First Families,
a Photographic History
First Families
A Photographic History of California Indians
L Frank and Kim Hogeland

To produce this book, the authors asked California Indian people all over the state if they would be
willing to talk about their family photo albums. The authors then traveled to meet with the families and
pretty much just listened as people, mostly elders, opened up about their lives. Over six months, the
authors interviewed two families per day for three hours each. They covered over 50,000 miles
crisscrossing the state as they tried to reach people in as many places as they could.

A surprise to the authors was the number of families who had actually lost all their photos to destructive
fires, which were common in many of the remote reservations and rancherias to which they had been
consigned. The authors nonetheless succeeded in collecting a large set, and this is a beautiful and
remarkable collection.

California Indian people have been taking pictures pretty much since the dawn of photography in the
United States, and the photos reproduced here cover that entire period. Reviewing them, I had a real
sense of sweeping broadly through history. Once immersed as a reader, I also sometimes had the odd
sensation that I was actually sitting on the couch in someone’s living room, and listening as the pages
turned and people talked to me about what I was seeing.

It’s history at a very personal level, of people with their spouses, and parents, and children, and aunts
and uncles and grandparents, or with friends, or just alone at some time in their lives. I think you have to
see the pictures yourself to get a real sense of them, but to give you an idea, here is a sample of what
you will see, in no particular order:  women who were working as riveters during the Second World War, a
man in a rodeo, shots at logging camps and while lumbering, miners (the authors point out that many
Native people continued to mine after the Gold Rush and then throughout the twentieth century), a fire
captain, a phone company supervisor, people on a visit to D.C. to research language and genealogy
and to meet with the BIA about federal recognition, people collecting seaweed which tastes like
popcorn when you cook it, a string band for Mexican Independence Day, people constructing a
roundhouse, a man speaking at a library, people playing peon, the opening of the Barona Cultural
Center, women at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego, young people
posing before a jetliner before going overseas to a leadership conference, a recent event at a mission,
rowing to the islands in traditional vessels, a baptism, a communion, a young woman running her hands
through a large pile of acorns, people next to really big fish that they caught, pictures of Ishi, the
Sherman Indian High School, a woman who was well-known for being multilingual in numerous Indian
and European languages, the ceremonial burning in effigy of discrimination directed against the
ceremony’s participants, the last photo taken before the Kuupangaxwichem were removed to Pala,
people and their motorcycles, a sailor and his wife kissing goodbye passionately before he went to war,
film shoots, a woman and her snowman, traditional activities in the past and more recently, and people
working on cultural preservation and revitalization at conferences.

Along the way, the authors discuss Toypurina, Fort Ross, Fort Tejon and Edward Beale, the ghost dance,
interactions with John Peabody Harrington, recognition and non-recognition, enrollment and
disenrollment, the Mexican period, the Gold Rush, Sutter, evolving government policies, evictions and
forced removals, forced marches, harsh punishments and enslavements, social invisibility, and a wide
range of other topics, but the book is really about families, and communities, and the lives of individual
people living through such things.  So it is mostly about the pictures, then.

- Glenn Anaiscourt

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Book Reviews
by Glenn Anaiscourt