Masters Thesis

A genocidal legacy: a case study of cultural survival in Northwestern California

Throughout the destructive patterns of Western expansion and the fervor of
 the California Gold Rush in the second half of the nineteenth century, California Indians
 suffered unmatched brutality under the guise of California’s developing democracy. In
 1848, the estimated population of California Indians was 150,000 individuals; by the
 1900s, those numbers had drastically declined to 15,000 individuals. This thesis focuses
 on the cultural and archaeological landscape of the Benbow site on the northwest coast of
 California, where the Sinkyone people lived and were tragically massacred. Placed within
 a framework of culture contact studies, landscape theoretical perspective, and the
 genocidal history of contact era California, this case study exemplifies the contentious
 conditions for California Indians and how they were able to survive and maintain cultural
 continuity.
 This deep understanding of the nature of the Contact Period in northwestern
 California illuminates the cultural biases, racism, and systematic erasures of California Indians in early ethnographic records and historical accounts. This thesis introduces the
 critical element of collaborative archaeology to provide consilience to the study of the
 region and explore previously ignored perspectives. Through this collaborative lens, this
 work also explores the contentious relationship between California Indians and Euro
 American societies today, and its effect on modern archaeological practice and
 interpretation. Using the data collected from the case study, combined with ethnographic
 and historic resources, this thesis analyzes the lives of two massacre survivors living at
 Benbow in the aftermath of genocide, addressing the repercussions on the survivors and
 their descendants. Finally, using the harsh and uncomfortable realities gained from a
 thorough exploration of the Sinkyone case study, this research expands to demonstrate
 how colonization has vitally affected California Indian identity, both past and present.
 The relevancy of Benbow transcends the Indigenous and academic realms when
 ultimately addressed as a human rights issue, providing new clarity for the modern public
 to understand and sympathize with.

Throughout the destructive patterns of Western expansion and the fervor of the California Gold Rush in the second half of the nineteenth century, California Indians suffered unmatched brutality under the guise of California’s developing democracy. In 1848, the estimated population of California Indians was 150,000 individuals; by the 1900s, those numbers had drastically declined to 15,000 individuals. This thesis focuses on the cultural and archaeological landscape of the Benbow site on the northwest coast of California, where the Sinkyone people lived and were tragically massacred. Placed within a framework of culture contact studies, landscape theoretical perspective, and the genocidal history of contact era California, this case study exemplifies the contentious conditions for California Indians and how they were able to survive and maintain cultural continuity. This deep understanding of the nature of the Contact Period in northwestern California illuminates the cultural biases, racism, and systematic erasures of California Indians in early ethnographic records and historical accounts. This thesis introduces the critical element of collaborative archaeology to provide consilience to the study of the region and explore previously ignored perspectives. Through this collaborative lens, this work also explores the contentious relationship between California Indians and Euro American societies today, and its effect on modern archaeological practice and interpretation. Using the data collected from the case study, combined with ethnographic and historic resources, this thesis analyzes the lives of two massacre survivors living at Benbow in the aftermath of genocide, addressing the repercussions on the survivors and their descendants. Finally, using the harsh and uncomfortable realities gained from a thorough exploration of the Sinkyone case study, this research expands to demonstrate how colonization has vitally affected California Indian identity, both past and present. The relevancy of Benbow transcends the Indigenous and academic realms when ultimately addressed as a human rights issue, providing new clarity for the modern public to understand and sympathize with.

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