Founded in 1961, Sonoma State University sits on 269 acres at the southern end of the Santa Rosa Plain, near the foot of Sonoma Mountain. The campus is located in Rohnert Park, one of the early post-war planned communities; the town of Cotati is nearby. On a bench outside the local county library there is a depiction of three men: Chief Kota’te, whom one of the local historical society identifies as a possible Coast Miwok chief; Juan Castaneda, a soldier who held the first Mexican land grant in the area; and Fred Rohnert, the son of Waldo Emerson Rohnert who developed the land as a seed farm. Of the three, we learned that one appears to be fictional, and it is neither Castaneda nor Rohnert. These three faces on the bench and the image of a Native American man (presumably Chief Kota’te) wearing a headdress on city signs around Cotati raised some questions that we wanted to answer for this project. To that end we looked at historical research and ethnohistories in an effort to understand Native land dispossession, erasure, and colonial contact in the area where our University sits.

    All colleges and universities in the United States sit on what was once Native land. Our assignment this semester was to research how colonial forces affected land dispossession on the site of our individual campuses. The first task was to identify which cultural group or groups historically used this land. We learned that Coast Miwok lived in Rohnert Park and Cotati, which likely prompted Cotati to use this image of Chief Kota’te as their mascot. Once this was established, we set out to learn what we could about these tribes: what was life like before contact, how did European contact affect the local people, and what is the common narrative about these groups now? The first thing we should have done was to reach out to members of the local tribal community to get feedback on this project and to help us frame our own narrative. Although we did not do this, it would be a meaningful way to decolonize this project in the future.

    One of the goals of this project was to address the common narrative of Native American disappearance. On one of our local historical society websites we found examples of erasure as they used language such as “The native Kota’ti ‘disappeared.’” Interestingly enough, the author behind this history uses quotations around the term disappeared, yet fails to elaborate what they mean by this. When we visited the Cotati Historical Society museum in our town we found little more than a couple of local maps indicating Native Californian linguistic borders and a mortar and pestle on loan from Sonoma State. In the same building which houses the museum we found an installation from Graton Rancheria which included a timeline, from prehistoric to contemporary, as well as information about historic life- and foodways and language revitalization programs.    

One of the most visible businesses in Rohnert Park is the Graton Resort and Casino, just a couple of miles away from the campus. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns the casino, is comprised primarily of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo. Although the path to federal recognition was long and challenging, what we know is that there are living people whose ancestors were members of these cultural groups which disproves the notion of Native disappearance. Despite four centuries of contact with destructive colonial forces and a narrative that emphasizes disappearance, the story that we should have told was one of resilience. Instead, we primarily focused on colonial contact in an effort to offer a source for information about the pressures affecting this region and to continue to cast light on the history of Indian dispossession the effects of which are felt to this day.

To understand what happened to the Coast Miwok who lived here, we needed to look at the history of European colonization in California. We focused on four major colonial forces: Spain, Russia, Mexico, and the United States. As anthropology students we were interested in decentering colonial voices in an effort to recenter Native ones; to that end we looked for interviews and first hand accounts of Native people, and anthropological work when possible. In an effort to contextualize the history of Native American study, we include a note on epistemology as well as language: both its use as a tool of categorization by anthropologists as well as our own use of language in the site. Text from ethnographic interviews as well as text written by an Eastern Pomo man are used in our Story Map in an effort to humanize the past. We include information about the Mexican land grant that was the first official transfer of ownership in Cotati, as well some information about California’s unratified treaties. The reference and resource page contains links to organizations and information about language revitalization programs, cultural centers, and tribal information.

What seemed at first like a fairly straightforward assignment kept growing and expanding: in order to understand the impacts of the herds of cattle imported by the Spanish, we had to understand more about the subsistence strategies of the Coast Miwok. In order to understand the apparent shift in Mission labor and what appears to be increasing rates violence against Indians, it was important to understand the economics of the Spanish empire. Whenever we felt like we had answered one question, another arose; so, although there was likely little direct contact between the Coast Miwok in the Cotati area and either Russia or Spain, it felt important to explore the all of the colonial forces at play in California. The Bloody Island Massacre primarily targeted Pomo, but the ideologies that resulted in such grotesque use of military force must have been felt even by the somewhat isolated tribes west of Sonoma Mountain, which is why we included it in our story.

When pulling together resources for this project, we found that we were using a preponderance of anthropological literature even when we didn’t specifically seek it out. There are a few reasons for this: it was anthropologists and other ethnographers who set out to gather data about Native Californians around the turn of the 20th century. Urged by one of the founding fathers of American anthropology, Franz Boas, Alfred Kroeber helped to establish the anthropology department at UC Berkeley in 1901. Boas was particularly concerned that California Indian languages receive study before they were all lost; Kroeber took up the task and sent students into the field to study these disappearing cultures. We address this in the anthropological perspective area of our website, but it bears repeating that, as with all social sciences, the results of studies reflect the biases of the researchers, and the importance stressed on saving the data instead of helping the people affected. That said, there are many invaluable resources that were gathered during this period.

Archaeological studies of colonial sites in California have helped to fill out the picture that some of the early ethnographers may have missed in their effort to capture pre-contact lifeways. At the 2018 American Anthropological Association annual meeting there were several presentations on recent archaeological work in California; this continues to be a rich field of study.

The tribes of California are often organized by language families. We address some issues of linguistics on our website, but we think it’s worthwhile to address in additional length here. In their 2000 piece, Irvine and Gal address colonial use of sociolinguistics to define boundaries. They explore the Western colonial ideologies that languages are often seen as national boundaries; as Max Weinriech said, “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” This way of thinking informed how colonizers categorized non-Western people whom they encountered: differences in languages were seen as dividing lines between communities. In the case of California, we see the sharp delineations between language groups on language maps, but these must have been fluid boundaries with trade and kinship networks traveling back and forth. Irvine and Gal explain that these ideologies of boundaries cause erasure by presenting simplified sociolinguistic fields which “render…” individuals or “activities invisible” (Irvine and Gal 2000 in Duranti 2009). As we address on our background page*, the language/tribal categories that were developed by linguists and anthropologists in California were used by the government to either grant or deny land rights to indigenous people in California.

According to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria exhibit adjacent to the historical society’s museum, Coast Miwok didn’t recognize chiefs in their social structure, explaining that although the town mascot may be called Chief Kota’te, that was more likely a place name. In part, this discrepancy between real and imaginary historical figures on the library bench is because there are no written historical records from Native Californians. They appear in the written record first in the context of colonial contact which was historically invested in the deterioration of indigenous culture; the tradition of Native erasure persists.

We hope that this essay provides context for the website, and that the website is useful as a jumping-off point for future research. Engagement with the Native and campus community would make this a more meaningful project by inviting Native people to speak for themselves and address concerns they may have with this project, and addressing the lack of visibility of local Indian history on the campus itself. Providing this type of increased visibility of historic trauma is only useful if it serves to prompt dialogue and critical examination of false and hurtful narratives. These issues do not exist solely in the past, but continue to persist with cases of Native American disenfranchisement, high rates of violence against Native women and continued refusal to acknowledge Native land rights, among others.

Works Cited

The following is a list of works cited in this essay, on the website, and that we used to help our understanding of the subject even if we did not directly use concepts from the material.

Colley, Charles C. 1970. “The Missionization of the Coast Miwok Indians of California.” California Historical Society Quarterly. 49(2):143-162.

Deloria, Vine. 1969. Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman, OK.

Duggan, Marie. 2016. “With And Without an Empire: Financing For California Missions Before and After 1810.” Pacific Historical Review. 83 (1): 23-71

Farris, Glenn, J. 1998. “The Bodega Miwok as Seen by Mikhail Tikhonovich Tikhanov in 1818.” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. 20 (1): 2-12

Gifford, Edward Winslow. 1926. “Miwok Lineages and the Political Unit in Aboriginal California.” American Anthropologist. 28 (2): 389-401.

Goerke, Betty. 2007. Chief Marin. Heyday Books. Berkeley, CA.

Hinton, Leanne. 1994. Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages. Heyday Books. Berkeley, CA.

Hurtado, Albert L. 1988. Indian Survival on the California Frontier. Yale. New Haven, CT.

Irvine, Judith T., and Susan Gal. (2000) 2009. “Language Ideology and Linguistic Differentiation.” in Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, 2nd Edition, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 402-434. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.

Johnson, John. 2006. “On The Ethnolinguistic Identity of the Napa Tribe: The Implications of Chief Constancio Occaye’s Narratives As Recorded By Lorenzo Yates.” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. 26 (2): 193-204.

Kelly, Isabel T., Mary E. T. Collier, Sylvia Barker Thalman, Tom Smith, and Maria Copa. Interviews with Tom Smith and Maria Copa: Isabel Kelly’s Ethnographic Notes on the Coast Miwok Indians of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties, California. MAPOM Occasional Papers ; No. 6. San Rafael, Calif.: Miwok Archaeological Preserve of Marin, 1996.

Lightfoot, Kent. 2005. Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Madley, Benjamin. 2016. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Milliken, Randall. 2009. “Ethnohistory and Ethnogeography of the Coast Miwok and their Neighbors, 1783-1840.” Presented to National Park Service, Golden Gate NRA.

Panich, Lee M; Tsim D Schneider. 2015. “Expanding mission archaeology: A landscape approach to indigenous autonomy in colonial California.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 40: 48-58.

Radin, Max and Benson,William Ralganal. 1932. “The Stone and Kelsey ‘Massacre’ at Clear Lake in 1849: The Indian Viewpoint.” California Historical Society Quarterly. 11(3):266-273.

Schneider, Tsim D. 2007. “The role of archived photographs in Native California archaeology.” Journal of Social Archaeology. 7 (1): 49-71.

Schneider, Tsim D. 2017. in Many and Brilliant Lights, edited by Robert M. Senkewicz. Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library.

Silliman, Stephen. 2004. Lost Laborers in Colonial California: Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Sokolove, Jennifer; Sally K. Fairfax; Breena Holland. 2002. “Managing Place and Identity: The Marin Coast Miwok Experience.” Geographical Review. 92 (1): 23-44.

Staub, Michael B. 1994. Voices of Persuasion. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. Digitally printed version, 2009.

Cotati Historical Society. “The History of Cotati.”