A Discussion of Report Topics

Fourth grade students in California are typically asked to write reports on California's native people. This is a great idea that has lots of educational benefits --- a little research, some good writing skills, and maybe even an opportunity to deliver a report orally. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers are somewhat naive about the existence of resources that are accessible to their students so they seem to just divide up the state on the basis of a tribal map and according to the number of students they have in their classes. This leaves a tremendous number of students in a very frustrated situation --- "I have to do a report on the Wappo and I live in Inyokern. What should I do?" Well, there isn't a lot of written information on the Wappo and they're certainly not going to find it anywhere in Inyokern!

Grade school students are typically dependent on commonly available research resources anyway --- dictionaries, encyclopedias, magazines. The Internet has changed that in both positive and negative ways. The Internet is a pervasive supplier of information and it is accessible almost everywhere. Great! Unfortunately, it is also leading many to believe that text sources are passe or useless. Not great! We are quickly developing an Internet culture that subscribes to the maxim that "if it doesn't exist on the Internet, it doesn't exist at all." For California Indian studies this is disastrous. You simply will not find that much on the Internet. Dictionaries and encyclopedias have even less specific information. Most of the information is available in books and in journal articles. Unless the student lives in an urban area with good libraries, these are hard to find. So, if you are a 4th grade teacher, I hope that you'll check out what resources your students actually have available to them before you ask them to write a report --- e.g., on the Wappo.

With this much as background, I would like to use this page as a discussion of reports that can work.

First of all, if your school library can afford it, the ultimate encyclopedic resource for California Indian studies is Volume 8 of the Smithsonian Institution's Handbook of North American Indians. As a magazine resource, there is no doubt that News from Native California is the definitive one. Beyond those two sources, there are many books on specific tribes; see the bibliographies in my regional summaries. Also, for Northern and Central California, see the Berkeley bibliographies at http://www.mip.berkeley.edu/cilc/bibs/toc.html . News from Native California has provided a very nice collection of Internet links that are relevant to California Indian studies at http://www.heydaybooks.com/news/links.html . In addition, one of the greatest Internet resources in the country is maintained by Karen Strom, on the East Coast, at http://www.kstrom.net/isk/maps/ca/california.html . Be aware, however, that there are many California tribes for which free-standing texts and Internet information are completely unavailable.

Here are some tribes for which rich resources exist.

(Inclusion of the Northern Paiutes and the Washo is a subjective choice. Both had traditional territories well within the boundaries of California; however, the Smithsonian studies includes them in the Great Basin (volume 11) region rather than the California region.)

While this is a small list compared to the large number of tribes and tribelets located in California, the teacher can generate a larger number of report topics (to cover all the students in class) by dividing up the studies. For each of the tribes, above, someone can report on the physical geography and history, someone on the material (food, clothing, and shelter) culture, and someone on the social (marriage, family, spiritualism, and politics) culture. There are also very interesting stories (some of them "creation stories"), ritual celebrations, and arts. Basketry styles were quite varied around California and are worth several different reports.

One should also keep in mind that California was divided up into a largish number of ecologically distinctive regions, creating strong differences between food sources and housing. The Yurok and Chumash were both coastal people so they both ate a wide variety of ocean foods. However, their approaches to the sea were quite different and they make an interesting contrast. The Yana, Pomo, Ohlone, Yokuts, and Tongva possessed similar "inland" habits and represent the classic "acorn culture" of California; yet each one presents different traits because of its precise location. The Maidu and Sierra Miwok are very similar because of their common habitat in the higher Sierra foothill areas; yet there are interesting differences between Northern and Southern California. The Great Basin lifeways continued to follow a system of "annual rounds" (migrations after food) so the Washo and Northern Paiute people have very interesting stories to tell. The Cahuilla were desert dwellers who developed extremely interesting social and ritual systems in order to deal with the precariousness of food supplies. All in all, this small number of tribes presents huge opportunities for comparison and contrasts, and all Native Californians teach us a lot about living within means and understanding ourselves within a natural world --- all urgent lessons in the contemporary world.

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