Published on September 17, 2010 by Alice
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A Wintun Indian Woman Pounding Acorns
The ancestral homeland of the Wintun was situated on the west side of the Sacramento River, extending from the valley to the Coast Range in territory now part of California. The Wintun, along with other PenutianÂspeaking CALIFORNIA INDIANS to their west, such as the MAIDU and MIWOK, as well as Hokan-speaking Indians living nearby, such as the POMO, although in territory now considered northern California, someÂtimes are designated central California Indians to disÂtinguish them from peoples to the north, who drew some elements from NORTHWEST COAST INDIANS, and peoples to the south, who were heavily missionÂized by the Spanish, becoming known as MISSION INDIANS.
The name Wintun, pronounced WIN-tun, means â€œpeopleâ€ in Penutian. The Wintun consisted of three divisions, the Wintu (Northern), the Nomlaki (Wintun proper or central), and the Patwin (Southern). All three branches are further categorized as hill, plains, and river valley subgroups.
Wisconsin, where they were finally granted reservation lands and now are known as the Ho-Chunk Nation (formerly the Winnebago Tribe) of Wisconsin. Some tribal members also live in Minnesota. The operation of casinos by both groups has helped them develop their economy and invest in new tribal enterprises.
As is the case with other California Indians, the Wintun can best be described as being organized in a number of tribelets, made up of a main permanent village and several temporary satellite villages. They were hunter-gatherers who did not farm. Their staple foods included deer, rabÂbits, grubs, grasshoppers, ï¬sh, acorns, seeds, nuts, and greens. They wore little clothing, mainly breechcloths, aprons, blankets, and robes. They lived in a variety of simÂple types of sheltersâ€”brush, grass, rush and bark-covered, and sometimes partly underground. They made tightly woven baskets for cooking, storing, and carrying.
The Wintun had a system for passing from father to son such specialized skills as hunting, ï¬shing, the makÂing of ceremonial objects, bow and arrow making, pipe making, ï¬re building, or salt making. A family had a monopoly on a certain activity and would perform this service for other members of the tribe in exchange for payment. This type of social organization was unusual among Native peoples.
The Kuksu Cult
The Wintun, like most other central California Indians, participated in the secret society known now as the Kuksu Cult. Members impersonated spirit beings in order to acquire some of their power. Kuksus wore long feather or grass headdresses that disguised them from felÂlow villagers. Kuksu was a principal god, shared by sevÂeral tribes and known by different names. To the Wintun, Moki was the most powerful god-ï¬gure. To disÂguise oneself as Moki was a major responsibility. The Wintun believed that to make a mistake in the ritual meant death. Other powerful spirits in the Wintun reliÂgion were Tuya the Big-Headed and Chelitu the Unmasked. The Kuksus held ceremonies in the cold months to bring about an abundance of wild plant foods and game the following spring and summer. The Wintun Kuksus called the ï¬rst of their rituals Hesi. Hesi was a four-day dance, with one Kuksu acting out Moki, and others, in pairs, representing different versions of Tuya and Chelitu. While villagers looked on, drummers provided a beat for the dancers, usually by stomping on a foot drum, and singers chanted sacred songs.
Contacts with Non-Indians
The central California tribes managed to endure the ï¬rst stages of non-Indian expansion: the period of exploÂration, when Spanish, Portuguese, and English navigaÂtors sailed the coast, starting in the 1500s; the Spanish mission period, from 1769 to 1834; and the Mexican occupation, from 1821 to 1848. But with the United States takeover of California in 1848, the gold rush startÂing in 1849, and California statehood in 1850, pressures on the Indians increased and led to their rapid decline. Pollution from copper-processing plants at the turn of the century caused further hardship.
Religious Revitalization Movements
Reservation life in the second half of the 19th century led to the spread of religious revitalization movements among tribes of the West, including the Wintun. Norelputus (or Nelelputa), born of a Wintun mother and a Yana father in northern California, rose to prominence as chief of the Wintun. He reportedly learned of the early version of the Ghost Dance, founded in 1870 by Wodziwob of the PAIUTE, from the ACHOMAWI (PIT RIVER INDIANS) living to the northeast of his people. The Ghost Dance prophesied the end of the existing world. Norelputus added to the religion by advocating the making of underground earth lodges, where devotees would be safe until the ancestors returned from the dead and established a new world. The Earth Lodge Religion, as it came to be called, spread to tribes to the south, such as the POMO, as well as to tribes to the north on the Grande Ronde and Siletz Reservations in southern Oregon, such as the SHASTA, among whom it came to be called the Warm House Dance. Among the KLAMATH and MODOC on the Klamath Reservation in southern OreÂgon, it was known as the Dream Dance.
Lame Bill, a Patwin, is considered one of the founders of the Bole-Maru religion, which drew on elements of the Ghost Dance of 1870, the Earth Lodge Religion, and the Dreamer Religion founded by Smohalla of the WANAPAM. Bole is a Wintun word; maru is a Pomo word in Hokan; both refer to the dreams of shamans. The name Dreamer was also applied to Bole-Maru because revelations from dreams played a central role. Dances included the Bole (or Maru) Dance; the Bole-Hesi Dance, taken from the Hesi Ceremony of the traditional Kuksu Cult; the Toto (or Blanket) Dance; and the Ball Dance. The Big Head ReliÂgion in which dancers wore large headdresses, with devoÂtees among the Wintun, Cahto, Lassik, Shasta, Wailaki, and YUKI, is thought to be an offshoot of Bole-Maru. Lame Bill is credited with using a ï¬‚ag placed on a pole in front of the ceremonial house to indicate when dances were taking placeâ€”an early use of ï¬‚ags by Native Americans. Flags have now become an expression of Indianness and tribal sovereignty.
Of the three divisions, the northernmost, the Wintu, have fared the best, then the Nomlaki. Few pure Patwin remain. The Wintun presently hold several small rancherias and share the Round Valley Reservation with many other California tribes. Current issues concerning the Wintun people are the protection of sacred sites in the region, such as Mt. Shasta.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes by CARL WALDMAN