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New Teaching Resource! The California Indian Genocide

Redbud’s education team is proud to announce the launch of our new unit, Weaving the Future, Confronting the Past: California’s Complex Origins and Native-Settler Relations!


By engaging with a wide range of primary and secondary sources, students grades 8 and up have the opportunity to consider the California Gold Rush and California Indian Genocide from the lens of victim, perpetrator, and descendant, laying the groundwork for a future of truth and reconciliation.  Lessons include an analysis of the UN Definition of Genocide and the Ten Stages of Genocide, processing primary source materials, and interacting with Native artwork. Extension materials and additional recommendations are linked throughout. 

Artwork by Weshoyot Alvitre, Tongva/Scottish

Why is there a pressing need for such resources today?

Many young people are having to navigate the impacts of current global conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demands of the digital era. In light of these challenges, some may wonder: are we making worse an already traumatic environment by diving into dark chapters of history, such as the California Indian Genocide? This question really speaks to those who call California home, yet this important history has been missing from classroom discussions for generations.

While some may argue that the necessity of teaching such history is obvious – as it prepares us with the knowledge to prevent future conflicts – others emphasize the value of cultivating empathy and compassion in students, crucial for creating a more equitable society. Both perspectives hold importance in advocating for the inclusion of genocide studies in K-12 schools. Yet, for contemporary California Indian peoples, who are direct descendants of the survivors of the state-sanctioned genocide, the significance goes beyond these broader considerations.

  1. The exploitation of our land and natural resources has forced us to face some pretty scary threats to our planet. These exploitations are a direct result of the genocide of Indigenous people all over the world, including here in California.

Indigenous communities, including Native Americans and many others worldwide, deeply cherish the interconnected relationship between humans, the land, and all living beings.In California, Indigenous communities fiercely resisted the exploitation of our land, as well as the mistreatment of our plant and animal relatives. It's challenging to articulate the profound significance of our ancestral lands, but put simply, we would never have permitted outsiders to invade our territories and exploit them without regard. Native communities understood the delicate ecological balance upon which our ecosystems depended, utilizing resources with respect and only taking what was necessary. Yet, American settlers pursued a single goal to fulfill their vision of "progress." The forced removal and erasure of Indigenous peoples cleared the path for their expansion. Ironically, though, this pursuit of progress has brought us closer to ecological devastation and the pitfall of our collective well-being.

Artwork by Joseph Bryon (Coast Miwok/Pomo/Wit̯ukomnoʔm)

2. The State of California would look very different today if the inherent sovereignty of California Indian Tribes were upheld through the 18 unratified treaties.

The US constitution states that “Treaties made [with Indian Tribes]… shall be the supreme Law of the Land” (Article VI, Clause 2). Despite the fact that many leaders of California Indian Tribes had little to no knowledge of the English language, they engaged in negotiations with US representatives, where treaties were drafted and signed by all parties present. However, when Congress was supposed to officially ratify these 18 treaties, they instead kept them hidden for years, never granting them legal approval. Not only did this leave California Indians vulnerable in a chaotic new state, but it also stripped them of any “lawful” rights to their ancestral lands. Consequently, land was picked off acre by acre as state militia and vigilantes slaughtered tens of thousands of California Indians, while laying claim to land without any restriction.

3. Understanding the mechanisms of the California Indian Genocide can help students understand genocide as a global phenomenon.

By digging into the history of the California Indian Genocide, students can gain insights into how genocide happens around the world. By comparing what happened to California's Indigenous people to other instances of genocide, students can see common themes like colonization, exploitation, and treating people as less than human. Learning about these similarities gives students important perspectives to better address human rights issues happening today.

4. California is the only US State that has apologized for its role in the genocide of Native Americans. We can lead the way for future accountability.

Recognizing that California has apologized for the wrongs it committed against Native American communities opens up discussions about holding others accountable for past injustices. By admitting mistakes and working towards making things right, California sets a precedent for other states and countries to do the same. Through education and speaking out, students can help make sure that past wrongs are acknowledged and that steps are taken to bring healing and justice to wronged communities.

Artwork by Eric Wilder


Redbud created three lessons as a part of an ongoing project to teach the California Indian Genocide and Gold Rush. They do not tell the entire story [how could they?!], and are best complimented by additional survival accounts, lessons exploring the ongoing impacts of the genocide, and Tribal-specific lessons developed by a range of Native communities and institutions. It will take contributions from many organizations and Tribes within the CA Native community to accurately tell this story, and we welcome the collaboration!

Recommended additional resources to pair with this curriculum are embedded in our lessons. 

This project has been the result of a multi-year collaboration among experts in global genocides, with the goal of improving genocide education across California. Members of the California Teachers Collaborative for Holocaust and Genocide Education have been working hard to develop accessible and standards-aligned lessons, enriching the history and social studies curriculum for educators.

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