Culture & History


For thousands of years, the Miwok people lived peacefully throughout large portions of Northern and Central California. They were originally composed of three main groups – the Sierra Miwok, the Lake Miwok and the Coast Miwok. The Miwok lived in more than 100 villages along the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, and from the region north of San Francisco Bay eastward to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The traditional territory of the Sierra Miwok, ancestors of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, includes the Sierra Nevada foothills of Central California. These groups have been identified as speaking the Nisenan, Northern Miwok and Plains Miwok languages that have been grouped as part of the Penutian language family.

A Creation Myth told by elders of the Tribe says that our ancestors were actually created on top of Buena Vista Peaks, just south of the town of Ione, during the time when the Sacramento Valley was flooded.


The 19th Century

When Spanish explorers first landed on California soil, there were an estimated 22,000 Miwok Indians in the region. The Spanish raided Indian villages and enslaved thousands of Indians during the Mission system period. Ancestors of our Tribe told stories of such raids occurring in the Jackson Valley area south of Ione. Between 1820 and 1840, smallpox and other diseases quickly reduced the Indian population.

In 1839, John Sutter established his fort in Sacramento. He followed the Mission practice of capturing and enslaving the Indians. Tribal ancestors also passed down stories of these raids in and around the city of Ione.

In 1848-50, the Gold Rush brought a massive influx of fortune seekers and other settlers to the Sierra foothills, encroaching on the lands inhabited by the Miwok Indians. Many of the traditional hunting and gathering areas were now occupied by these immigrants. This led to disputes and violent and deadly confrontations between the immigrants and Indians, which required military intervention.

Due to the increase of such confrontations throughout California, the U.S. government negotiated a series of treaties with California tribes in 1851-1852. These treaties ceded lands to the US, but also reserved lands for permanent residence for the Indians. Our Miwok ancestors negotiated and signed three of these treaties. However, Congress failed to ratify the treaties, which were then hidden from public view until 1905.

With Congress’ failure to ratify these treaties, the Miwok were left homeless, forcing them to develop a new lifestyle to survive. Many Miwok survived by relocating and merging with neighboring tribes in the Sierra foothills, creating amalgamated groups of Native peoples. To survive, many of our ancestors were forced to work as laborers on ranches.

The 20th Century

In 1915, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) conducted an area census identifying 101 homeless Miwok Indians living in and near Ione, California. This group would later be recognized as three distinct tribes, including the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, the Jackson Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, and the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians. The federal government promised to purchase 40 acres of land for the resettlement of the landless tribes. However, the owner of the property and the federal government couldn’t agree on the details of the transaction, and even though the sale fell through, several families moved to the 40 acres thinking that the land would become a reservation.

In 1971, the families living on the 40 acres sought legal help to clear up the legal status of the land. The California Indian Legal Services agreed to take the case. In October 1972, the 40 acres were awarded to 12 named individuals and other members of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, but not to the Tribe itself.

In 1972, BIA commissioner Louis R. Bruce sent a letter to the Ione Band of Miwok Indians in which he agreed to accept the 40 acres into trust if our Tribe gained clear title to the land. He also opinioned that federal recognition was extended to our Tribe at the time when the US government contemplated purchasing the 40 acres. Although Commissioner Bruce offered this opinion, the BIA didn’t federally recognize the Ione Band of Miwok Indians because our Tribe was unable to gain clear title to the 40 acres.

In 1978, the BIA suggested that the Ione Band of Miwok Indians go through the newly enacted Federal Acknowledgment Project to gain federal recognition. This was a lengthy process that required many years of research.

In 1985, Amador County officials determined that the 40 acres was privately owned by the 12 named individuals in the 1972 judgment and began requiring that the residents and the 12 named individuals pay taxes on the land and real property.

Federal Recognition and the Tribe Today

In 1994, Assistant Secretary Ada Deer wrote a letter to our Tribe in which she agreed with former Commissioner Bruce and reaffirmed that federal recognition was evidently extended to the Ione Band of Miwok Indians at the time of contemplation of purchase of the 40 acres in 1915. She further directed that the Ione Band of Miwok Indians form an interim Tribal Council, using descendants of the 1915 census and the 1972 judgment as a preliminary membership roll to aid in the formal organization of the Tribe. The decision was later entered into the Federal Register.

Our Tribe elected an interim Tribal Council in 1996. In September 2002, The BIA approved our Tribal Constitution submitted by our interim Tribal Council, and tribal elections were again held in April 2003.

Today, the Ione Band of Miwok Indians has over 750 members, living in Amador and other surrounding counties. Though our Tribe’s federal recognition was reaffirmed in 1994, we remain landless to this day. We are moving forward with a viable program of economic development, which we hope will provide the revenue needed to improve housing, health care, and educational programs, help maintain and promote cultural activities and traditions, and provide proper care for our elders.

Partial funding for this page provided by
Tribal Preservation Grant
Heritage Preservation Services
National Park Service