Before the Bancrofts, Pre 1769

Early Inhabitants

Map of Native people and language spoken across the Bay Area circa 1700.

Can you find whose land your city occupies today? Map created by M. Roy Cartography (see full citation in resource section)

Since time immemorial, the Bay Area has been inhabited by various Indigenous people.  What is known today as Contra Costa was largely inhabited by the cultural and linguistic group known as Bay Miwok. 

Present-day Rossmoor, Lafayette, Moraga, and Walnut Creek were primarily inhabited by the Saclan tribe.

If you were able to look at this land 400 years ago, you would likely not recognize the land of the Bay Miwok. Shoulder high perennial bunch grasses, thick oak and bay woodlands, flowing creeks and rivers filled with fish, herds of elk, mountain lions, and of course grizzly bears could all be found in this “land of plenty.” Acorns were a staple for Native people living across California, and are still gathered and eaten today.

The Indigenous people of California not only “lived off the land” but drew on countless generations of experience to actively manage it. One of the management practices used by California Native people was prescribed burning. Not only did these controlled fires prevent large wildfires, they also cleared old brush to make way for preferred food sources, to create pathways for wildlife in chaparral, mitigate pests in woodland and forest understories, and ensure successful and sustainable harvests. 

Additional Resources

  • See a full demonstration of former Miss Kumeyaay Nation, Autumn Brown, making shawii (acorn stew) here.
  • Learn more about how Indigenous knowledge about controlled burns is being used today.
  • Here is a resource that maps Indigenous territories, language, and treaties across N. America and beyond.

Native People Today

 Three protesters standing next to a banner that reads “Protect the ancestors,” “You are on Native land,” and “Protect preserve Indigenous people’s Sacred and burial sites.”

Protesters gathered to protect the site of Sogorea Te’, a 3,500 year-old Karkin Ohlone village and burial site located at Glen Cove. CC

Today, Native people across the Bay Area are working hard to preserve sacred land, cultures, and languages, as well inspire surrounding communities for future generations. Currently, the Muwekma, the survivors of Indigenous people in the nine Bay Area counties, who trace their heritage through Missions Dolores, Santa Clara, and San Jose, are fighting for federal recognition. Recognition would allow them to reclaim the remains of their ancestors, receive government support, and establish a land base where Native people and plants may once again gather and thrive.

Indian People for Organizing Change (IPOC) has also created the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, an urban Indigenous women-led land trust based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Land Trust works for the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people, reviving cultural gathering places, and medicinal plant gardens. The Land Trust has also created the Shuumi Land Tax, which asks non-native people to pay reparations on the land they live on, to support the return of unceded lands.


Additional Resources

  • To learn more about the work Native People are doing around the Bay today visit here.


Click on the left image for a close-up of the Golden Jubilee Sign #1.