Guidiville’s tragic history is not unique; all California Indian people suffered similar fates. In a few brief centuries the native people of California were enslaved, murdered, and driven from their land to make way for European settlers and fortune hunters. They saw the rich ecosystems that they had maintained and evolved for millennia plundered and destroyed in a matter of decades. They were subjected to fraud and legal chicanery. In the 21st century, they continue to struggle to survive and to protect and preserve their culture and wisdom for a time when it will again be recognized and honored.
The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians is the modern legacy of an ancient people inhabiting Northern California for thousands of years. While the Tribe has a Pomo name, ethnologically its members include people of Coastanoan, Patwin, Wappo and Pomo ancestry. It is from this unique mix of groups that the Tribe has its strongest historical ties to the Bay area.
The Tribe’s ancestral lands extended from the northern and eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay up to Marin, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino counties. The Tribe’s ancestors used Point Molate, part of what once was Potrero San Pablo Island, as base for trade, hunting and gathering. The land was managed and cared for by Indian people as a living entity, using the site in a balanced way and ensuring sustainability for future generations.
Land was managed and cared for by Indian people as a living entity. The idea of "owning" property and the bright lines of specific territories of exclusivity are non-native concepts. Indian people used the land in a balanced way—to support the human population while assuring a future harvest.
The landscapes of northern California were extraordinarily diverse and productive. Native peoples were an essential part of the evolution and ongoing maintenance of this rich system. Through their harvesting practices they managed the land in ways that increased species diversity and productivity. Their burning helped develop coastal prairies rich in nutritious wildflower and grass seed. Similarly, oak savannahs were maintained and extended through burning. Unlike annual agriculture, these plant communities accumulated soil, water, and genetic diversity. Early Europeans thought that the lack of trees along the Bay indicated poor soils until wheat crops planted in these areas demonstrated their profound productivity.
After European Contact
In 1775, Spanish explorers in Richardson Bay encountered Indian people in Tule boats, just like the kind the Guidiville ancestors used to traverse the Bay from the Marin shoreline for fishing, trade, and cultural exchange at Point Molate Island and other areas around the northern Bay.
After discovery of gold in California, a rush of land-hungry settlers drove Indian people, including the Guidiville ancestors, out of the resource-rich Bay Area. Guidiville ancestors retreated to the northern reaches of their traditional range in what is now Mendocino County. Indian people that did not retreat quickly from the Bay Area were captured and either killed or enslaved. In an attempt to reduce the bloodshed, the US Government sent three commissioners to California to negotiate treaties to move the remaining Indians away from the path of settlement. Throughout California, 18 treaties were negotiated and executed in 1851. Guidiville’s Pomo, Coastanoan, Patwin and Wappo ancestors and other tribes ceded more than 90 percent of their ancestral lands in Marin, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties in exchange for 254,000 acres of land surrounding Clear Lake.
Point Molate is located on what was
Potrero San Pablo Island, a vital
economic and ecological base for
the Tribe’s Pomo, Patwin, Wappo and
The tribes never received the Treaty lands. The federal government left Pomos and other Indians in the region landless and homeless in a hostile anti-Indian society. Instead, the US Senators from California convinced Congress not to ratify the Treaties. They were locked away in a building in Washington, D.C. until discovered in the early 1900s. In the 50 years following signing of the treaties, 96 percent of California’s remaining Indian people were killed.
Treaty map showing lost Pomo lands
Between 1909 and 1915, the federal government purchased lands in California for the remaining homeless Indians. After decades of being landless and homeless, a presidential executive order on June 29, 1909 established the 160-acre Guidiville Rancheria. The Guidiville parcel, like almost all of the others purchased for homeless Indians, had no water or infrastructure necessary for survival. The deplorable conditions led to disease and early death many tribal members. Other surviving members were forced to travel back and forth to the Bay Area to find work. This pattern continues today. In a report to Congress a federal employee wrote the following regarding the conditions at these Rancherias:
“The sanitary condition of the Indian rancherias is bad, but the feeling of helplessness and despair is worse... It is evident that if the Indian is to keep alive he must have some means of making his living... nearly 6,000 souls are dangerously near the famine line... There is very little work of any kind to be had, and the Indians often have to go 50 or 100 miles to work.
“Then he can work but a short time, picking fruit or hops... It should be remembered that the Government still owes these people considerable sums of money, morally at least, but the Government owes more than money. No amount of money can repay these Indians for the years of misery, despair, and death which the Government policy has inflicted upon them.”Since its first inception until it was terminated, the Guidiville Rancheria was a complete failure. The absence of water or adequate infrastructure made living on this barren land virtually impossible. In 1958, the federal government illegally terminated the Guidiville Tribe. The lands within the Rancheria were transferred to private hands. In 1987 (one year before the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act), Guidiville filed suit against the federal government for wrongful termination, as did many of the 42 terminated California tribes. Four years later, in 1991, the Scotts Valley/Guidiville federal lawsuit was settled and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians was restored to federally recognized status.