7 Books on the Indigenous History and Culture of Marin County

Matt Dolkas - MALT

By Matt Dolkas, Senior Manager, Marketing

November 1, 2023

There’s an ancient valley oak tree in my neighborhood, its gnarled limbs bend and twist skyward. I pass it most mornings while taking my kids to school amid the hurried shuffle of our suburban landscape.

But today I stopped and listened.

Standing at its feet, my mind rewound the clock to when this towering giant was a mere sapling. It’s easy to romanticize the scene with hulking California grizzly bears (now extinct but still prominently displayed on the state flag) gorging on a crop of fresh acorns. In the distance, you can hear the faint, rhythmic thud as Coast Miwok women pound this precious fruit into flour.

Slowing down, we can begin to see these trees as living relics of an ancient, agrarian culture. Acorns from these native oaks were a staple food source for California’s Indigenous people (and are still a sacred food), who managed the landscape to ensure an abundant crop. Passing this ancient oak is now my reminder of how much there is to discover about this place I too call home.

Despite having grown up in California, I have a lot to learn about this landscape’s original stewards, the stories that for too long have been omitted, dismissed, suppressed, and erased. Recognizing the enduring presence of Indigenous people here in Marin County is crucial in working towards building a more inclusive future. With Native American Heritage Month underway in November, now is the time to celebrate these rich cultures and dive deeper into educating ourselves about the realities of our shared history. 

Below is a reading list from our staff of the best books on Marin County’s Indigenous history and culture (organized alphabetically). Many of these are available at our local, independent bookstores and we suggest you look for them there. 

Enjoy!

An American Genocide, The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846 –1873

Benjamin Madley

As the first historian to uncover the full extent of California’s genocide, Madley offers a thoroughly researched, intricate, and chilling account of this largely overlooked American tragedy.

The Archaeology of Refuge and Recourse: Coast Miwok Resilience and Indigenous Hinterlands in Colonial California

Tsim D. Schneider

As a citizen of the federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Schneider provides an Indigenous perspective into the resistance of the mission systems, Western settlement and enduring colonialism. 

California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming Territory

William J. Bauer Jr.

Using oral histories of Concow, Pomo, and Paiute workers, Bauer reveals how Native peoples have experienced and interpreted the history of California. By blending these oral histories with creation myths, he underscores the significance of sacred landscapes, animals, and other nonhuman elements in shaping both place and identity.

Chief Marin – Leader, Rebel, and Legend: A History of Marin County’s Namesake and His People

Betty Goerke

Anthropologist and archaeologist Betty Goerke has meticulously reconstructed the life of this Native American leader, drawing from mission records, ethnographies, explorers’, and missionaries’ diaries, as well as their correspondence and other source materials.

Discovering Native People at Point Reyes

Bett Goerke

Another must read Betty Goerke, who offers a detailed summary of the rich cultures of Point Reyes’ Indigenous history and rich culture. It provides a great introduction to both the landscape and the people who have tended this landscape for millennia.

Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide, 1846 –1873

Brendan C. Lindsay

Lindsay offers a thorough exploration of the state’s widespread genocide, giving us insight into one of the most distressing chapters in our collective past.

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources 

M. Kat Anderson

This exceptional analysis of the land management practices of Native Californians has played a pivotal role in redefining our collective comprehension of the state’s Indigenous cultures and their profound impact on the landscape.

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