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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Native Persistence: Marriage, Social Structure, Political Leadership, and Intertribal Relations at Mission Dolores, 1777–1800


Scholarship on California Indians prior to and during the Spanish colonial period suffers from a lack of understanding of the social structure of California Indians, especially in regards to social status. In this systematic analysis of the social structure of California Indians, I examine the relationships among marriage, social status, political leadership, and intertribal alliances during colonization. After incorporation into Mission Dolores, Spanish alterations to native life, such as Catholic marriage restrictions and the Spanish caste system, had only a minor impact upon native social structure. Indian elites continued to marry other elites and thereby preserved traditional status distinctions, political authority, and intertribal alliances after incorporation into Mission Dolores. As a result, California Indians at Mission Dolores maintained social and political continuity during Spanish colonization.

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