Yurok

Introduction

The Yurok, whose name means “downriver people” in the neighboring Karuk language, are Native Americans who live in northwestern California near the Klamath River and Pacific coast. Their autonym is Olekwo’l meaning “Persons.” Today they live on the Yurok Indian Reservation, on several rancherias, or throughout Humboldt County.

Traditionally, Yurok people lived in permanent villages along the Klamath River. Some of the villages date back to the 14th century. They fished for salmon along rivers, gathered ocean fish and shellfish, hunted game, and gathered plants.

Their first contact with non-Natives was when Spanish explorers entered their territory in 1775. Fur traders and trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company came in 1827. Following encounters with white settlers moving into their aboriginal lands during a gold rush in 1850, the Yurok were faced with disease and massacres that reduced their population by 75%. In 1855, following the Klamath and Salmon River Indian War most of those that remained were forcibly relocated to the Yurok Indian Reservation on the Klamath River.

More than a 100 years later, on November 24, 1993, the Yurok adopted a constitution that details the jurisdiction and territory of their lands. Under the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act of 1988, Pub. L. 100-580, qualified applicants had the option of enrolling in the Yurok Tribe. Of the 3,685 qualified applicants for the Settlement Roll, 2,955 person chose Yurok membership. 227 of those members had a mailing address on the Yurok reservation but a majority lived within 50 miles of the reservation. The Yurok Tribe is currently the largest group of Native Americans in the state of California with over 5,000 enrolled members. The Yurok reservation of 63,035 acres (255 km2) has an 80% poverty rate and 70% of the inhabitants do not have telephone service or electricity, according to the tribe’s webpage.

Fishing, hunting, and gathering remain important to tribal members. Basket weaving and woodcarver are important arts. A traditional hamlet of wooden plank buildings, called Sumeg, was built in 1990. The Jump Dance and Brush Dance are part of tribal ceremonies.

Adapted from Wikipedia’s article on the Yurok Peoples

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