The Spanish priests believed they were saving the Native Americans’ souls by converting them to Catholicism.
They did not think they were interfering with the Native Americans’ religious life because they thought the Native Americans had no real religion of their own.
In fact, California Indians had a complicated set of religious beliefs. To pay proper respect to nature, they performed a wide variety of dances and rituals. The Hupa of northern California, for example, devoted ten days every fall to the White Deerskin Dance. The Hupa believed that deer would return each hunting season only if this ceremony had been performed properly.
The Native Americans’ religious leaders were also healers. These medicine men and women had a great deal of influence in their villages. If the head of a village could not resolve a dispute, he often turned to a medicine person for help. In part because of medicine peoples’ role as peacemakers, California Indians almost never went to war with each other.