Maidu Indians

Maidu Tribes

The Maidu tribal homelands were originally in the area now known as northeastern California.

They lived in the central Sierra Nevada, in the drainage area of the Feather and American Rivers, and in Humbug Valley. In Maiduan languages, Maidu means “man.”There are three divisions of Maidu:

The Nisenan or Southern Maidu occupied the whole of the American, Bear, and Yuba River drainages. They live in lands that were previously home to the Martis.

The Northeastern or Mountain Maidu, also known as Yamani Maidu, lived on the upper North and Middle forks of the Feather River.

The Konkow (Koyom’kawi/Concow) came out of the valley between Cherokee, California and Pulga, California along the north fork of the Feather River and its tributaries. The Mechupda live in the area of Chico, California.

Maidu Subsistance

Like many other California tribes, the Maidu were hunters and gatherers and did not farm. They practiced grooming of their gathering grounds, with fire as a primary tool for this purpose, and tended local groves of oak trees to maximize production of acorns, which was their principal dietary staple.

The abundance of acorns made it possible for the Maidu to store large quantities for harder times, and they used their basket-making skills to construct above-ground acorn granaries.

Besides acorns, which provided dietary starch and fat, the Maidu lived in an environment rich in plant and animal life, much of it edible, and they supplemented their acorn diet with edible roots (for which they were nicknamed “Digger Indians” by European immigrants), fish from the many streams and rivers, and other plant and animal species.

The seeds from the many flowering plants as well as the corms from many wild flowers provided much of the sustenance to the People of the area.

Wildlife of every sort was also utilized within a spiritual reference. Deer, elk, antelope as well as all the multitude of smaller game were utilized on a regular basis.

Fish were a prime source of protein starting with the multi run salmon then relying on the local indigenous fishes that supplied food the year round.

Maidu Housing

Maidu housing, especially higher in the hills and the mountains, was largely semi-underground. These houses were sizable, circular structures twelve to 18 feet in diameter, whose floors were as much as three feet below ground level.

Once the floor of the house was dug, a pole framework was built, then a covering of pine bark slabs upon which a heavy layer of earth was placed along the base of the structure.

With a central fire in the house at ground level, a stone lined pit and bedrock mortar to process foods, meals were always ready to feed the family.

For summer dwelling, a different structure was built from cut branches tied together and fastened to sapling posts, then covered with brush and dirt.

The summer shelters were built with the principal opening facing east to catch the rising sun, and to escape the heat of the afternoon.

Maidu Social organization

The Maidu lived in small villages or tribelets with no centralized political organization.

Leaders were typically selected from the pool of men who headed the local Kuksu cult, but generally did not exercise day-to-day authority, being primarily responsible for settling internal disputes, and negotiating over matters arising between villages.

Maidu Religion

The primary religious tradition of the Maidu revolved around the Kuksu cult, which was a central California religious cult system based on a male secret society and characterized by the Kuksu or “big head” dances. Besides the Maidu, this cult system was also followed by the Pomo and the Patwin among the Wintun.

Maidu Arts and Crafts

The Maidu were exemplary basket weavers, weaving highly detailed and useful baskets in sizes ranging from thimble-sized to huge ones ten or more feet in diameter.

The stitches on some of these baskets are so fine that you need a magnifying glass to see them. In addition to closely woven, watertight baskets for cooking, they made large storage baskets, bowls, shallow trays, traps, cradles, hats and seed beaters.

To make these baskets they used dozens of different kinds of wild plant stems, barks, roots and leaves. Some of the more common were fern roots, red bark of the redbud, white willow twigs and tule roots, hazel twigs, yucca leaves, brown marsh grass roots and sedge roots.

By combining these different kinds of plants, they were able to make geometric designs on their baskets in red, black, white, brown or tan.

Maidu Legends and Oral History

Stories of the Trickster Coyote are particularly prominent in Maidu traditional narratives.

Federally recognized Maidu tribes

Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians
Enterprise Rancheria of Estom Yumeka Maidu
Greenville Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California
Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria
Mooretown Rancheria of Maidu Indians of California
Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Shingle Springs Rancheria (Verona Tract)
Susanville Indian Rancheria
United Auburn Indian Community of the Auburn Rancheria

Non-federally recognized  Maidu tribes

Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe of the Colfax Rancheria
Honey Lake Maidu Tribe
KonKow Valley Band of Maidu Indians
Nevada City Rancheria
Ninsenan Indian Tribe
Strawberry Valley Band of Pakan’yani Maidu (aka Strawberry Valley Rancheria)
Tsi Akim Maidu Tribe of Taylorsville Rancheria
United Maidu Nation

Famous Maidu