State Indian Museum

Learn about the tools, the traditions and the ways of life of the tribes that inhabited California before Europeans arrived.

As many as 500,000 Native Americans populated California before the Spanish mission of San Diego arrived in 1769. More than 150 tribal groups speaking over 60 different languages harbored a wealth of knowledge, art and tradition. You can find examples of this history on display at this comprehensive museum.

The exhibits in the museum are divided into three themes: Nature, Spirit and Family. Within these you will encounter a hand-carved redwood canoe that would have been used to explore California’s waterways, hunting and fishing tools that date back over 2,400 years, and a good collection of ceremonial regalia. There is also a large collection of basket weaving, which includes some of the smallest baskets in the world. Peer through the eye of a magnifying glass and you just might see it; the basket measures only one millimeter.

An exhibit dedicated to the life of Ishi, the last survivor of the Yahi tribe, highlights the ways in which the lives of Native Americans were changed forever after the Europeans arrived.

See examples of Native American culture as it exists today in the contemporary art section of the museum, which features works by several well-known artists and craftsmen.

Try making Native American crafts yourself in the hands-on area. Use a pump drill to make a hole in the beads used for traditional jewelry or see how quickly you can turn an acorn to dust with an Indian-style mortar and pestle.

The museum hosts several Native American events and festivals throughout the year. The Indian Arts and Crafts Fair in April is well worth attending if you happen to be visiting at this time, and Native American Day takes place here in September. Weekends also see regular markets and musical performances.

The State Indian Museum is located in downtown Sacramento and there is metered parking on the street. The museum is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. There is a small charge for entry and no photographs are permitted.


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