July 12, 2012

Karuk Tribe Index


The Karuk tribe is the second largest indigenous tribe in the state of California. Most Karuk people are enrolled in the Karuk Tribe; however, some are enrolled in the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, located in Humboldt County, California. The Quartz Valley Rancheria of Karok, Shasta, and Upper Klamath Indians is also a federally recognized tribal entity.

Official Tribal Name: Karuk Tribe

Address:  64236 Second Avenue, Happy Camp, California 96039
Phone: (530) 493-1600
Fax: (530) 493-5322

Official Website: http://www.karuk.us/karuk2/home 

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Karuk means “upriver people”, or “upstream” people. They were one of three tribes living along the Klamath River. The other two were the Modok and Yurok tribes.

Common Name: Karuk Tribe 

Meaning of Common Name: Same as traditional.

Alternate names:

Formerly known as the Karuk Tribe of California, Tolowa: chum-ne

Alternate spellings / Mispellings: Karok

Name in other languages:

Region: California

State(s) Today: California

Traditional Territory:

Since time immemorial, the Karuk have resided in villages along the Klamath River in California and what is now Southern Oregon, where they continue such cultural traditions as hunting, gathering, fishing, basket making and ceremonial dances. 



Reservation: Karuk Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The Karuk do not have a legally designated reservation, but do have a number of small tracts held in trust by the federal government as well as tracts owned by the tribe in fee-simple status. These small non-contiguous parcels of land are primarily located along the Klamath River in western Siskiyou County and northeastern Humboldt County in California. There are also a number of tracts located within the city of Yreka.

Land Area:  2.908 km² (1.123 sq mi, or 718.49 acres)

Tribal Headquarters:
 Happy Camp, California located in the heart of their ancestral territory, which extends along the Klamath River from Bluff Creek (near the community of Orleans in Humboldt County) through Siskiyou County and into Southern Oregon.

Time Zone:

First Contact:

Contact with outsiders was largely avoided until 1850 and the great gold rush. At that time miners, vigilantes, soldiers, and assorted Anglos seized Karuk lands, burned their villages, and massacred their people. Diseases for which they had no immunity also decimated their population. Many Karuk remnants were removed to the Hoopa Valley Reservation during that era.

Population at Contact:

Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially.Alfred L. Kroeber proposed a population for the Karuk of 1,500 in 1770. Sherburne F. Cook initially estimated it as 2,000, later raising this figure to 2,700. Kroeber reported the surviving population of the Karuk in the year 1910 as 800.

Registered Population Today:

 As of Fall 2007, the Karuk Tribe of California had 3,507 enrolled members.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:


Dolores Voyles, Enrollment Officer, E-Mail Dolores here
Marsha Jackson Enrollment/Census Specialist E-Mail Marsha here.
Phone number is (800)505-2785 Dolores Voyles ext. 2028, Marsha Jackson ext. 2039.

If you have any questions please feel free to call Dolores Voyles or Marsha Jackson. Office hours are 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday.

Tribal Enrollment Application ||  Back Page of Enrollment Application

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   9
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  


Language Classification: Hokan -> Karuk

Karuk is an endangered language, and most Karuk people now speak English as their first language.

Language Dialects:

Karuk is a language isolate, sharing few if any similarities with other nearby languages. Historically, the American linguist Edward Sapir proposed it be classified as part of the Hokan family he hypothesized. However, little evidence supports this proposal. The Karok language is not closely or obviously related to any other in the area, but has been classified as a member of the northern group of Hokan languages, in a subgroup which includes Chimariko and the Shasta languages, spoken in the same general part of California as Karok itself, along with  Chimariko, Esselen, the Palaihnihan languages (Achumawi and Atsugewi), the Pomoan languages (Central Pomo, Eastern Pomo, Kashaya, Northeastern Pomo, Northern Pomo, Southeastern Pomo, and Southern Pomo), Salinan, the Shastan languages (Konomihu, New River Shasta, Okwanuchu, and Shasta), Washo, Yana, and the Yuman languages (Cocopa, Kiliwa, Kumeyaay, Maricopa, Mojave, Pai, Paipai, and Quechan).

Karuk is a polysynthetic language known for its method of arranging old and new information. Skilled Karuk speakers use separate words to communicate new, salient detail, or to underscore known detail, while using affixes for background details so that a listener’s attention is not diverted.

Number of fluent Speakers:

William Bright documented the Karuk language and produced a grammar of it in 1957. Limited revitalization of the language followed. According to the 2000 Census, there are 55 people between the ages of 5 and 17 who can speak Karuk, including 10 with limited English proficiency.



The Kurok say they were created along the Klamath River and have always been there.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies: Modok, Yurok, Hupa

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

The Brush Dance, Jump Dance and Pikyavish ceremonies last for several days and are practiced to heal and “fix the world,” to pray for plentiful acorns, deer and salmon, and to restore social good will as well as individual good luck.

On the first of September, the great Dance of Propitiation, at which all the tribe are present, together with tribal members from the Yurok, the Hupa, and others. They call it sif-san-di pik-i-a-vish which signifies, literally, “working the earth”. The object of it is to propitiate the spirits of the earth and the forest, in order to prevent disastrous landslides, forest fires, earthquakes, drought, and other calamities.

Unlike some public events conducted at other Native American ceremony demonstrations, it is particularly critical for Karuk ceremonialists to maintain their solitude and not be observed or interrupted by non-participants. Karuk ceremonial activities include prayers, meditation, fasting, cultural ceremonial dancing and arrow shoots.

Karuk river ceremonial observances are part of the Karuk World Renewal events which enhance and provide for the well being of the Karuk and the natural world. Interruptions to the ceremonies are thought to create negative impacts on the world.

Modern Day Events & Tourism: 

Legends / Oral Stories:

 The Great Flood

Art & Crafts:

Women wove vegetable fiber baskets, containers, cradles, and caps. The Karuk are best known for their conical basket hats and tightly woven baskets.


The following were never eaten: dog, coyote, wolf, fox, wildcat, gopher, mole, bat, eagle, hawk, vulture, crow, raven, owl, meadowlark, blue jay, snake, lizard, frog, caterpillar, and grasshopper. 


Hides, usually from deer, and furs were the basic clothing materials. Women wore hides with the hair on to cover their upper bodies, and they wore a double apron of fringed buckskin. They also had three vertical lines tattooed on their chins.

Men wore a buckskin breechclout or nothing at all. Both sexes wore buckskin moccasins with elkhide soles and perhaps leggings for rough traveling. Both sexes also wore basketry caps and ear and nose ornaments. They decorated their ceremonial clothing with fringe, shells, and pine nuts. Snowshoes were of hazelwood with iris-cord netting and buckskin ties.


Games included gambling with a marked stick, shinny, cat’s cradle, archery, darts, and the women’s dice game.


Dwelling structures (family houses and sweat houses) were made of planks, preferably cedar. Family houses were rectangular and semisubterranean, with an outside stone-paved porch and a stone-lined firepit inside. Doors were small and low. Males from about three years of age slept, sweat, gambled, and passed the time in sweat houses, which women, except for shaman initiates, could not enter.

Today, many people live in extended families. Most children attend public schools, and the tribe provides some scholarship money for those who attend college. Several villages have been inhabited since precontact times.


The Karuk were hunter gatherers. They foraged for edible plants and medicines, and were known for their wide range of medicinal cures. The Karuk diet consisted mostly of salmon, deer (caught in snares or by hunters wearing deer head masks), and acorns (as soup, mush, and bread). The people also hunted bear, elk, and small game. Meat and fish were usually roasted, although salmon and venison could be dried and stored. Meat and bulbs were usually roasted in an oven of hot stones.

The only cultivated crop was tobacco, and they were the only tribe in California to grow it.

To catch fish, Karuks stood on fishing platforms holding large dip nets (the platforms were privately owned but could be rented). They also used harpoons and gaffs. They cut planks with stone mauls and horn wedges.

The Karuks purchased Yurok boats made from hollowed-out redwood logs. Wooden implements included seats, storage boxes, spoons (for men; women used mussel-shell spoons), and hand drills for making fire. Bows were made of yew wood, with sinew backings and strings. Arrows were obsidian-tipped, and elk hide or rod armor vests were often worn.

Economy Today:

The tribe employed about 80 people in 1995. It operates three health clinics and owns a hardware store. Tribal members also work for the U.S. Forest Service. The Karuk Community Development Corporation maintains formal development plans.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

 According to Stephen Powers, an amateur ethnographer who visited the Kurok in 1871 and 1872, “there were two classes of healers — the root doctors and the barking doctor. It is the province of the barking-doctor to diagnose the case, which she (most doctors are women) does by squatting down before the patient, and barking at him for hours together. After her comes the root-doctor, who with numerous potions, poultices, etc., seeks to medicate the part where the other has discovered the ailment resides.”

Woman doctors also cured by sucking out the cause of a disease with the help of a “pain,” an object, recoverable at will, that she kept within her body. Other kinds of doctors of both sexes cured by using medicinal plants. Medicine men and women usually receive their authority from an elder.

The Karuks observed many daily magical practices and taboos. They also underwent extensive ritual preparations for the hunt, including sweating, bathing, scarification, bleeding, smoking their weapons with herbs, fasting, and sexual abstinence.

Burial Customs:

Corpses were buried in a family plot, along with shell money and valuables. Clothing and tools were hung on a fence around the grave. After five days, the soul was said to ascend to a place in the sky (the relative happiness of the afterlife was said to depend on the level of a person’s wealth). Speaking a dead person’s name remained taboo until or unless given to a child.

Wedding Customs

The Kuruk had especially close marriage and ceremonial ties with the Yurok. They considered sex to be an enemy of wealth and did not often engage in it except during the fall gathering expeditions. Sex and children outside of marriage were acceptable in this scheme: “Legitimacy,” like almost everything else, had a price. Marriage was basically a financial transaction, as was divorce. A couple lived with the man’s parents.


Famous Karuk Chiefs and Leaders:

Catastrophic Events:

 Massacres during the Gold Rush Era

Tribe History:

In the News:

There is a pending land claim against the United States. Important contemporary issues include health care, water rights, proper natural resource management, and land acquisition.

Further Reading:

US Tribes K to M
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