Last updated
Miwok map-01.svg
Historical distribution of the Miwok people in California
Total population
1770: over 11,000
1910: 670
1930: 491
current: 3,500 [1]
Regions with significant populations
California: Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central Valley, Marin County, Sonoma County, Lake County, Contra Costa County
Miwok languages
Shamanism: Kuksu
Miwok mythology
Related ethnic groups

The Miwok (also spelled Miwuk, Mi-Wuk, or Me-Wuk) are members of four linguistically related Native American groups indigenous to what is now Northern California, who traditionally spoke one of the Miwok languages in the Utian family. The word Miwok means people in the Miwok language.



Anthropologists commonly divide the Miwok into four geographically and culturally diverse ethnic subgroups. These distinctions were not used among the Miwok before European contact. [2]

Federally recognized tribes

The United States Bureau of Indian Affairs officially recognizes eleven tribes of Miwok descent in California. They are as follows:

Non-federally recognized tribes


Painting of Sierra Miwok at the Mariposa Indian Encampment, Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt Bierstadt Albert Mariposa Indian Encampment Yosemite Valley California.jpg
Painting of Sierra Miwok at the Mariposa Indian Encampment, Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt

The predominant theory regarding the settlement of the Americas date the original migrations from Asia to around 20,000 years ago across the Bering Strait land bridge, but one anthropologist claims that the Miwok and some other northern California tribes descend from Siberians who arrived in California by sea around 3,000 years ago. [13]


1872 photograph of Southern Miwok council in Yosemite Valley Miwok on Merced River.jpg
1872 photograph of Southern Miwok council in Yosemite Valley
Miwok sweat lodge in Yosemite Valley Bath House in the Yosemite (NYPL b11708169-G91F396 012F).tiff
Miwok sweat lodge in Yosemite Valley

The Miwok lived in small bands without centralized political authority before contact with European Americans in 1769. They had domesticated dogs and cultivated tobacco, but were otherwise hunter-gatherers.


The Sierra Miwok harvested acorns from the California Black Oak. In fact, the modern-day extent of the California Black Oak forests in some areas of Yosemite National Park is partially due to cultivation by Miwok tribes. They burned understory vegetation to reduce the fraction of Ponderosa Pine. [14] Nearly every other kind of edible vegetable matter was used as a food source, including bulbs, seeds, and fungi. Animals were hunted with arrows, clubs or snares, depending on the species and the situation. Grasshoppers were a highly prized food source, as were mussels for those groups adjacent to the Stanislaus River.

The Miwok ate meals according to appetite rather than at regular times. They stored food for later consumption, primarily in flat-bottomed baskets.


Miwok mythology and narratives tend to be similar to those of other natives of Northern California. Miwok had totem animals, identified with one of two moieties, which were in turn associated respectively with land and water. These totem animals were not thought of as literal ancestors of humans, but rather as predecessors. [15]



Miwok people played gender mixed games[ clarification needed ] on a 110-yard playing field called poscoi a we’a. A unique game was played with young men and women. Similarly to soccer, the object was to put an elk hide ball through the goalpost. The girls were allowed to do anything, including kicking the ball and picking it up and running with it. The boys were only allowed to use their feet, but if a girl was holding it he could pick her up and carry her towards his goal. [16]


Benjamin Barry (Miwok), World War II veteran and fire chief in parade dress Benjamin Barry (1).jpg
Benjamin Barry (Miwok), World War II veteran and fire chief in parade dress

In 1770, there were an estimated 500 Lake Miwok, 1,500 Coast Miwok, and 9,000 Plains and Sierra Miwok, totaling about 11,000 people, according to historian Alfred L. Kroeber, although this may be a serious undercount; for example, he did not identify the Bay Miwok. [15] The 1910 Census reported only 671 Miwok total, and the 1930 Census, 491. See history of each Miwok group for more information. [18] Today there are about 3,500 Miwok in total. [1]

The Star Wars films feature a fictional species of forest-dwelling creatures known as Ewoks, who are ostensibly named after the Miwok. [19] However, the historical Northern-California footprint of the Miwok people (where George Lucas's home and corporate headquarters were located) may have caused the Ewoks' name to be retconned to enhance the marketability of the 1983 film.[ citation needed ]

The Miwok people are encountered in Kim Stanley Robinson's book, The Years of Rice and Salt . In an alternate history scenario depicted in the book they are the first group of Native Americans encountered by the first Chinese to discover the continent.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Miwok", California Indians and Reservations, San Diego State University, Library, accessed 30 Jun 2010
  2. Eugene L. Conrotto (1973). Miwok Means People: The Life and Fate of the Native Inhabitants of the California Gold Rush Country . Fresno, Calif.: Valley Publishers. p. 4. ISBN   0-913548-13-8.
  3. "Buena Vista Rancheria - Me-Wuk Indians". Buenavistatribe.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  4. "California Valley Miwok Tribe (CVMT GovPortal) - Official Website of the California Valley Miwok Tribe". californiavalleymiwok.us. Retrieved 2016-02-24.
  5. "California Valley Miwok Tribe (CVMT WebPortal)". Californiavalleymiwoktribe.us. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  6. "Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria". Gratonrancheria.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  7. "Ione Band of Miwok Indians". Ionemiwok.org. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  8. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2014-01-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. See this notice dated Tuesday, August 11, 2009 from the United States Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs Agency entitled "Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs" (Federal Register Vol. 74, No. 153). The "Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Shingle Springs Rancheria (Verona Tract)" is a single federally recognized Tribe.
  10. "Welcome — United Auburn Indian Community". Auburnrancheria.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
  11. "Wilton Rancheria Announces Restoration of Status as Federally Recognized Indian Tribe", Sacramento Business Journal
  12. "Donations - Organization by Miwok of Buena Vista Rancheria". Miwokofbuenavistarancheria.webs.com. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
  13. Billiter, Bill (January 1, 1985). "3,000-Year-Old Connection Claimed : Siberia Tie to California Tribes Cited". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2014-11-28. Retrieved 2014-11-28. Some of the California Indian tribes that are descended from Russian Siberians, Von Sadovszky said, are the Wintuan, of the Sacramento Valley, the Miwokan, of the area north of San Francisco, and the Costanoan, of the area south of San Francisco.
  14. C. Michael Hogan (2008) Quercus kelloggii, Globaltwitcher.com, ed. Nicklas Stromberg Archived 2012-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
  15. 1 2 Kroeber, 1925
  16. "Indian Grinding Rock SHP - The Rock and the People". California Department of Parks and Recreation.
  17. "Benjamin Barry." The Union. 15 Sept 2010. Retrieved 10 Jan 2012.
  18. Cook, 1976, pages 236-245.
  19. Nash, Eric P. (1997-01-26). "The Names Came From Earth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-15.

Related Research Articles

Coast Miwok tribe of Native American people

The Coast Miwok are an indigenous people that was the second largest group of Miwok people. The Coast Miwok inhabited the general area of modern Marin County and southern Sonoma County in Northern California, from the Golden Gate north to Duncans Point and eastward to Sonoma Creek. The Coast Miwok included the Bodega Bay Miwok, from authenticated Miwok villages around Bodega Bay, and the Marin Miwok.


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Utian languages

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Plains and Sierra Miwok

The Plains and Sierra Miwok were once the largest group of Native American Miwok people, indigenous to California. Their homeland included regions of the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and the Sierra Nevada.

Plains Miwok and Sierra Miwok traditional narratives include myths, legends, tales, and oral histories preserved by the Miwok people of the central California, specifically those of Sacramento Valley and Sierra Mountains. These Miwoks are the linguistically related speakers of the Plains and Sierra Miwok languages and their descendants. At the time of European entry, local groups that spoke these languages participated in the general cultural pattern of central California.

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