Masters Thesis

The role of Fort Humboldt during the California gold rush: a focus on local indigenous women’s struggle, resistance and resilience

The California Gold Rush was instrumental in the growth and creation of the American West. The sudden influx of settlers and the myriad of impacts of mining and settler community formation on the environment and Indigenous peoples drastically changed the Humboldt Bay region forever. The resulting clash of settler culture and existing Indigenous peoples enabled the United States government to rationalize establishing Fort Humboldt and militarizing the Humboldt Bay region. The realities of militarization, especially for Indigenous women, are rarely discussed in dominant history curricula in the United States, and throughout the world. In my research, I utilize the framework of Intersectional Feminism and the tool of discourse analysis to critically examine archival and historical texts and the impacts of hegemonic narratives like Manifest Destiny and associated frontier ideologies. In addition, I use semi-structured interviews to critically analyze and make visible local Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and forms of resistance and resilience. I do so in order to help shed light on systematically invisabilized stories of Fort Humboldt and Humboldt Bay militarization that provide counter-hegemonic narratives about the role of the fort, and its impacts on Indigenous women in particular. Finally, my research is guided by three main themes with respect to the consequences of militarizing the Humboldt Bay region: its impacts on the environment and on the natural world, and on the physical body, and on spiritual health of Indigenous women. Research findings indicate a strong presence of region-specific Indigenous oral histories and reveal information that directly challenges dominant U.S. educational models concerning the impacts of the Gold Rush on Indigenous peoples. Deconstructing this history and developing a more complex understanding of the impacts of militarization in the Humboldt Bay region is a crucial part of healing among Indigenous communities. The same holds true for elucidating stories of resilience and hope; recognizing ongoing struggles among Indigenous peoples; and both understanding forms of, and resistance to, the inter-generational trauma that continue to impacts Indigenous communities today. I argue that all of the aforementioned play a crucial role in not only genuine, long-term healing, but is essential for true self-determination, and the ability for Indigenous communities in this region to flourish.