“Yolo” comes from the Patwin word Yo-loy meaning “place abounding in rushes,” a reminder of the reed-choked wetlands and marshes that once peppered this land. Recent heavy rains have indeed returned Northstar Park’s Julie Partansky Pond to a place abounding in rushes, with a cold autumn sun glistening off dark pond water accented by the sharp calls of geese who just started winter vacation. But this is a small, literally hemmed-in version of the dominating topography of centuries past. Centuries, more specifically the banning of the Patwin language by European colonizers and intentional eradication of its speakers, have eroded the Patwin language as well. Linguists consider the language endangered. In fact, only one living person is known to speak Patwin as a first language.
Not unlike Yolo County’s wetlands, which are protected, maintained, and celebrated by a number of local conservation groups, the Patwin language too is kept alive thanks to the knowledge, care, and hard work of the Indigenous people of this area. In 2004, the Colusa Indian Community Council published the first edition of the Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians language book and is currently working on a second edition. “Language is the basic building block of identity,” echoed the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Tribal Council earlier this year. Members of three federally recognized tribes, the Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation, and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, continue to teach and learn the Patwin language.
The Davis Food Co-op, along with the rest of Davis, occupies land belonging to these three Tribes (find our full land acknowledgement here). In an attempt to educate ourselves as much as our community, we thought this time between Indigenous Peoples Day (alternately celebrated as Columbus Day) and Thanksgiving an appropriate time to share history we learned about the Indigenous communities who have lived here and currently live here.
Ancestors of the people that would come to call this area home arrived by c. 1400 BCE, many thousands of years before Europeans. Patwin means “person” or “the people” in the Patwin language and was given to this subgroup of the more northern dwelling Wintun by American reporter and ethnographer Stephen Powers in 1877. This is a salient example of white Americans shaping indigenous history. Removed by hundreds of years, we don’t know what these indigenous groups called themselves before the arrival of Europeans. Powers divided them into three tribes: the Hill Patwin, the River Patwin, and the Southern Patwin.
The Patwin lived largely as hunter-gatherers, although there is some evidence of crop cultivation. This area’s abundant oak trees provided highly nutritious, easy to prepare acorns for the Patwin. Indigenous communities also foraged for buckeyes, pine nuts from both sugar and gray pines, blackberries, juniper berries, elderberries, wild grape, and manzanita berries; Indian potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions grew here as well. With bone harpoons and nets the Patwin fished for salmon, perch, and suckerfish. Deer, elk, antelope, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, wolves, beavers, skunks, eagles, crow, quail, turtles, angleworms, and grasshoppers provided meat and fur, along with materials for building and trading. Trade between the Patwin and the neighboring Wappo, Pomo, and Lake Miwok was common and war between California’s native peoples was rare.
Like many of California’s Indigenous peoples, the Patwin used fire when hunting: fresh green shoots following a burn brought hungry game. Intentional fire setting stimulated the growth of blue wild rye, an important native grass, and took care of pests like grasshoppers. The Patwin likely existed this way for centuries practicing land and water stewardship that made life possible and sustainable.
By the late 1800s, the Patwin were displaced by ranchers, forced onto government rancherias and reservations, or decimated by disease, bounty hunters, and violence at the hands of European invaders, U.S. citizens, and the federal government. Many bands of Southern Patwin were extinguished completely. Between 1923 and 1924, Alfred Kroeber interviewed Patwin survivors on reservations north and west of Sacramento. He found no evidence of Southern Patwin heritage, leading him to believe that no Southern Patwin remained. Before the Spanish established missions in California, the indigenous population was estimated to be about 200,000. By 1870, their population declined to 12,000.
Although this story, the story of the American Indian, is familiar to many of us, we don’t often realize our proximity to it. In the 1950s, the Berryessa valley, rich and fertile, was flooded to create Lake Berryessa, a favorite hiking, fishing, and recreation spot for so many of us in Davis. Topaidihi, a Patwin village located in the valley, was completely submerged. Excavation crews uncovered a Patwin village with thirteen burial sites in 1999 and 2000 when the university began construction on the Mondavi center (read more here).
Even more important to understand is that California’s Indigenous people still live here. Hundreds of years of genocide, ethnic cleansing, environmental degradation, and forcible removal of Indigenous communities from their land does not ultimately define what it means to be Indigenous. These communities are resilient, and they are rich with knowledge and culture. There is no way to rectify centuries of oppression and extreme violence. Land acknowledgements, President Biden’s formal proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and similar efforts are long overdue, but they are a step in the right direction. Allowing Indigenous communities to tell their story, past, present, and future, is key. Below you will find information about the communities whose land we occupy, from those communities.
Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community
The Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community’s constitution and bylaws were officially adopted on November 23rd, 1941 by the 45 original tribal members. The Tribe has of course lived in this area for generations. The Tribe currently holds 490 acres of land, recently acquiring 200 of those to use for more tribal housing.
Throughout its history, the Colusa Indian Community has been a fierce advocate for cultural preservation. In 1969, construction began on a traditional roundhouse whose central pole was sourced from trees growing across the Sacramento River. The roundhouse was roofed two years later and received upgrades in 1993. The roundhouse still stands today. Please note that the Colusa Indian Community requests non-tribal members refrain from visiting or entering this religious site. In 2004, the Council published the first edition of a Patwin language book. To the same end, the Council is working on a second edition and is beginning to explore the development of a language app.
Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation
The Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation’s traditional territory covered more than 200 square miles (about 128,000 acres) and have been referred to in historical documents as the Kletwin, Hill Patwin, and Southern Wintun. Some known historic villages of the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation include Klet, Ko-Te-Nah, Nik-me, Shoo-Koo-ee, Ke-der Hlab-be, Loo-Kus, Bah-kah-‘Hhlab-be, Cho-Che, Wi-Ko’Se, Oo-Le, Mun-Maht-Lah, To-e-de-he, and Yakut. In 1907, the Cortina Indian Rancheria (reservation) was created by the Secretary of the Interior and the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation was forcibly relocated. Just 160 acres were given to this band of Wintun Indians, which was expanded a month later to 640 acres.
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation was forcibly relocated to a federally created rancheria (reservation) in Rumsey, California. The land was barren and non-irrigable, forcing the Tribe to do everything in their power to try and relocate. They gained a hard-won relocation in 1940 and moved to a small parcel of land in the Capay Valley. Although the land was in better shape, the Tribe still struggled to grow enough food to support its members.
During the 1980s, some ancestral lands were restored to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation while the passing of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provided a means to promote economic development and self-sufficiency with the explicit purpose of strengthening tribal self-governance. With hard work and determination, the Tribe used its resources to build and maintain the successful Cache Creek Casino Resort (originally the Cache Creek Indian Bingo Hall). The Tribe runs Seka Hills Olive Mill and Tasting Room as well. You can find Seka Hills products like olive oil and honey at the Co-op.
With increased independence and the revenue brought in from gaming, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation have been able to reacquire traditional lands, invest in education, and embark on philanthropic efforts to serve communities in need. In 2009, the Tribe legally changed its name (formerly called the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians by the federal government) incorporating the Patwin language to connect the Tribe with its heritage and to express a sense of pride and hope for the future.
We invite our community to consider what it means to acknowledge whose land we occupy. For us it means digging deeper into our history and opening our eyes to the present. We also know that our resources can go a long way, which is why we donated $500 dollars to California Indian Legal Services this November. California Indian Legal Services is one of the oldest non-profit law firms exclusively dedicated to Native American rights. Join us in supporting their work here.