Tribal Identity

A Land of Many Tribes

Ohlone and Miwok are modern designations that group together distinct tribes of Native people based on the languages they spoke and their broad-based cultural affiliations.

This map shows the homelands of the tribes of the places now known as the San Francisco Bay Area. Before colonization, there were about 58 Ohlone tribes with a collective population of about 17,000 people. There were about six Bay Miwok tribes with a population of between 1,800 to 2,000 people.

No precise tribal number can be given because some tribes, like Ruth’s Jalquin ancestors, were so intermarried between speakers of two primary languages that they cannot be placed within a single language group.

Old-Time Tribal Organization

Before colonization, the Native people of this region organized themselves into tribes, one of the most equalitarian forms of social and political organization ever know in human history, based on how equally each member of the society could access the resources needed to live. Tribes had between 200 to 300 people who lived in some three to five permanent villages for most of the year. Villages had populations of about 40 to 200 people.

Every Ohlone and Miwok tribe had a homeland (territory) of about 8-12 square miles. Each one had a primary leader known as a headman, and sometimes a headwoman. Leaders had kinship ties to the other members of their society, and to members of other tribes. 

bay area map

Present-Day Tribal Organization

Just as there was no single Ohlone or Miwok tribe in the past, there is no single Ohlone or Miwok tribe today. While fewer in number than those of the past, today’s Ohlone and Miwok tribes have familial and larger kinship ties, maintain cultural communities, and find pride in preserving ancestral traditions. They work to preserve and protect ancestral sites. Some seek federal recognition.

Ruth and her Native family members are leaders and members of today’s Him•re-n of Ohlone, Bay Miwok, and Plains Miwok. Ancestrally, they have Jalquin heritage, a bilingual Chochenyo Ohlone and Bay Miwok-speaking tribe; Saclan heritage, a Bay Miwok-speaking tribe; and Ochejamne heritage, a Plains Miwok-speaking tribe.

Can you find these tribes and languages on these maps?

bay area map

A Land of Many Languages

This map shows the many languages spoken by the Native people of the place now known as the San Francisco Bay Area. These included six Ohlone languages.

Ruth Orta’s family’s ancestors spoke Chochenyo, a dialect of one of the six Ohlone languages. They also spoke Bay Miwok and Plains Miwok, the primary languages of the Native people of the present-day Diablo Valley and Sacramento Valley.