Campus: Humboldt State University -- October 6, 1999

The Gold Rush As California's Holocaust

Through voices of elders, students' book depicts Northwest Indians' perspective

"It seemed they had one thing in mind. And that was to get into the gold fields. And they did, and it didn't make any difference. How they got in and what was in the road or anything. They just went rushing right through the whole thing, tore (Indian) houses down, tore up villages. So that's the way it went."

Those words came from Axel Roderick Lindgren Jr., an elder of the Yurok tribe. Kate Handwerker-Droz, a Humboldt State University student, gathered them in an interview with Lindgren for the new book "Northwest Indigenous Gold Rush History, The Indian Survivors of California's Holocaust." Lindgren, grandson of the last medicine woman of the Yurok village of Tsurai near Trinidad, Calif., and a 1944 graduate of Humboldt State, passed away last spring at the age of 80.

For most Californians, the 150th anniversary of the Gold Rush brings to mind visions of '49ers panning for prosperity along mountain streams, but for many of the indigenous tribes of Northwest California, the Gold Rush was a holocaust.

Largely through interviews with seven tribal elders and historians from the Wiyot, Yurok, Karuk and Wintu peoples, the 21-page volume describes how the pursuit of gold--and the settlements that coincided with it--devastated the cultures and the environment encountered along the way. Students in Humboldt State's Indian Teacher and Educational Personnel Program (ITEPP) conducted the interviews, gathered historical photographs and reviewed research literature and century-old news accounts to produce the book.

According to editor Chag Lowry, a 1998 Humboldt graduate in journalism, the book is "a Native American response to California's three-year (1998-2000) celebration of the Gold Rush sesquicentennial." It offers, he says, "a more balanced and realistic view of history, including accounts of massacres, slavery, and the environmental raping of the land."

"This side of history," says Lowry, "must be exposed and taught in order to create a better understanding between cultures and pave the way for healing in Native communities."

He credits ITEPP Director Laura Lee George for conceiving the project.

"Hey, this Gold Rush business was not all golden," says George. "There was a 94 percent genocide rate among Native Americans in California (from about 1849 to 1900). Schools don't discuss it except in the fourth grade. The Indian voice was missing. My students felt that the contribution they could make is to at least let that voice be heard."

Along with Axel Lindgren's, the voices heard in "Northwest Indigenous Gold Rush History" are those of Wiyot Tribal Chairperson Cheryl Seidner, Karuk elders Josephine Peters and Charlie Thom, Wintu elder Jim Bommelyn, Yurok elder Evelina Hoffmann and Karuk tribal scholar Julian Lang.

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