American Indians of the Local Region (California Department of Education)
3rd Grade students study the American Indians who lived in the local region, how they used the resources of this region, and in what ways they modified the natural environment.
American Indians who lived in the region are presented authentically; students learn about the Indians’ tribal identity; their social organization and customs; the location of their villages and the reasons for the tribe’s locale; the structures they built and the relationship of these structures to the climate; their methods of getting food, clothing, tools, and utensils and whether they traded with others for any of those things; and their art and folklore. Museums that specialize in California Indian cultures are a rich source of publications, pictures, and artifacts that can help students appreciate the daily lives and the adaptation of these cultures to the environment of the region.
Physical and Human Geographic Features that Define California
By the fourth grade, students’ geographic skills have advanced to the point where they can use maps to identify latitude and longitude, the poles and hemispheres, and plot locations using coordinates. Students locate California on the map and analyze its location on the western edge of North America, separated from the more densely settled parts of the American heartland by mountains and wide desert regions. They learn to identify the mountain ranges, major coastal bays and natural harbors, and expansive river valleys and delta regions that are a part of the setting that has attracted settlement for tens of thousands of years. During their study of California history, students will use maps, charts, and pictures to describe how California communities used the land and adapted to it in different ways.
Pre-Columbian Settlements and People
California has long been home to American Indian peoples, who lived along the coast, in the river valleys,
Students learn about the major language groups of the American Indians and their distribution, social organization, legends and beliefs, and economic activities.
and in the desert areas. Students learn about the major language groups of the American Indians and their distribution, social organization, legends and beliefs, and economic activities. Students study the extent to which early people of California depended on, adapted to, and modified the physical environment by cultivation and the use of sea resources.
Contemporary cities and densely settled areas frequently are located in the same areas as these early American Indian settlements, especially on the coasts where rivers meet the sea. In analyzing how geographic factors have influenced the location of settlements, then and now, students have an opportunity to observe how the past and the present may be linked by similar dynamics.
European Exploration and Colonial History
In this unit, students will learn about the Spanish exploration of the New World and the colonization of New Spain. They review the motives for colonization, including rivalries with other imperial powers such as Britain and Russia, which brought Spanish soldiers and missionaries northward from Mexico City to Alta California.
The stories of Junipero Serra, Juan Crespi, Juan Bautista de Anza, and Gaspar de Portola are told as part of this narrative. Students learn about the presence of African and Filipino explorers and soldiers in the earliest Spanish sea and land expeditions. The participation of Spaniards, Mexicans, Indians from northern Mexico, and Africans in the founding of the Alta California settlements is also noted. In mapping these routes and settlements, students observe that access to California was difficult because of the physical barriers of mountains, deserts, and ocean currents and also because of the closing of land routes by Indians who were hostile to foreigners.
Missions, Ranchos, and the Mexican War for Independence
To secure the northwestern frontier of New Spain, King Charles III began colonizing California in 1769. Students learn that while soldiers arrived to defend the territory, Franciscan missionaries came to convert native peoples to Christianity. With so few colonists, Spanish authorities believed they could transform Indian peoples into loyal Spanish subjects by converting them to Christianity, introducing them to Spanish culture and language, and through intermarriage. The introduction of Christianity affected native peoples, many of whom combined Catholicism with their own belief systems. Vastly outnumbered by native peoples, missionaries relied on some Indian leaders to help manage the economic, religious, and social activities of the missions. Cattle ranches and civilian pueblos developed around missions built by forced Indian labor. Here, colonists introduced European plants, agriculture, a pastoral economy based mainly on cattle, and
Spanish culture. This study of early California ecology may also provide support for the teaching of the Environmental Principles and Concepts that are part of California’s Education and the Environment Initiative.
The historical record of this era remains incomplete due to the relative absence of native testimony, but it is clear that while missionaries brought agriculture, the Spanish language and culture, and Christianity to the native population, American Indians suffered in many California missions. The death rate was extremely high. Contributing factors included the hardships of forced labor and, primarily, the introduction of diseases for which the native population did not have immunity. Moreover, the imposition of forced labor and highly structured living arrangements degraded individuals, constrained families, circumscribed native culture, and negatively impacted scores of communities.
Sensitivity and careful planning are needed to bring the history of this period to life for students in a thoughtful way. Teachers emphasize the daily lives of the people who occupied the ranchos, missions, presidios, haciendas, and pueblos, using literature, journal writing, and other activities designed to help students analyze carefully selected primary and secondary sources and thus understand and articulate the views of the native population, the Spanish military, and the missionaries.
The Mexican War for Independence is studied and discussed, including how it resulted in Mexican trade laws that opened up California to international commerce. During Mexican rule in California, merchants, traders, and sailors arrived from the United States and England to buy cowhides and tallow. By analyzing California’s geography, students will see how the natural barriers and remoteness of the region influenced