Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians
The Chukchansi people are one of the original inhabitants of what now is called California. The Chukchansi have inhabited the fringes of the San Joaquin Valley and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada for more then 12,000 years. During the years after the Gold Rush (1849) anthropologists visited the land of the Chukchansi. They grouped California Tribes together by their languages; hence, the Chukchansi are grouped with approximately 60 other Tribes in the greater Central Valley. These groups had (and still do have) similar cultures, and speak the same language, but had different dialects.
These people were referred to by early researchers as “Yokuts”, meaning “people”. However, there is no Yokut Tribe, and each Tribe had its own name and its own traditional use areas.
Our ancestors lived peacefully with nature. The first Californians were stewards of the land. They practiced a productive, sophisticated, complex harvest and management system that intertwined with the rhythms of nature. Their management plan included farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering. The Chukchansi hunted deer, rabbits, raccoons, and other game in the marshes and grasslands. The primary food source that was gathered during the summer season was derived from plants, particularly acorns, nuts, seeds, roots, and berries. The early settlements ranged from large villages, with hundreds of bedrock mortars, to smaller hunting camps. These villages were the home of the Chukchansi and the traditional plant harvesting locations. They are just as important cultural resources for the Chukchansi people today as they were thousands of years ago. There are at least 15 sites on the Rancheria and allotment lands and some of the bedrock mortars have as many as 95 holes.
After contact with the Spanish missionaries, European explorers, American trappers and gold miners, the original indigenous population was weakened, disturbed, and displaced. The introduction of diseases that the Native people had no immunity to caused waves of de-population. By 1900, it is estimated that approximately 85% – 90% of all California Indians “disappeared.” The discovery of gold in the mid-19th century brought thousands of foreigners in search of wealth. Under American rule at the time, Native people had no legal rights. Their lands were taken away from them and their way of life was changed forever. These landless Indians went to work as farm laborers, miners, cowboys, and loggers, etc. Women were often domestic workers or worked in the fields. By 1902, the Federal government began to set aside land for the landless Indians and created “Rancherias”. They were called “Rancherias” because they were not reservations. Reservations were created to be a place where Indians could live, work the land and otherwise make a living. Consequently, many of the Rancherias were small, often with less than 300 acres. The “Rancheria at Picayune” was set aside for the Chukchansi in 1912 and supplemented in 1914. This land, together with a number of allotments given to individual Chukchansi during those same times, created a 2,000 acre land area. Many Tribal members lived on these lands. During the “termination period” of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the Tribe’s relationship with the Federal government was “terminated” and the Tribal government no longer had a government-to-government relationship with the Federal government. Tribal sovereignty was ignored and “Rancheria” lands were taken and often sold, with minimal compensation.
Years later, as a result of a successful class action suit, (Tillie Hardwick, et al. v. US government, et al.), the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians’ federal status was restored by the government in 1983 and we became a Federally Recognized Tribe. The Chukchansi remained landless, however, until recent years when they borrowed money to purchase land that had originally been part of their homeland. Allotted lands that survived into the 1950’s have, for the most part, remained with the families of the original allottees. Since that time, the Tribe continues to make great strides towards sustainable economic development and expansion of its infrastructure development. Additionally, a dedicated effort has been made in recent years to incorporate teachings focusing on the importance of Chukchansi culture and language as the core of revitalization efforts in order to sustain the culture and identity of the Tribe.