Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Managing Place and Identity: The Marin Coast Miwok Experience

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Managing Place and Identity: The Marin Coast Miwok Experience

Article excerpt

Cultural identity is no chimera, but is demonstrably a creature of a fluid nature. We examine identity as an influence on public land claims. Our focus is on a single facet of identity--the ability of a group of people to make officially recognizable claims about who they are. This type of claim, though familiar in the context of Indians, also emanates from rock climbers, livestock ranchers, local communities, wilderness enthusiasts, and recreationists of diverse permutations. The latter class of claims, described sometimes as "neotraditional' strike us as new. These demands and preferences are familiar, of course, but to find them robed in identity, rather than economics, power, or process, has become a perplexing and increasingly common node of public land disputation (Smith and Manning 1997; Tarlock 1999; Brady 2000; Huntsinger and Fernandez-Gimenez 2000). We cannot herein resolve the challenges of identity claims, but we do hope to provide a context for discussing them.

We use what ought to be the simplest circumstance of an identity-based claim to place--one involving Indians--to underscore the complexities of the conceptual problems and hint at the vagaries of the institutional arenas in which they play out. (1) We draw on narratives of the Coast Miwok of California, notable in regard to their identity-based place claims. A group with a long tradition of life on the northern Pacific Coast, the Coast Miwok's historical territories appear to have extended from Sausalito to north of Bodega Bay and inland approximately 25 miles from the coast (Heizer 1978; Ortiz 1993; Sarris 1996). The Miwok can and do present themselves and their claims in the familiar forms and forums of Indians. But the Miwok were generally conceded to have disappeared before their rancheria was terminated in 1966. (2) Thus the Miwok are also a newly recognized tribe seeking land and resources on the basis of a recently reconstructed identity. (3)

Stories of an Indian community both ancient and newly on the scene suggest links between identity and place that are rarely as obvious as they first appear. Instead, identity is actively constructed over time through political work. We examine the intersection of the recognizable categories offered by the state (the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] and the U.S. Congress), the far less systematic approach taken at the Point Reyes National Seashore unit of the National Park Service (NPS), and the self-definition asserted by a collective state subject (the Coast Miwok) to demonstrate identities as they fill and then reshape spaces historically and politically open to them. A particular focus is on the NPS element of the tale, underscoring the casual way the Miwok were slipped into standard NPS niches and its import for other discourse on identity.

In the constitution of collective identities, identity and history are closely intertwined. We first discuss identity and its relationship to place and offer an abbreviated description of the legal arena in which all Indian groups within the United States must assert their identity. It is within this historical context that the Coast Miwok must pursue their own priorities. Next, we examine Coast Miwok claims to tribal status and to land and resources, which press forward relatively informal Miwok claims in the Point Reyes National Seashore. We close by contemplating lessons from the Coast Miwok's experience as they bear on the proliferating category of neotraditional identity claims, aware that narratives and claims do not prove anything (Cronon 1992).


A common fiction, whether individual or collective, holds that identities are stable over time and express a definitive essence of who people are (Lowenthal 1989). Identities are instead constructed and shaped by multiple factors, including the practices of the state (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982; Bender 1993; Tsing 1993; Alonso 1995). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.