The Spanish had a long history of slavery in the New World, beginning with Christopher Columbus. Spaniards began raiding the Athapaskans (the ancestors of the Navajos and the Apaches), the Yumas, the Pimas and the Papagos. They took their slave raids further into Utah, Nevada and Colorado. Through the 17th century Pueblo Indian villages were continually raided by the Spanish government. The captured people were usually sold in El Paso and they became servants without liberty for life.
The Spanish government directed the Franciscan monks to build missions in California to stop the Russians from moving farther south. Twenty-one missions were built from San Diego to Sonoma on the most fertile land. Friars and soldiers captured Chumashes and put them on the missions. Once they were baptized, they were tied to the mission and the authority of friars.
The friars closely regulated the lives of the Native Americans: family life, work, sexual relations, celebrations and clothing. The Native Americans received only food and clothing. Although they did all the physical work required to keep the mission running, the missions received all the profit.
The Native American people lived in barracks. Physical discipline was common. Despite being paid in food, they were malnourished. Native women exchanged sexual favors with Spanish soldiers for food, thus creating a new generation of Spanish-Indian people. There was a high rate of venereal disease.
The number of Native American deaths exceeded the number of births. After people died they were buried in unmarked group pits. When the missions began, there were 70,000 Native Americans. As the missions ended between 1833 and 1835, there were only 15,000. Those who survived lost their language, religion and culture. Almost all Californian Indians today descend from those who escaped to or lived in the California interior.
Native American slave labor opened up California to Spain, to Mexico and then to Americans. Native American slaves were usually laborers in silver mines and on Mexican ranches and plantations of the Yucatan where they were treated no better. The U.S. Congress outlawed the enslavement of Navajos by Americans and Mexicans through a joint resolution of 27 July 1868. The slavery of Alaskan Natives still continued.
From 1850 to 1869 Los Angeles had Native Americans in slave markets on Mondays. The Mayor’s Court sold the labor of Native Americans convicted of offenses. An Anglo or Mexican could require him to work twice as long as the prison sentence. He couldn’t leave without repaying for his keep and was then entered into debt peonage. In 1884 in Elk v. Wilkins the Supreme Court ruled the 14th amendment didn’t grant citizenship or constitutional rights to Native Americans. This practice continued on and off ranches and reservations until 1924 when citizenship and full constitutional rights were given.