At long last, a narrative of colonial California populated with intelligent and culturally resourceful Indigenous people has arrived. Replete with earthquakes, shipwrecks, and Coast Miwok salvaging copper hulls and timber frames from hulking maritime vessels washed up on their foggy shores, it is certainly a page-turner. The book opens dramatically in 1783 as a young couple, Julúio and Olomojoia, with their six-year-old daughter in tow, strike out in a tule balsa to investigate the Spanish colonial settlement across the bay from their homeland in present-day Sausalito. They would repeat this crossing many times in the coming year as they ascertained how best to secure their family’s future in a rapidly changing world. Two centuries later, Tsim D. Schneider, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, embarked on a journey not unlike that of his Coast Miwok forebears. For two decades, he has traversed his ancestral homelands and waters, bending the methods and tools of archaeology, a colonial discipline, in the service of Indigenous questions, perspectives, and futures.

Among nearly three thousand Coast Miwok to experience Alta California’s Spanish missions, Julúio and Olomojoia made bold decisions to baptize one daughter, then another, and ultimately to reside at Mission Dolores. The daughter with whom they initially paddled across the Golden Gate strait was the first Coast Miwok to appear in the Mission’s baptismal records. Within a decade, she, her sister, and her parents were all deceased, a poignant beginning to Schneider’s narrative of Coast Miwok life in colonial California. Yet there is more to “see” in their story than tragic and untimely deaths, which is precisely the reason for their appearance at the start of this archaeological monograph. Schneider draws our attention to Julúio’s and Olomojoia’s exercise of agency, to their trips back and forth across the bay, and to Levanegluá, the village—or Indigenous hinterland—they called home, a shell-mounded place animated with Coast Miwok memory. Through this glimpse into their eighteenth-century lives, Schneider introduces three cultural coordinates—place, social memory, and mobility—to which he returns again and again in his reading of the colonial archive, his archaeological research design and analysis, his review of prior excavations and fieldwork findings, and his examination of material culture and oral histories held in museum repositories and libraries.

Across an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion, Schneider builds his case that, far from helpless pawns caught up in Spanish, Mexican, Russian, or American contests for territorial control, Coast Miwok made strategic choices about when and how to engage these colonial projects and material resources. Through consecutive waves of intrusion, they found refuge and resilience by continually drawing upon place, memory, and mobility. Hinterlands were central to this process. As Schneider explains, Indigenous hinterlands “is a concept I developed…to address the structuring power of Native places in colonial encounters, rather than the marginality typically attributed to them in distorted public and scholarly views of colonialism in California” (57). Contrary to historical discourses of “emptied” Native lands, Schneider contends that hinterlands were where the meaningful action was to be found.

Many Natives interacted with and survived colonial institutions and forces. The loss of human life was enormous, but not total, as settler tropes of “vanished Indians” insist. Likewise, lamentations of Coast Miwok “cultural extinction,” however forcefully enshrined in anthropological discourse and the popular press, cleverly elide the dynamism undergirding cultural reproduction. Schneider turns his trowel and his intellect to the enormous task of dismantling these conventional—and convenient—erasures. Focusing on two ancestral landscapes, China Camp State Park and Toms Point on the northeastern end of Tomales Bay, he demonstrates that refuge from colonial power and recourse to cultural traditions and knowledge enabled Coast Miwok to persist in familiar ways and places. Shellmounds figure prominently in the latter. These ubiquitous testaments to the antiquity of Bay Area Native histories and built environments are also sacred sites. For more than two centuries, they have been looted and leveled to stock museum shelves and private citizens’ ghoulish curiosity cabinets with human remains and artifacts, to supply road and railway foundations, and to serve as garden compost and chicken coop fodder.

Given this history of desecration, and in consultation with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria’s (FIGR) Sacred Sites Protection Committee (SSPC) and Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Schneider prioritized low-impact tools and techniques in his research: “[T]he selection and approval of minimally invasive and nondestructive archaeological field and laboratory techniques, like digital mapping, shallow geophysics, target excavation of features, X-ray fluorescence (XFS) spectrometry, accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS), radiocarbon dating, and stable isotope analysis, acknowledges the sensitivity and unique privilege of working with Indigenous cultural places and materials” (19). He also consulted field notes and collections from prior excavations, and, with SSPC approval, subjected some of this material to chemical analysis.

Schneider’s work at three shellmounds in China Camp State Park are featured in chapter 3, “Seeking Refuge.” His findings lend credence to his argument that mission-period flight, extramural residence, and paseo—or pass—systems fostered use of shellmounds as places of permanent refuge, sites of rendezvous for kin maintenance and ceremony, and way stations for gathering of seasonally available resources. Chapter 4, “Finding Recourse,” presents archaeological data culled from three sites in the Toms Point Trading Post vicinity to show how Coast Miwok maintained control over this resource-rich bay and Indigenous hinterland. Perhaps most intriguing here is evidence that they may have controlled where George Thomas Wood established his nineteenth-century trading post, refusing its placement on a particularly old and treasured shellmound. If true, we can liken this to an act of historic preservation presaging those of contemporary Ohlone people engaged in struggles to protect remaining Bay Area shellmounds.

Schneider’s work drives home the point that claims to western epistemological neutrality are a fiction. Just as his Coast Miwok subjectivity and positionality as a FIGR citizen informs his archaeological practice, so too have settler subjectivities and non-Native positionalities shaped the discipline’s conceptual and theoretical limitations. Indigenous people not only ask different questions of the archaeological record, they also understand this “record” to be their own—part and parcel of their kinship with the land. Like his Coast Miwok ancestors who found recourse in the face of colonial encroachment by selectively integrating alien vocabularies, technologies, and economic practices into their world, Schneider embodies a twenty-first-century version of recourse, weaving archaeological techniques and evidence into the long historical fabric of Coast Miwok culture and community. His strategy of tracking multiple lines of evidence is not just smart, it is necessary for piecing together a portrait of Indigenous life in colonial California not overly determined by settler and disciplinary commitments to erasure and extinction narratives.

Like all anthropologists who write and practice from “elsewhere,” or from marginalized positions and locations traditionally “othered” by the discipline, Indigenous scholars must answer not only to their communities (and for the discipline’s many historical transgressions), but also to the academy governing their tenure and promotion. Schneider is at home in all these potentially turbulent waters, as evidenced by the respect he accords his Tribe, the scientific rigor and breadth he brings to his research, and his sophisticated mastery of the scholarly literature—from archaeological method and theory to social analysis and cross-cultural histories of empire and resistance. His book offers a breathtaking window into how Indigenous archaeology promises to expand our historical understandings and worldview.

Terri A. Castaneda