Questions and Answers:
Q: Where does the word Ohlone come from?
A: “Ohlone” is derived from possibly two sources: a small village on the San Mateo coast, and from the word Abalone, which is and was an important mollusk to indigenous people. Many California Indians wore beautiful abalone pendants they received in trade from people in the Pomo, Miwok, and Ohlone coastal villages. These necklaces have been found in archaeological sites dating back more than 5,000 years.
Q: Is the name Ohlone an old term then?
A: Yes and No. It is a modern term for all of the people of similar language, customs, spiritual beliefs, and cultural traits from present day San Francisco (west bay) and Martinez (east bay) south to Soledad and east to the Central Valley. It is an ancient term for the village on the San Mateo coast.
Q: What are some of the Ohlone bands today?
A: The Ohlone survived cultural extermination by three successive waves of invaders: the Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans. Today, several Ohlone bands that survived the diaspora are thriving, including the Muwekma Ohlone, the Mutsun Ohlone, the Rumsien Ohlone, the Esselen Ohlone, and the Costanoan Ohlone.
Q: Where does the name “Costanoan” come from?
A: Costanoan is a Spanish name meaning ‘people of the coast.’ It was formerly used as the name for the Ohlone.
Q: Why is it a problem?
A: A comparable situation might be if all Californians today were suddenly called the ‘Anglais’, simply because that is the word the French use to describe us as English speakers. Anglais is not our name for ourselves. It would be a foreign word applied to us by foreign people.
Q: When did ‘Costanoan’ first get used?
A: Soon after the Spanish invaded California Indian lands, probably around 1776.
Q: When did it stop being used?
A: The word Costanoan has not disappeared entirely. However, as a general name for all of the people in this area it is less favored now. It was used for many years by anthropologists, but starting in the 1970s the term Ohlone came to be preferred by First Nations people..
Q: Why are there so many Indian tribes in California?
A: For the same reason there are many different people living here today: good weather, good food, and good life. In fact, what is known today as California may have been the most densley populated place in Native America.
Q: How many Indians lived here?
A: Over 300,000. Unlike the 40+ million people who live in California today, however, each Indian village was a self sustaining unit. Modern Californians must rely on vast arrays of water, power, transportation, and infrastructure to survive, and many of these resources come from far away from where we live. California Indians on the other hand were extremely good at selecting places to live that provided all the resources needed for the entire year, all within walking distance. Water came from local springs and rivers and lakes, food came from the plentiful plants and animals nearby. This intimate relationship between Earth and People is one reason why most California Indian tribes have a great reverence and respect for nature. The land supported many tribes for thousands of years.
Q: What do the colors mean on this map?
A: These represent language families, so that all of the people in light green are from one language family and those in blue-grey are from another. Linguists study Indian languages not only to discover the beautiful words and phrases that once described California, but also to discover relationships between different tribes.
Q: What language family does English belong to?
A: English is in the Germanic Family, which also includes German, Dutch, Swedish, Icelandic, etc.
Q: How many California Indian Languages were there?
A: Currently, scholars believe there were 108 different languages spoke in Native California, representing almost all of the language families of indigenous North America.
Can you find any other names in use today for California Indians that are clearly Spanish?
Can you find the California Indian land on which you live today?
Can you make a map of your town and show where the indigenous settlements were?
Do you know the history of your local California Indian group?