Traditionally, the groups near and on the coast—the Coast, Lake, and Bay Miwok—gathered acorns, fished, and hunted deer and other game with bow and arrow. They lived in semisubterranean pole- and earth-covered lodges and produced watertight basketry ornamented with beads or feathers.
Fish was also another important Miwok food source, particularly salmon, but also included trout and shellfish. The Miwok hunter-gathers collected other foods including buckeye nuts, mushrooms, various greens, roots, bulbs, and berries. Most foods were dried and stored for use during the winter months.
Beliefs. The Miwok had an animistic philosophy: they wanted no walls and trod lightly on the land, leaving no footsteps, always apologizing to the spirits in animals or nature whenever they disturbed them in whatever fashion. Their oral history was transmitted through the stories of the elders and shamans.
The Miwok fished and hunted birds, deer, and other game with bows and arrows. They also gathered nuts, berries, and roots. By the early 1800s Spanish priests and soldiers had started to build missions in Miwok territory. The Spanish forced some Miwok to live and work at the missions.
Northern branches of the group, known as the Plains Miwok and the Bay Miwok, lived along the Sacramento River and its delta. The Miwok considered themselves to belong to tribelets, or small groups of villages, of 100 to 500 people. Each tribelet was led by a headman, who inherited the position from his father.
The 1910 Census reported only 671 Miwok total, and the 1930 Census, 491. See history of each Miwok group for more information. Today there are about 3,500 Miwok in total.
The Central Miwok, dwelling in the foothills near Knights Ferry, were in the habit of trading certain seeds for digger pine nuts from people who dwelt somewhat higher in the foothills. Fish taken and dried at Knights Ferry were traded for salt from people still higher in the mountains.
Yurok men did not really wear clothes but sometimes they wore short skirts. Women wore long skirts made out of grass, shells, and beads. They did not wear shirts in hot weather but they wore deerskin ponchos when it was cold. Yuroks enjoyed basket weaving, canoe making, storytelling, singing, and dancing.
Some Miwok converted to Catholicism during the mission period (1769–1834). Some Miwok took up the Ghost Dance Religion in about 1872. Those who performed the Ghost Dance believed that the Native American way of life would soon be restored. Some elements of the Ghost Dance Religion still survive among the Miwok.
Today, the Chumash are estimated to have a population of 5,000 members. Many current members can trace their ancestors to the five islands of Channel Islands National Park.
For hunting and fishing, the men had a range of tools. They used bows and arrows, spears, nets, clubs, snares, and baskets for fish and small animals.
The current tribal administration is: Silvia Burley, Chairperson. Anjelica Paulk, Vice-Chairperson.
Like most California Indian groups, the Miwok relied upon acorns as a mainstay of their diet. Acorns were harvested in autumn, dried and stored in large granaries called cha’ka. These could be eight or more feet high and were made of poles interwoven with slender brush stems.
The Miwok Indians reside in north-central California, from the coast to the west slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are three divisions of the tribe — the Coast Miwok, the Lake Miwok, and the Sierra Miwok.
1a: an Indian people of central California. b: a member of such people. 2: a Moquelumnan language of the Miwok people.