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Why not start reparations talks focused on ethnic group California abused most?
Painting of three Ohlone people crossing the waters of San Francisco Bay by Louis Choris.

The Ohlone were doing just fine, thank you, before the City of San Francisco came along.

The indigenous Californians’ territory  stretched from what is today known as the southern edge of the Golden Gate to Big Sur.

Before Europeans started walking around the 48 hills within today’s boundaries of San Francisco, there were an estimated 300,000 or so indigenous people living in the 163,696 square miles that today constitute California.

Today, there are less than 500 indigenous Californians left that are identified as Ohlone.

There are 9.7 million people that are classified as American Indian/Alaska Native based on the 2020 census. That includes those that are described as fully indigenous in their DNA to a combination thereof.

Roughly 12 percent of indigenous Americans reside in California, giving the Golden State the largest such population.

The Ohlone — a California indigenous tribe — had their land taken from them and their way of life destroyed. Although the Catholic Church likes to say they were just saving their souls, a good number were forced into what most would recognize as slavery.

While that predates California being a territory of the United States and gaining statehood in 1850, discriminatory treatment against indigenous Californians did not end on Sept. 9, 1850 when California joined the union.

The very event that provided California express lane statehood ratification in Congress and provided the foundation for its economy — the Gold Rush — also brought about the California Massacre. 

Peter Burnett — California’s first governor  — proposed a war of extermination against indigenous  Americans.

“That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected,” Burnett  told legislators in the second state of the state address in 1851. “While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.”

Burnett then lit the proverbial fire.

The governor set aside state money to arm local militias against indigenous Californians.

Weapons were distributed to local militias for the expressed purpose of killing native people.

 Local governments placed bounties on the heads of indigenous Californians.

A skull — or scalp — was worth $5 in California during the 1850s and 1860s. That was when the average daily wage was 25 cents.

At one point, the United States Army joined in the massacre by killing at least 1,600 indigenous Californians.

Historian Benjamin Madley determined from research the State of California spent $1.7 million  in the 1860s to essentially kill indigenous people. Based on inflation that is  $60 million in today’s dollars.

This all begs the question: If the State of California and the City of San Francisco are serious about reparations then why are they starting with Black Americans first and not indigenous Californians?

Cleary the state — and by extension San Francisco — as government entities have not officially sanctioned murder of any ethnic group except indigenous Californians.

If slavery is the litmus test, California allowed indigenous people to be enslaved through the mid-1860s on ranches.

Then there was the issue of children forced to attend “Indian assimilation schools”.

If redlining is the litmus test, indigenous Californians were forced to live on reservations.

And if current poverty is the litmus test, 25.4 percent of all indigenous Americans live in poverty as opposed to 20.8 percent of all Black Americans. The overall poverty rate, is 11.6 percent.

California entered the union in 1850 as a free state.

Apparently freedom was something that was given to almost all ethnic groups including Blacks except indigenous Californians.

Slavery, for the record, is not an American invention.

It existed previously in Asia, Europe, Africa and even among the indigenous civilizations of the Americas.

That said the highest profile — and bloodiest — war ever waged over the issue was the American Civil War. It was fought over state rights  which, at the time, included the ability for states to decide if slavery could be legal within their boundaries.

None of this dismisses the fact atrocious things have been done in this country based on skin tone, ethnicity, and even religion.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — after being banished from a number of states — settled in Utah had selected a Mormon as governor of the territory, President James Buchanan dispatched federal troops to try and put a non-Mormon governor in office.

Unfortunately , virtually every ethnic group at some point in its DNA has been subjected to discrimination and ruthless treatments somewhere at some point on the planet, That said, many still are.

 But if the goal is to right wrongs by addressing the most egregiously impacted, California is starting in the wrong place.

It should be with indigenous Californians.

They, after all, had their lands taken away, were forced into what for all practical purposes were concentration camps of sorts, had their murders not just sanctioned by the government but their murderers financially rewarded, and have been subjected to 175 years of poverty.

California’s treatment on a whole of its indigenous people was far worse by every measurement than it has been for Black Americans.

San Francisco’s prosperity — as well as that of California as a whole — was built on the deaths, suffering and abuse of indigenous Californians.

So why wouldn’t San Francisco start its conversation to use reparations to right previous wrongs with the one group that suffered the most from the creation of their very own city as well as that of the state?

Instead, a City of San Francisco committee is seeking a one-time, lump sum payment of $5 million per person that “would compensate the affected population for the decades of harms that they have experienced and will redress the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy.”

Perhaps what was done in California — and by extension San Francisco — to indigenous people was not considered a  politically correct enough of an atrocity to put it at the front of the line.

Pollical wokeness, as we are finding out, tends to be driven by the cause du jour.

And as such the “chosen” victims tied to past and present acts of discrimination and oppression are addressed first and foremost and not the ones connected to groups that have suffered the most and most directly from California government actions.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at