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California Intermountain Indigenous Peoples

The California-Intermountain Region stretches from the Pacific coast of California inland to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Great Basin desert (in California, Nevada and Utah). Their culture and traditions were influenced by the great variety of environments that spanned this region, and despite many obstacles, they still continue to thrive today.

Student Activities for First Nations of the California Intermountain

Essential Questions for the First Nations of the California Intermountain

  1. Who are the First Nations of the California-Intermountain Region?
  2. Where is the California-Intermountain Regional region and what is its environment?
  3. How did the environment impact the culture and traditions of the Native Americans of the California-Intermountain Region?

Background for Indigenous Peoples of the California Intermountain

The California-Intermountain Region stretches east from the Pacific Coast of California through the high Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin. Because of this, the environments differ greatly across the region. There’s the mild climate of the beaches, the extreme hot and cold of the desert, the dense Redwood forests, and the mountains. Over 100 First Nations call this region home including the Shoshoni, Ute, Bannock, Paiute, Goshute, Pomo, Maidu, and Miwok.

East of the Pacific Coast, lies the Great Basin, a large depressed area of land in between the Rocky Mountains in the west, the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east, the Plateau Region (or Columbia Plateau) in the north, and the Colorado Plateau in the south. This area is filled with deserts and salty lakes like the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Most people in this area, like the Shoshoni, Ute, Bannock, Paiute, and Goshute, spoke a Shosonean language. The environment necessitated that they be nomadic and relocate seasonally in order to find food. Common food sources were roots, seeds, nuts, deer, sheep, antelope, small mammals like rabbits, and snakes and lizards. Homes needed to be easy to transport, and so they used the “wickiup”, which was made of willow poles, leaves and brush. In the 1800s, horses began to populate the Great Basin and became very important for hunting and travel. Tragically, with the influx of white settlers during and after the Gold Rush of the mid 1800s, many Native Americans in the Great Basin were pushed off their land or killed.

In California and along the Pacific coast, there were over 100 different Native American groups with even more languages between them. First Nations in California included the Maidu, Miwok, Pomo, Salinas, and Hupa, among others. While there was great diversity across the Nations, the landscape lent itself to similar practices. The climate is mild and the geography is rich with natural resources. There are massive redwood trees, oak trees, wild berries, and grasses along with wildlife like deer, rabbits, and birds. The ocean provided them with the ability to fish, dig for clams and other shellfish, and hunt for sea mammals like sea lions, orcas, and seals. First nations like the Pomos used the Redwood trees to build their homes by laying thick pieces of bark against a center pole to form a cone-shaped house. The Pomos and other groups used shells to make beads, money, and necklaces. Shells, feathers, roots, and grasses were also used to artistically weave intricate baskets that were as useful as they were beautiful.

Spanish conquistadors began exploring the region in the 1500s, and in 1769 the first mission was established in San Diego by the Spanish. This began a bloody period of slavery, disease, and cultural genocide for the Native Americans of California. Despite these hardships, First Nations of the California Intermountain region continue to thrive and carry on their rich traditions today.

In these activities students will use Storyboard That to demonstrate their understanding of key vocabulary, the environment of the California-Intermountain Region, as well as the cultural traditions of the First Nations that live there.

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our Social Studies Category!
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