Paiutes or Miwok? Only Time Remembers

In History

Photo: Sign in Yosemite National Park showing members of the Miwok and Mono Lake Paiutes who inhabited Yosemite Valley. Photo by Craig Kohlruss via Fresno Bee. “Who were the early inhabitants of Yosemite Valley — Miwoks or Mono Lake Paiutes?

The answer matters to David Andrews, a Paiute who believes his ancestors’ history has been underplayed by the National Park Service.

Yosemite National Park’s historical displays mention both Indian groups as having a presence in the glacially carved valley. But the park has generally given the Miwok more prominence.

Andrews believes that history needs to be rewritten. He has led a two-year effort to persuade the park to give the Paiutes a more prominent role in displays chronicling the Valley’s earliest inhabitants.

‘What they are teaching little Johnny is false. I find it offensive,’ said Andrews, 55, who lives in Sacramento and is chairman of the Yosemite Mono Lake Paiute Community.

Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman said the park has based its historical displays on academic research and early historical accounts.

‘If there’s proof something that’s been done is incorrect, we’d change it,’ Gediman said. But, he added, the park service remains unconvinced at this time that it has to change its exhibits.

Having Yosemite’s story reflect the Paiute’s role is a matter of cultural pride and historical accuracy, said Andrews, who said his effort is supported by other members of the Paiute community. It’s also important, he said, for building a case with the federal government to have an Indian community formally recognized as a tribe.

Neither the Southern Sierra Miwok nor the Yosemite Mono Lake Paiutes have been formally recognized. The Miwok have sought recognition, and Andrews said his group of Paiutes also is seeking recognition.

Recognition as a tribe would enable members to receive Indian health benefits, form their own government and build a casino on Indian trust land, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Andrews said he has no interest in getting a casino. But he contends Yosemite officials are favoring Miwok in the Valley’s history to help that community attain tribal recognition — and possibly rights to build a casino. Gediman said the park would not assist the southern Sierra Miwok get federal tribal recognition for that or any other reason.

Bill Leonard, a Miwok and former chairman of the American Indian Council of Mariposa County, acknowledged that the Southern Sierra Miwok have discussed a casino in the past. But, he added, the Miwok have been trying to get federal recognition for at least 35 years — well before casinos were an issue.

As for Andrews’ effort to change Yosemite’s history, Leonard said the park can always make improvements, but tacking Miwok or Paiute labels on certain historical figures is tough.

‘The thing is, everyone is a little of both. Everyone is a mixture of Miwok, Paiute and Chukchansi,’ Leonard said.

Much of Yosemite Valley’s early history is based on works published after the Mariposa Indian War of 1850-1851. The war resulted from clashes between Indians and white settlers scouring the Sierra Nevada foothills for gold.

‘There was no field work done between the end of the Mariposa Indian War in 1851 and the early 20th century. … That’s a problem for anyone studying the Indians in the central Sierra,’ said Bill Secrest Jr., a local historian and librarian at Fresno County Public Library.

‘The Indian history they have after 1851 is largely a reconstruction. … You don’t have accounts to compare to and witnesses.’ “

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5 commentsOn Paiutes or Miwok? Only Time Remembers

  • One of our Paiute people contacted the Fresno Bee about the how Yosemite NPS signs and the new Yosemite Visitor center had the story of the Yosemite Miwoks, but used photos of mostly Paiutes. One of the major problems we Paiutes had was with the interpretive signs located at the Lower Yosemite Falls and the Visitor Center. The majority of the Paiute people used in the photos for the Miwok story in Yosemite are not in the Southern Sierra Miwuks. When the reporter finally talked to David Andrews he gave her governmental documentation proving what he was saying was true. The reporter even talked to other Paiutes. Yet when the story came out there was only David Andrews vs four people claiming that the early Yosemite Indians were Miwoks. Not one mention of the Paiutes used as Miwoks in the Visitor Center or the photos of Paiutes used at the sign at Lower Yosemite Falls. No quotes from the other Paiutes. The four who the Bee reporter quoted instead was the spokesman for Yosemite National Park. An anthropologist the Park uses, an man who writes books mentioning the Yosemite Indians as Miwoks and the ex-chairman of the American Indian Council of Mariposa aka the Southern Sierra Miwuks. So basically it was four against one. The story turned from the Paiutes being used incorrectly for Miwok history to 4 people claiming Yosemite was Miwok. You can see the problems we Paiutes have with the Visitor Center by hitting the website link. Scott Gediman claims that there is no proof that photos were of Paiutes, yet their own books and Yosemite Research Library state differently. Kathleen Hull ‘guesses’ that Ahwahnees were Miwoks and she says they spoke Miwok. But if you read Dr. Lafayette Bunnell’s book The Discovery of Yosemite there is no mention that they were Miwoks, but only Paiutes and Monos. The book does say that Tenaya spoke Paiute and that he was the discoverer of the Paiute colony of Ahwahnee. Here is another thing that is not mentioned during that time Paiutes and Miwoks were enemies so no Miwok man could’ve entered Mono Lake and lived in peace before contact. Ahwahnee is also part of our ancient legends. All early writers say that the Mono Paiutes bragged about Tenaya WAR EXPLOITS and claimed him as one of their own. Now explain this to me, WHO WAS TENAYA FIGHTING? It was clearly not the Monos and Paiutes who were in the east. So that would mean he was fighting Miwoks. Chief Bautista, the Miwok chief, even gave the name “Yosemite” to Chief Tenaya’s band. In their language that meant “The Killers” and he said that his people were afraid to enter the Yosemite Valley. The ex-chairman of the Southern Sierra Miwuks Bill Leonard says that the Southern Sierra Miwuks are a combination of Miwok, Paiutes and Yokuts, yet during early times before the white man the three groups were enemies with each other. All three groups are different. Plus today there are already Miwok and Paiute and Yokut tribes in the area. So why would they want to create a tribe of the three combined tribes? Why don’t they just join one of the three that they are from? Oh, because some of them are already enrolled in Yokut, Paiute and Miwoks tribes in the area. One question the reporter should’ve asked Bill Leonard was “Are you are Miwok?” Because Bill Leonard is a Yokut and not a Miwok. At least if they asked David Andrews if he was a Paiute, he would’ve responded “yes”.

  • I think you’re just a bunch of greedy assholes who want nothing more than to put a casino in the middle of Yosemite so you can suck down tourist dollars.

  • To John Kirby, you certainly aren’t addressing that to the Paiutes, because the only ones going for gaming and a casino is the Southern Sierra Miwuks. The Fresno Bee has the documents showing that the Southern Sierra Miwuks are pursing a casino venture, not the Paiutes. The Fresno Bee also has documents that the Yosemite National Park Service pays the Southern Sierra Miwuks over 87,000 dollars for “tasks”, plus the chairman even is employed in the park. We Paiutes on the over hand are not getting any these benefits or support from Yosemite NPS. Years ago the Bridgeport Paiute Tribe was one of the first tribes in California to open a casino in Mono County where the Mono Lake Paiute homeland is located besides Yosemite National Park. Their casino did not work because there is no vehicle traffic. So the idea of Mono Lake Paiutes going for a casino is not why we are doing this. We Paiutes have pride in our history and Yosemite is a major part of our ancestral area and part of our Paiute history. The point of the story was Yosemite was not a traditional Miwok area, they came in as the scouts with the Mariposa Battalion to route the Paiutes out and just stayed.

  • Paiutes are not looking to put any casino anywhere, especially in Yosemite. The Bridgeport Paiute Indian colony was one of the first California tribes to open a casino. Because of the low traffic in Mono County their casino could not sustain itself so they had to close it. The Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiutes’ area is Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy and Mono Lake, which is in Mono County, south of Bridgeport. If the Bridgeport Colony could not maintain a casino venture because of the population and locality in Northern Mono County the same would be true of Southern Mono County. Unlike the American Indian Council of Mariposa aka the Southern Sierra Miwuks we Paiutes are not interested in a casino. We just don’t want the literal genocide of our people to continue. Plus the Park service is using photos of our Paiute people, yet putting a big “Miwok” on them. That is a big problem to us. Also the majority of ealry Indians in Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy were Paiutes and not Miwoks, plus they were once enemies and there was no trade with enemy tribes. So that was a myth, the myth of friendly trade.

  • Pingback: Fresno Bee and the Yosemite Miwok, I mean Yosemite Paiutes. « Yosemite Mono Lake Paiute Native American history ()

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