Study results are relevant to decision whether to put wolves under the state’s ESA-San Francisco. There are those who say the gray wolf had just a marginal presence in California before it was killed off in the 1920s. However, the Sonoma State University Anthropological Studies Center has now shown there was a widespread presence of wolves in California. This report comes at an important time. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is deciding whether to protect the animals under the state’s Endangered Species Act.
The study found linguistic and cultural evidence that indigenous peoples across California had words for wolf. They also performed rituals featuring wolves in some fashion. At least fifteen of California’s indigenous languages have distinct words for “wolf,” “coyote” and “dog,” and in the oral traditions of five languages, wolves appear as deities or a part of ceremony or ancestral history.
“In modern times we talk about wolves being ecologically important,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity, “but this research shows us that wolves have been a part of California’s cultural heritage for thousands of years.”
Previous research had compiled historical accounts of sightings of wolves in California by European explorers and settlers, and these accounts were from locations scattered widely across the state. But because it was not always clear that observers were familiar with, and could distinguish between, wolves, coyotes and dogs, the reliability of such accounts had been called into question. The new study’s linguistic analysis honed in on whether indigenous people distinguished between these three canids, and the study’s examination of the role ascribed to wolves in cultural stories and traditions revealed unique treatment of the wolf — quite distinct from roles or characteristics assigned to coyotes or dogs.
- – - – - – -