The Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation is the largest federally recognized native american tribe in California.
Official Tribal Name: Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation
Address: 190 Klamath Blvd., Klamath, CA 95548
Official Website: http://www.yuroktribe.org
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
State(s) Today: California
The earliest Yurok archaeological discoveries date back to 1310. The Yurok lived in the northwestern corner of California along the lower Klamath River and along the Pacific Coast. Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Yurok lived in two main areas—along the coast or in the interior either on lagoons, at the mouths of streams, or along the lower course of the Klamath River.
Confederacy: Ojibway Indians of California, Yurok, Klamath Tribes
When gold miners established camps along the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, the government sent Indian agent Redick McKee to initiate treaty negotiations. The treaties negotiated by McKee were sent to Congress, which rejected the treaties and failed to notify the tribes of this decision.
Reservation: Yurok Reservation
The Federal Government established the Yurok Reservation in 1855, which was much smaller than their traditional territory, which caused hardships for Yurok families. In 1862 some Yurok people were relocated to the Smith River Reservation, which was subsequently closed in July 1867. When the Hoopa Valley Reservation was established, many Yurok people were sent to live there. Throughout the 1800s the U.S. government continued to move some of the people to another reservation and several small rancherias.
The Yurok Reservation is now located near the Pacific Coast in northwestern California about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of the Oregon border. Yurok territory extends 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) on either side of the Klamath River from the mouth upriver for 44 miles (71 kilometers). The rancherias are also located in northwestern California near the Oregon border.
Land Area: 63,035 acres (25,509 ha)
Tribal Headquarters: Klamath, CA 95548
Time Zone: Pacific
The Yurok reservation has an 80% poverty rate and 70% of the inhabitants do not have telephone service or electricity.
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:
The Yurok sometimes called themselves Olekwo’l (“the people”) or Pulikla (“downriver”), but they usually used village or clan names rather than a general tribal name. Some of the words they use to refer to themselves are:
Oohl, meaning Indian people.
Pue-lik-lo’ meaning Down River Indian.
Those on the upper Klamath and Trinity Rivers are Pey-cheek-lo’ meaning Up River Indian.
Yurok living on the coast are Ner-‘er-ner’ meaning Coast Indian.
Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:
Yurok, meaning Down River in Karok.
Alternate names / Alternate spellings:
Yurok tribes were also known as the Pohlik-la, Ner-er-er, Petch-ik-lah, and Klamath River Indians. Other names include Alequa, Aliquois, Eurocs, Kanuck, Kyinnaa, Polikla, Tiamath, Ulrucks, Weits-pek, Youruk, and the alternate spelling Yurock.
Name in other languages:
Yurok (pronounced YOOR-ock ) comes from the word yuruk, meaning “downriver” in the Karok language.
First European Contact:
Because the Yurok were sheltered from land contact, the first explorers reached them by sea. In 1775 Juan Francisco de la Bodega (1743–1794) reached Trinidad Bay and spent several days there. He noted that the Yurok were already using iron. Other writers mentioned that the Yurok had a system of math and a calendar.
Other than providing the people with trade goods, the few vessels that arrived in Yurok territory during the eighteenth century did not have much impact on Yurok culture. It wasn’t until 1827 that Europeans arrived among the inland peoples. Fur traders from the Hudson’s Bay Company were the first.
The following year Jedediah Smith (1799–1831), a fur trader, sailed down the Trinity River and traded beads and tools for beaver pelts. Later the Spanish established missions.
Population at Contact:
Before the Europeans arrived approximately 2,500 Yurok lived in fifty villages. In 1910 the U.S. Bureau of the Census counted the population at 688 Yurok; in 1930 there were 471.
Registered Population Today:
The Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation is California’s largest Native American tribe with 4,466 enrolled members as of 2004.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Those persons on the Settlement Roll who made or were deemed to have made an election pursuant to the Yurok Tribal Membership option shall constitute the Base Membership Roll of the Yurok Tribe. Those who took the buyout option are not eligible for membership.
Applicants for membership must have a biological parent on the roll and have at least one-eighth (1/8) degree of Indian Blood. Indian Blood is defined as all U.S. Native American Indian or Alaskan Natives.
a) Applicant must possess at least one-eighth (1/8) degree of Indian Blood (as defined in Article II, Section 2), and be
b) A full or half sibling or an allottee of land on the Yurok Reservation with the same qualifying ancestry, and lineal descendants of such parents, or
c) Any adopted person whose biological parents (parent) would have qualified, or would have qualified if alive for the Yurok Membership Roll, or
d) Allottees of the Yurok Reservation, and lineal descendants of such persons, when that applicant and lineal ancestors have not been enrolled members of another Tribe.
Charter: The Yurok constitution was written in 1993.
Name of Governing Body: Yurok Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 7 plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Executive Officers: Chairman, Vice-Chairman
Language Classification: Algonquian => Algic => Wiyot–Yurok (Ritwan) =>Yurok
Language Dialects: Yurok
Number of fluent Speakers:
By the early 1900s the Yurok language was near extinction. It took less than 40 years for the language to reach that level. Archie Thompson, the last first language Yurok speaker, died in 2013, making this language officially extinct, but there are still eleven L2 or second language bilingual speakers.
L2 speakers have learned an additional language after the onset of puberty, and although generally considered fluent, are usually slightly less fluent than a first language speaker and their accent is usually influenced by their first language and is not perfect.
The language is passed on through master-apprentice teams and through singing. Yurok language classes have been offered through Humboldt State University and through annual language immersion camps.
After a decade of language restoration activities, the Yurok Tribe most recently documented that there are still only 11 fluent Yurok speakers, but they now have 37 advanced speakers, 60 intermediate speakers and approximately 311 basic speakers.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
- Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria (Wiyot and Mattole)
- Big Lagoon Rancheria (Yurok and Tolowa )
- Blue Lake Rancheria (Wiyot, Yurok, Tolowa, and Cherokee)
- Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria (Chetco, Hupa, Karuk, Tolowa, Wiyot, and Yurok)
- Confederated Tribes of the Lower Rogue (Chetco and Tututni) (U)
- Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon (5,000 members from 29 tribes, including Yurok and about 3,500 Chetco and Tututni)
- Elk Valley Rancheria (Tolowa and Yurok)
- Hoopa Valley Tribe (Hupa and Yurok)
- Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin, and Yurok)
- Quartz Valley Indian Community of the Quartz Valley Reservation of California (Klamath, Karuk, Shasta, and Yurok)
- Resighini Rancheria (Yurok)
- Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation (Tolowa, Chetco, Yurok)
- Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation
- Wiyot Tribe
Some Yurok share rancherias with the Hupa, Tolowa, Wiyot (Weott), and Kuroki.
The Yurok traded with and maintained friendly relations with many neighboring tribes such as the Hupa, Chilula, Shasta, Wiyot, Tututni, and Karok. These tribes sometimes intermarried with the Yurok, especially the Wiyot.
Similar to many California tribes, the Yuroks rarely engaged in war, except for revenge. The worst battle occurred in the early 1800s between the village of Rekwoi and a Hupa village. Both settlements were destroyed. Generally, though, the Yurok people had good relations with all of their neighbors.
The tribes of the area established laws and boundaries. If a member of another tribe committed a crime in Yurok territory, Yurok law applied and the Yurok imposed the penalties. If a Yurok wronged someone on Hupa or Karok lands, he or she was subject to the laws of those tribes. Most Yuroks spoke their own language as well as that of their immediate neighbors, so there was less chance of misunderstandings leading to conflict.
Ceremonies / Dances:
The White Deerskin Dance, Jump Dance and Brush Dance are still part of tribal ceremonies today. The canoe is an important part of the White Deerskin Dance ceremonies, and is used to transport the dancers and ceremonial people. Other dances include the Doctor Dance, Kick Dance, Flower Dance, and Boat Dance.
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Art & Crafts:
Basket weaving and woodcarving are important arts and crafts.
The Yurok built plank houses like many Northwest tribes of redwood or pine.
Natural resources provided abundant food and allowed them to live in permanent, year-round villages. A peaceful people, they generally maintained good relations with neighboring tribes and learned to speak other languages so they could communicate.
The Yuroks were fishing people, and fish and acorns were their staple foods. Yurok men caught fish and mollusks from their canoes. They fished for salmon, sturgeon, candlefish, and steelhead along rivers, gathered ocean fish, eels, and shellfish, and hunted game, such as sea lions, deer, elk, and other small game. Yurok women gathered acorns and ground them into a meal, collected seaweed, berries and roots. Teas were an important part of their culture, both for health and ceremonies. Fishing, hunting, and gathering remain important to tribal members today.
The major currency of the Yurok was the Dentalium shell. Strands of ten shells were a common denomination used for trade. Dentalia were used to settle debts, pay dowry, and purchase large or small items needed by individuals or families.They could also be used for payment of fines for social crimes and criminal acts or to settle revenge feuds.
Tattoos on men’s arms were used to measure the length of the dentalia.
Located in the heart of Redwood country and near ocean beaches and the Klamath River, the Yurok Tribe’s economy today is based on tourism. It owns and operates the Redwood Hotel Casino, Abalone Bar & Grill, Riverside RV Park, Redwood RV Park, a service station, Requa Inn (Bed & Breakfast), Requa Resort (full service campground), and members operate two fishing guide services: Blue Creek Guide Service and Spey-Gee Point Guide Service. The area offers world class salmon and steelhead fishing.
Su-Mêg Village is a recreated seasonal Yurok village, consisting of traditional style family houses, a sweathouse, changing houses, a redwood canoe, and a dance house. Located at Patrick’s Point State Park, the reconstructed village site is used to share Yurok culture with the public. It is also used for yearly Yurok traditional ceremonies.
Part of the Coastal Trail, Hidden Beach Trail is a beautiful 4 mile hike following coastal bluffs to Lagoon Creek. Scenic Klamath Beach Drive is a dirt road and has an alternate route for trailers and RV’s at Alder Camp Road. It has unobstructed views of the mouth of the Klamath River and the ocean below at several overlooks. At one overlook, a trail leads to a World War II-era Radar station disguised as a farmhouse and barn. Eight miles down the road you will connect with the Newton B. Drury Scenic Byway in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, home to a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.
Fern Canyon is one of the most spectacular hikes on the north coast. It is a very narrow, very steep rock canyon – draped in lush ferns- in the middle of an old-growth redwood forest. It is a one-of-a-kind geological formation that starts on an isolated, wind-swept beach.
There are two State and National Parks located within Yurok ancestral territory. The Redwood National Park, Patrick’s Point State Park, Jedediah Smith State Park and Prairie Creek State Park are all nearby.
Other area attractions include a jet boat tour and a tour through the Trees of Mystery, a sub-tropical rain forest. Vehicles can drive through the center of a hollowed out, old-growth redwood tree. Ride the Skytram, a gondola which offers a unique vantage point of ancient redwood forests. You’ll also find the End of the Trail Museum, a 3,000 square foot space filled with Native American artifacts from all over the United States, including the Yurok Tribe. The collection is expansive and admission is free.
Klamath Jet-Boat Tours is open May thru October. The tour takes a 50-mile scenic adventure ride up the Klamath River. The tour includes a narrated history of the area, information about Yurok culture and the area’s wildlife. From the comfort of the jet-powered speed boat you may enjoy sighting many of the local wildlife such as elk, deer, bears, osprey, salmon, hawks, eagles and more.
The thirty to fifty Yurok villages traded among themselves and with other area tribes. They were different from many Native American peoples in that wealth determined status in the tribe. The Yurok believed in individual ownership of not only possessions, but also of land.
Traditional Tribal Religion, Christianity
Traditional Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
They shared similar religious and cultural practices with other California Indians, attempting to keep the world in balance through good stewardship, hard work, wise laws, and constant prayers to the Creator.
During the gold rush in the 1850s, the Yurok were faced with disease and massacres that reduced their population by 75%.
Yurok Tribe History:
In 1855, a group of “vigilante” Indians (who were known as Red Cap Indians) initiated a revolt against settlers. The Red Cap Indians were believed to be a mix of tribal groups who were fighting settlers. The Red Cap War nearly brought a halt to the non-Indians settlement effort. The government was able to suppress the Red Cap Indians and regained control over the upper Yurok Reservation.
Early logging practices were unregulated and resulted in the contamination of the Klamath River, depletion of the salmon population and destruction of Yurok village sites and sacred areas.
The Yurok canneries were established near the mouth of the Klamath River beginning in 1876.
Western education was imposed on Yurok children beginning in the late 1850s at Fort Terwer and at the Agency Office at Wauk-ell. This form of education continued until the 1860s when the Fort and Agency were washed away. Yurok children, sent to live at the Hoopa Valley Reservation, continued to be taught by missionaries.
In the late 1800s children were removed from the Reservation to Chemawa in Oregon and Sherman Institute in Riverside, California. Today, many elders look back on this period in time as a horrifying experience because they lost their connection to their families, and their culture. Many were not able to learn the Yurok language and did not participate in ceremonies for fear of violence being brought against them by non-Indians.
Eventually, Indian children were granted permission to enroll in public schools. Although they were granted access, many faced harsh prejudice and stereotypes. These hardships plagued Indian students for generations, and are major factors in the decline of the Yurok language and traditional ways.
In the News:
1983: The Yurok, Karok, and Tolowa win a ten-year battle over a sacred site in Six Rivers National Forest.
1988: The Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act divides the reservations.
2007: Department of the Interior awards the Yurok tribe $90 million—their share of the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act.
2010: 217 sacred artifacts were returned to the Yurok tribe by the Smithsonian Institution. The condor feathers, headdresses and deerskins had been part of the Smithonian’s collection for almost 100 years and represent one of the largest Native American repatriations.