Native Americans and the California Mission System
The story of the California Missions is one that is known to most Californians and Americans, and is known on a national and international level, for its effect on the history of the American West. Of the 21 missions within California’s borders, seventeen are on the National Register of Historic Places with nine of those also designated National Historic Landmarks. Although these designations document the story of the Spanish intervention in California through the establishment of the mission system, the contributions and experiences of the Native Americans as part of this story are not well represented, if at all, in many of the early nomination forms.
This project intends to develop a statewide context statement with themes and stories provided by affected Native Americans to better understand the experiences of their people during the California Mission System period. Importantly, the context will provide a process for documenting these stories through National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) nominations or updates to listed properties.
The Office of Historic Preservation’s primary objective for this project is to provide an avenue for Native Americans to tell these important stories of our shared history in their voice and to increase the number of NRHP nominations related to the California Mission System that include Native American contributions to and effects on the mission system.
The current proposal to develop a historic properties context statement for Native Americans in the Mission System—in the format of a Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF)—is another step in the ongoing process of documenting California’s diverse history and of some of the properties that represent that history. The objective of this project is to update the existing body of knowledge on this subject, to start to capture the complex relationship between Native Americans and the California Mission System, and to provide a framework and a process for others to prepare their own National Register nominations using the expedited Multiple Property Submission approach.
Although there is some scholarship available to tell the Native American story in relation to the California Mission System, a single, comprehensive document does not exist that covers the entirety of the system within the context of the National Register of Historic Places. Creating such a document would help to understand the breadth and depth of these stories, and raise these stories of contribution and struggle faced by the Native Americans, stories important to our shared history.
To fulfill the project objectives and adequately address this topic, the historic context will be prepared as an overview of selected themes using specific illustrative examples to support each thematic discussion. The historic context will directly link to property types representative of the presented themes.
Images beginning at top of page: Memorial plaques at Mission San Francisco Solano list the names of Wappo, Patwin, Pomo, and Coast Miwok Indians who built, labored, and are buried at the mission (photo courtesy of Kathleen Scavone). At Mission Santa Cruz, the adobe building built and occupied by Indian laborers is the only original mission building still surviving (photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Archaeological Society).