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History in your own Backyard

By Edward Flores
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"How did the environment impact early California Indians?"

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There were Indian tribes across the entire California. There probably was a tribe where you live now. Go to the web resource list on Early California Indians to research the different tribes.
  • work with one other person in your group to gather information about two tribes.
  • choose one tribe from one region and another from a different region
- Central Valley and Mountains
- Coastal
- Desert
  • download the word document (Indians-research.doc) to take notes for your research and put in the name of the tribes you chose instead of Tribe #1 and #2.
   History Geography Other
 Tribe #1
 Tribe #2

Using the notes from your research, discuss with your group the similarities and differences between the tribes you chose. Do you see any similarities and differences from the tribes that the other people in your group researched?

  1. Share out with the class 3 things that are similar among all the tribes your group researched.
  2. Share one thing that was unique about each tribe and different than any other tribe.


For this activity, you will be reading some legends about different California Indian Tribes. First, read the background on myths, legends, and stories.

Choose and read at least one of the creation stories. As you read the story, think about how the environment influenced the characters and events in the story.

Miwok: The Beginning of Thunder
Yokut: California Creation Story
Diguenos: Story of Creation
Old Mole’s Creation: Southern California
The Flood and Theft of Fire: Mountains
The Great Fire: Central Valley

Then share a summary of the creation story you read with the other people in your group. After listening to the different creation stories, work with the people in your group to make your own creation story based on the animals that live near you and how California Indians adapted their way of life to their environment.

Type your story into a word document and share with the class.


California Indian People had different foods that  was passed down from generation to generation. Think about the foods you eat in your own family. Some foods such as avocados, chiles, squash, corn, mole, and beans are foods Indians originally ate. You can learn more by clicking on the following links.

The American Indian contribution to the world’s food
Foods and Recipes from Native American Indian Tribes
(image of chiles at right from the cooking post)

Native American Recipes

If you eat some of these foods at home, bring a recipe to share with the class and explain how you think your family started eating that dish.

Art and Symbols

Symbols played an important role in California Indian culture and religion. Symbols may be pictures or objects used to represent something else such as ideas or beliefs. Click on the link below to see different Chumash symbols. Pick three symbols to draw and write down what you think they represent. Remember the importance of how Indian people lived in harmony with nature.

Chumash Indian symbols


Music and games were a large part of early California Indians life and still is today.
  1. Listen to a Miwok song about collecting acorns.
  2. Learn about tribal musical instruments. Different tribes created musical instruments using natural resources from the environment.

    Chumash Clamshell Instrument -image from www.pacwesttraders.com

Share  your thoughts about the following questions:
  • How did the music make the people in the tribes feel?
  • What pictures did the music make?
  • For what purpose do you think different music was used?
Collect samples of plants, seeds, and other materials from your environment.
Design an instrument using the natural resources in your area.