Indian Tribes of California

California Indians by Louis Choris.

California Indians by Louis Choris.

California Indian Tribes Map courtesy Wikipedia.

California Indian Tribes Map courtesy Wikipedia.



The indigenous peoples of California were the inhabitants who previously lived or currently live within the current boundaries of the Golden State before and after the arrival of Europeans.

The earliest Californians were adventurous Asians who traveled across the Bering Straits to Alaska thousands of years ago when a warmer climate and a now-vanished land bridge made such travel easier. These men and women and their descendants settled in North and South America, spreading out to form the various nations and tribes the first European visitors called “Indians.” The mountain ranges of the Pacific Coast isolated these early settlers from the cultures that developed in neighboring Mexico and the western United States. Thus, the early population of California bore little physical resemblance to the Native Americans of the Great Plains and shared no ties of language or culture with these nations.

California Topography

California Topography courtesy Wikipedia.

California’s rugged topography, marked by mountain ranges and deserts, made it difficult for her indigenous groups to travel great distances, and the region’s native peoples were even isolated from each other, tending to live in large family groups or clans with little political structure, unlike the larger tribes and nations to the east. As European settlement came late to California, her natives were also denied access to the newcomers’ horses, whose runaways fathered the wild herds that gave Great Plains tribes new mobility as early as the 16 century. Thus divided and isolated, the original Californians were a diverse population, separated by language into as many as 135 distinct dialects. Tribes included the Karok, Maidu, Cahuilleno, Mojave, Yokuts, Pomo, Paiute, and Modoc. On the other hand, the mountains that divided the groups made extensive warfare impractical, and the California tribes and clans enjoyed a comparatively peaceful life.

The region’s lack of rain during the growing season meant that agriculture was not a practical livelihood for early Californians. However, the gentle climate and rich soil enabled these groups to live by skillfully harvesting and processing wild nuts and berries and capturing the fish that crowded the streams. The acorn, leached of toxic acids and turned into meal, was a staple of the diet of most California native peoples. Indeed, the first English-speaking Europeans to encounter California Native Americans were so struck by their focus on gathering nuts from the ground and unearthing nutritious roots that they nicknamed them “Diggers,” and “Digger Indian” became a vague nickname for many of the groups.

An ample food supply, a temperate climate, and the absence of wars contributed to a large, healthy population. It has been estimated that when Europeans first came to California, the native population was probably close to 300,000, about 13% of indigenous peoples in North America.

Tribe Names
Language Family
Ahwahnechee East-Central California Live in the Yosemite Valley. Fighting for Federal Recognition.
Acjachemem/Juaneño Southern California Uto-Aztecan language of Southern California. Closely related to Luiseno. The Acjachemem people historically lived in present-day Orange, northern San Diego, southern Los Angeles, and western Riverside Counties of California. The Juaneño is state recognized and working on Federal recognition.
Antoniaño Coastal Central California Salinan Family One of two divisions of Salinan, which is working on  Federal recognition.
Atsugewi Northeastern California Palaihnihan Family Many are enrolled in the Pit River Tribe, while others are members of the Susanville Indian Rancheria.
Awaswas West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan Some are members of the Amah Mutsun Tribe.
Bankalachi On the west slopes of the Greenhorn Mountains Tubatulabal A band of Tubatulabal is seeking Federal Recognition.
Barbareño Coastal Southern California Chumash A band of Chumash.
Cahuilla Southern California Cahuilla There are several Federally Recognized bands.
Chalon West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan Currently, there are no Chalon organizations.
Chochenyo West-Central California Chochenyo A division of the Ohlone/Costanoan.
Chumash Coastal Southern California Chumash Only the Santa Ynez Chumash have received federal recognition.
Chilula Northwestern California Athapascan Family Chilula descendants have since been incorporated into the Hupa.
Chimariko Northwestern California Chimariko Extinct
Chukchansi, Foothill Yokuts Central California Yokuts The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi is federally recognized.
Coast Miwok West-Central California Miwok The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, formerly the Federated Coast Miwok, is federally recognized. This tribe consists of people of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo descent.
Coso Southeastern California Numic The Coso are usually considered part of the Northern Paiute.
Cruzeño, Island Chumash Coastal Southern California Chumash Part of the Chumash.
Cupeño Southern California Luiseno-Cahuilla branch of Shoshonean Absorbed into other tribes.
Cuyamaca Complex Southern California Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Kumia Late Holocene Precolumbian culture.
Eel River Athapaskan Peoples Northwestern California Dialects of the Wailaki language belonging to the Pacific Coast Athabaskan group of the Athapaskan language family. They were essentially annihilated during the Bald Hills War in the 1860s. Some descendants are members of Round Valley Indian Tribes.
Esselen West-Central California A distinct language. Not Federally Recognized.
Huchnom Northwestern California Yuki A band of Yuki.
Hupa Northwestern California Hupa Most of the tribe is enrolled in the federally recognized Hoopa Valley Tribe.
Inezeño, Ineseño Coastal Southern California Chumash
Ipai Southwestern California Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Kumia
Jamul Southwestern California Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Kumia
Juaneño, Acjachemem Southwestern California
Karkin West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Karok Northwestern California
Kato, Cahto Northwestern California
Kawaiisu South-Central California
Kitanemuk South-Central California
Kizh Nation Southern California
Konkow North-Central California Maidu The KonKow Valley Band of Maidu Indians is not federally recognized.
Konomihu Northwestern California Shasta
Kucadikadi East-Central California
Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Kumia Southern California
La Jolla Complex Southern California Extinct, 6050-1000 BCE
Lake Miwok West-Central California Miwok
Lassik Northwestern California Eel River Athapaskan Peoples
Luiseño Southwestern California
Maidu Northeastern California Maidu Several federally recognized bands.
Mattole, Bear River Northwestern California Eel River Athapaskan Peoples
Mechoopda Northern California Maidu The Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria is federally recognized.
Migueleño Coastal Central California Salinan Family
Miwok, Me-wuk Central California Miwok Comprised of numerous bands, many of which are federally recognized.
Mojave Southeastern California
Monache, Western Mono Central California
Mono East-Central California
Mutsun West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Muwekma West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Nisenan, Southern Maidu East-Central California Maidu The Nisenan of Nevada City Rancheria is not federally recognized.
Nomlaki Northwestern California
Nongatl Northwestern California Eel River Athapaskan Peoples
Northern Valley Yokuts Central California Yokuts Family
Obispeño, Northern Chumash Coastal Southern California Chumash
Ohlone/Costanoan West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Okwanuchu Northwestern California Shasta
Palagewan On the Kern River above its confluence with the South Fork of the Kern River. Tubatulabal
Patayan Southern California
Patwin Central California
Pauma Complex Southern California Extinct – ca. 6050-1000 BCE
Pit River Tribe,, Achomawi, Achumawi, Northeastern California Hokan Family Federally Recognized.
Pomo Northwestern and West-Central California
Purisimeño Coastal Southern California Chumash
Ramaytush West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Rumsen West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Saklan West-Central CaliforniaMiwok
Salinan Coastal Central California Salinan Family
Serrano Southern California
Shasta Northwestern California
Sinkyone Northwestern California Eel River Athapaskan Peoples
Suisun, Southern Patwin Central California Patwin
Tachi, Southern Valley Yokuts South-Central California Yokuts Family
Tamyen West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Tatavium/Aliklik Southern California
Timbisha Southeastern California
Tipai Southwestern California and Northwestern Mexico Kumeyaay, Diegueño, Kumia
Tolowa Northwestern California
Tsnungwe Northwestern California Hupa
Tubatulabal South-Central California Tubatulabal
Valley and Sierra Miwok East-Central California Miwok
Ventureño Coastal Southern California Chumash
Wailaki, Wai-lakki Northwestern California Eel River Athapaskan Peoples
Wappo North-Central California
Washoe Northeastern California
Whilkut Northwestern California
Wintu Northwestern California Wintu
Wiyot Northwestern California Federally recognized.
Yahi North-Central California Yana
Yana North-Central California Yana
Yelamu West-Central California Ohlone/Costanoan
Yokuts Central and Southern California
Yurok Northwestern California Federally recognized.

©Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.

Also See:

California – The Golden State

Native Americans – The First Owners of America

Native American Photo Galleries

Native American Tribes


California Frontier Project
Heizer, Robert F. and Sturtevant, William C.; Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1878.
Library of Congress