs of a general primitivity among Native peoples. Over time,
they produced a colonial necropolitics that framed Native peoples as queer
populations marked for death. Colonization produced the biopolitics of modern sexuality that I call “settler sexuality”: a white national heteronormativity
that regulates Indigenous sexuality and gender by supplanting them with the
sexual modernity of settler subjects.”8
Indigenous women’s ceremonies are a necessary disruption of “settler
sexuality” and not, as has been claimed by primarily white male anthropologists and ethnographers, about a focus on fertility. Instead these ceremonies
are demonstrations of reproductive justice and self-determination. This chapter demonstrates that while colonial biopolitics of settler sexuality, as articulated by Morgensen, ultimately attempted to annihilate women’s coming-of-age
ceremonies, it was Native survivance that disrupted the settler colonial narrative of “extinction” and instead demonstrated a refusal and resistance
through every historical period aimed at the dissolution of Native feminisms.
This shows how decolonization relies on the (re)writing, the (re)righting, and
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ultimately the (re)riteing of Native feminisms through ceremonial praxis like
women’s coming-of-age ceremonies.
I grew up in Humboldt County, the site of a number of egregious acts of
genocide perpetrated against my own peoples. Fifty-six massacres of Native
people took place in the Humboldt region from 1850 to 1864.9 Stories of miners
and settlers (or, as Jack Norton calls them, “invaders”) in Humboldt County
included many atrocities: taking infant Native children, swinging them
around, and smashing their heads against trees or rocks; raping Native women
and taking them as sex slaves; shooting Native peoples just to test out guns;
killing Native parents and kidnapping the children; burning villages and food
supplies; and sliding whole villages off the sides of mountains into the canyons.
My own great-grandfather David Risling Sr. wrote in 1972: “The Karoks [sic]
received the most cruel treatment by the miners killing males, taking their
wives and daughters, setting fires to their homes destroying their villages taking their land for mining claims, and leaving no records or history to tell the
story (but the scars are still there).”10
California’s postinvasion history is framed by genocide with the aim of total
annihilation of California Indian peoples. The population of California Indians
was reduced by 90 percent during this period. California Indian peoples contended with continuous disruptive and destructive structures, including the
Spanish missions, the Mexican-American War and rancho system, and the Gold
Rush.11 For Southern and Central California, the mission system was designed
to seize lands in the name of the church and convert Indians to Catholicism,
while also enslaving Native peoples and enforcing farming and manual labor
that primarily benefited the missions. Jack Forbes writes that the missions of
California were “not solely religious institutions. They were, on the contrary,
instruments designed to bring about total change in culture in a brief period
of time.”12 Missionaries “exercised complete control over the ‘neophytes’ . . .
this control even extended to regulation of sexual behavior, splitting off children from parents (e.g. locking up all unmarried girls above the age of seven
in a ‘nunnery’ each night and the males in another building), forbidding native
marriage and divorce practices, and, of course, attempting to suppress all
aspects of Indian religion and curing practices (Indian doctors or curers were
flogged whenever apprehended).”13 Violence was rampant in the mission system. Women were targeted by Spanish soldiers, and one of the first acts recorded
by Father Junipero Serra in his account of the missions in California was the
rape of Native women by Spanish soldiers.14 Father Luis Jayme also reported
the continuous rape of women by Spanish soldiers at Mission San Diego.15 A
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proliferation of Spanish-Indian marriages was intended to tame Indian women.
According to Virginia M. Beauvoir, Franciscans argued that “women were better off at the mission than they had been in indigenous society.”16 She writes,
“The depiction of Indians as heathens who are sexually loose, unfaithful
spouses, and polygamists made the California conquest a moral crusade.”17
Because the missionaries focused so intently on Indigenous sexuality, it stands
to reason that they would view women’s coming-of-age ceremonies in this
context, believing that these ceremonies were about “fertility” or “reproduction” and that Natives should be forced to end these ceremonies along with
their ceremonies and teachings about pregnancy and childbirth.
During the mission period, Native people actively resisted the mission system and led revolts against the violence and abuse perpetrated against them
by Spanish missionaries.18 In October 1785, a group of Natives led by a woman
religious leader, Toypurina, attempted to destroy San Gabriel Mission. Toypurina, a medicine woman from the Japchavit Rancheria, along with a group of
men, led eight villages in an attack on the priests and soldiers of the mission
in 1785. Following the attack the men were punished, not only for their attack
against the missionaries but “as much for following the leadership of a
woman.”19 Toypurina was exiled to Alta California (specifically to Carmel, and
later San Juan Bautista).
Though missions were only established as far north as San Francisco and
San Rafael (just north of San Francisco), Spanish exploration and missionization would likely have been discussed or reported among the Native people
of Northwest California. The struggles of the Native peoples in Southern California very likely reached the people of Northwest California, as they continued to trade with explorers well into the mid-1800s. By the end of the mission
period, many California Indian peoples had died of disease, moved inland,
or south to Mexico, or were living in the missions without claim to or ownership of any land. In addition, they experienced rapid and often destructive
changes as a result of the Mexican government’s laws, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Gold Rush, and finally the continuing attempts of the federal
government to assimilate what became the “mission Indians” through relocation and termination.
Scholars note that contact invasion and settlement in Northern California
happened “relatively late” in the 1800s and were tied mostly to the influx of
people during the Gold Rush. The history of the California Gold Rush contains
brutal, disquieting truths about the settlement of the West, where violence
was integral to the success of colonization, it was the policy of the government
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to “blink at genocide,” and extermination was considered the most “practical”
approach.20 These stories of depraved violence are thought of as the isolated
experiences of a few and not endemic to a settler colonialism intent on eradicating Indigenous peoples.
The history of settler colonial invasion was in part a project set on taming—taming the land and the “wilderness,” taming the “wild Indian,” and
taming the “Native woman.” This taming involved the most intimate aspects
of Native peoples’ lives, including their relationships and their bodies, and
resulted not only in settler colonial policies of genocide and removal but also
in policies of assimilation like allotment and boarding schools. Native peoples
did not just have to conform; they needed to do it in a way that supported
capitalism and heteropatriarchy, completely divorced from Native epistemologies, not the least of which were the Native feminisms that were foundational
to their cultures and societies.
During the assimilation era, in programs like the boarding schools—which
forcibly took young children and placed them in schools with the hope of “killing the Indian to save the man”—young Native girls were reimagined as uncivilized, undomesticated women who could be taught the proper way to dress,
eat, do their hair, and perform domestic servitude. The assimilation process
was meant to erase Native culture from existence, and part of accomplishing
this was to erase from the cultural imagination Native feminisms. This reeducation tried to make Native people understand their past, where women
were equal partners and could hold important positions of power, as “primitive” and “unnatural.” These notions of primitivity became part of a much
larger structure of assimilative policies that continuously attempted to reconfigure Native societies as heteronormative and heteropatriarchal. It is precisely
for this reason that a historical analysis focusing on gender, women, and
coming-of-age ceremonies in California can demonstrate how the continuation of Native cultural ceremonies and practices sustained Native peoples as
they confronted and enacted survivance during the historical invasion by
Western civilization and why these cultural revitalizations are part of a decolonizing praxis.
ge no c i De , t h e g ol D rush, A n D c om i ng – oF-Age
The California Gold Rush weighs heavily on California Indian history and
deserves much more than the pages I offer here, because of the extent to which
this history is silenced in our modern education system. I cannot, in this case,
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write my own detailed history of the Gold Rush, but instead offer my engagement with foundational texts that establish a history of genocide in the state
of California. I have decided to approach my historical (re)writing and (re)
righting in this way because (1) the foundational texts and scholars of genocide
in California deserve to be heard and utilized, and (2) I provide this historical
background not as a treatise on how or why genocide happened, but instead
as a discussion of how and why Native women’s ceremonies are such important
sites of (re)writing, (re)righting, and (re)riteing the historical record. I utilize
two foundational texts concerning California Indians and genocide—Jack
Norton’s Genocide in Northwestern California and Brendan Lindsay’s Murder
State—to demonstrate that long, detailed, and fully researched materials exist
to establish that California was built through the attempted genocide of Native
peoples, and that this genocide was documented and legalized by the state as
well as the federal government.
In California genocide is written on the landscape. It shaped not only the
way the state and federal government continued to approach Native people as
a “problem” but also how generations of people would come to understand
Native cultures, histories, and futures. I am reminded of historians, ethnographers, and anthropologists who have previously written about Native
peoples as having “given up” or “lost” certain ceremonies or cultural practices.
The disengagement with genocide in these studies not only makes them problematic but also demonstrates how little new generations of scholars are taught
about critical engagement with historical records that erased genocide. The
language of “giving up” or “losing” that is perpetuated in the rhetoric of history
and ethnography completely ignores the lengths to which Native people went
to survive and resist the continuing attacks on their cultures and peoples. It
also denies any sort of culpability or responsibility; it makes the founding of
the state of California benign, removes any lasting or residual trauma, and
pretends that ownership or rights to land and resources in this state are settled
and beyond reproach. What I offer here is only an introduction to the many
well-established scholarly studies and papers that challenge the benign language of “settlement.” And from here I build a much clearer understanding of
why Native women, women’s coming-of-age ceremonies, and women’s cultural
practices are so central to decolonization and the building of Indigenous
Jack Norton, a fellow Hupa tribal member and noted historian, provided
one of the first and most thorough accounts of what he called “the plundering
horde” of the 1850s in his book Genocide in Northwestern California: When Our
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Worlds Cried, first published in 1979. Norton’s seminal work was meant to demonstrate, through documented historical evidence, a record of genocide that
was “so blatant, so hideous, that the world as a whole must weep for the inhumanities inflicted upon a people who inhabited their lands since time immemorial.”21 Norton took up the task of proving that the actions of the settlers
during the Gold Rush amounted to genocide, meeting all of the criteria from
the United Nation’s Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide. He writes, “When I used the term genocide to identify
and to document the brutal acts of American citizens against the original
peoples of northwestern California I was met with derision.”22 But he is clear
in his findings that
particularly in California, policies were officially effectuated leading to
public incitement to murder and terror. The massacres, the enslavement
and the forced removals were overtly sanctioned from the highest officials
to the general citizenry. These crimes were often directly incited by people
who held political as well as economic power within the community. . . .
In addition the public was continually urged to commit genocide by the
local newspaper. . . . Indian rights were openly denied as California courts,
statues, and the legislature disallowed guarantees under the Constitution.
Its goal was to appropriate the lands and resources of the original owners.
It was assumed that if the native had no legal rights, and no guarantees of
human dignity, then clearly he had no claim to hold the land.23
Thirty-three years later, scholar Brendan Lindsay continued Norton’s work
in Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide, where he argues that
“most property-holding, adult white male U.S. citizens in California—in other
words, the electorate—at the very least tacitly supported the system of atrocities attempting to circumscribe or eliminate Native Americans in the state.”24
It was not just “thousands of white citizens” who actively participated in murdering hundreds of thousands of Native men, women, and children but also
the “hundreds of thousands of white citizens who, through apathy, inaction,
or tacit support, allowed the extermination to proceed directly by violence or
indirectly through genocidal policies of cultural extermination and planned
Brendan Lindsay provides many recorded incidents of deplorable violence
against Native people during the California Gold Rush. In one incident he
writes that “a Native man and woman caught gathering clover on a white man’s
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property near Clear Lake were punished by having three ferocious dogs set
upon them. The man survived the mauling, but the woman died from her
wounds, which included having her breasts torn off by the dogs.”26
Sally Bell, a Sinkyone woman from Northern California, offered her own
recollection of this violence in Malcolm Margolin’s collected work The Way We
Lived: California Indian Stories, Songs and Reminiscences:
My grandfather and all of my family—my mother, my father, and me—were
around the house and not hurting anyone. Soon, about ten o’clock in the
morning, some white men came. They killed my grandfather and my mother
and my father. I saw them do it. I was a big girl at the time. Then they killed
my baby sister and cut her heart out and threw it in the brush where I ran
and hid. My little sister was a baby just crawling around. I didn’t know what
to do. I was so scared that I guess I just hid there a long time with my little
sister’s heart in my hands.27
While numerous incidents of violence run rampant through the historical
record, there are clear gendered implications to the many ways that Native
people were treated and targeted during this period of time. Newspaper articles and reports by California settlers tended to refer to Native men as bucks,
Native women as squaws, and California Indians in general as “diggers.” The
terminology speaks to a much larger trend of treating the murder of Native
people as a sport. A newspaper article from the San Francisco Bulletin of
August 1859 reported on activities in the Red Bluff region, including an attack
on a large rancheria of Native peoples where settlers had succeeded in “killing
ten Indians, including one squaw, who threw herself between a white man
and one of the bucks just at the moment of firing off the rifle of the former.”
The story refers to the white men as a “gallant little army” who then went on
to attack a much larger group of Native people.28 An article from the San Francisco Bulletin in July 1864 includes references to “the most exciting Indian hunt
that has yet been made by any scouting party” and describes some settlers who
followed a group of Indians including “about 9 bucks, 6 squaws, and 2 children,
for forty-two days and nights.”29 The article details this stalking as a harrowing feat of tracking where they finally met up with another group of
soldiers, found the Indians, and “killed 9, and took 2 squaws and 2 children
prisoners.” Native men were hunted like animals, and killing them was considered an accomplishment, while Native women were “taken”—something
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that is not often elaborated in the historical record but usually resulted in
forced marriage, concubinage, enslavement, or sex slavery.30.
Native women were often targeted through rape and physical violence.
Albert Hurtado notes in Indian Survival on the California Frontier that violence
against women in California was rampant and built into settler society. Hurtado argues that the popular derogatory slang term diggers was “derived from
women’s work—getting roots and tubers with a sharpened digging stick.”31
California Indian women were also objectified and degraded because of the
seminudity of traditional clothing which, according to Hurtado, was one reason
miners disparaged Native women—“because they did not measure up to Victorian ideals.”32 In addition, the violence of this period led to increased rates of
prostitution among California Indian women as well as increased rates of forced
concubinage and “frequent” sexual assaults.33 This in turn led to increased
violence against white settlers, as Hurtado notes: “Retaliation for assaults on
Indian women was a common cause of violence in Gold Rush California.”34
The first expedition by Spanish explorers in Northwest California was in
June 1775, when they landed at the village of Tsurai.35 Fur traders arrived in
the Northwest California area in the 1820s and 1830s.36 In 1828, “Jedediah Smith
and a company of Hudson Bay troopers crossed from the Sacramento valley
and descended the Trinity to the Klamath and the Klamath to the Pacific.”37
Excitement about the possibility of striking it rich during the Gold Rush
would lead to the massive influx of white miners to Northwest California. This
“marauding horde” had no interest in continuing exchanges with the Native
people of the area; instead they attempted to annihilate the Native people in
the hopes of claiming ownership of gold, resources, and land. The massacre
on Indian Island became a heinous illustration of the depravity of white settlers, who killed over 150 Wiyot people during their world renewal ceremony
in 1860. Those murdered were mostly women, children, and elderly, who were
killed with hatchets, axes, and knives.38 Estimates of the deaths of Wiyot
people range from 150 to 250.39 This incident demonstrated that settlers had
no qualms about targeting Native people who were gathered for ceremonial
purposes. It became well known among Native peoples that ceremonies had
become targets, and as demonstrated by the Indian Island massacre, women
and children would not be spared.
Miners had not come with families or brought women with them while
they traveled. They often took Native women as concubines or sex slaves or
forced them into prostitution. Many times these “women” were in fact still
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children.40 Reports of the kidnapping and rape of young Native women
describe this as happening “daily…

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