CULTURE

Rosie Clayburn
Acting Cultural Resource Manager
rclayburn@yuroktribe.nsn.us
(707) 482-1350 ext. 1309 office

Yurok Tribe
Klamath Office
190 Klamath Blvd
Klamath, CA 95548


Culture

History

Our world began long before non-Indian exploration and settlement occurred in our area. 

At one time our people lived in over fifty villages throughout our ancestral territory. The laws, health and spirituality of our people were untouched by non-Indians.

Culturally, our people are known as great fishermen, eelers, basket weavers, canoe makers, storytellers, singers, dancers, healers and strong medicine people. Before we were given the name “Yurok” we referred to ourselves and others in our area using our Indian language. When we refer to ourselves we say Oohl, meaning Indian people.     When we reference people from down river on the Klamath we call them Pue-lik-lo’ (Down River Indian), those on the upper Klamath and Trinity are Pey-cheek-lo’ (Up River Indian) and on the coast Ner-‘er-ner’ (Coast Indian). The Klamath-Trinity River is the lifeline of our people because the majority of the food supply, like ney-puy (salmon), Kaa-ka (sturgeon) and kwor-ror (candlefish) are offered to us from these rivers. Also, important to our people are the foods which are offered from the ocean and inland areas such as pee-ee (mussels), chey-gel’ (seaweed), woo-mehl (acorns), puuek (deer), mey-weehl (elk),   ley-chehl (berries), and wey-yok-seep (teas). These foods are essential to our people’s health, wellness and religious ceremonies. Our way was never to over harvest and to always ensure sustainability of our food supply for future generations.

    'Culturally, our people are known as great fishermen, eelers, basket weavers, canoe makers, storytellers, singers, dancers, healers and strong medicine people.'

Our traditional family homes and sweathouses are made from fallen keehl (redwood trees) which are then cut into redwood boards. Before contact, it was common for every village to have several family homes and sweathouses. Today, only a small number of villages with traditional family homes and sweathouses remain intact.  Our traditional stories teach us that the redwood trees are sacred living beings. Although, we use them in our homes and canoes, we also respect redwood trees because they stand as guardians over our sacred places. The yoch (canoe) makers are recognized for their intuitive craftsmanship. The primary function of the canoes is to get people up and down the river and for ocean travel. The canoe is also very important to the White Deerskin Dance, a ceremony recently rejuvenated.The canoes are used to transport dancers and ceremonial people. The traditional money used by Yurok people is terk-term (dentalia shell), which is a shell harvested from the ocean. The dentalia used on necklaces are most often used in traditional ceremonies, such as the u pyue-wes (White Deerskin Dance),   woo-neek-we-ley-goo (Jump Dance) and mey-lee (Brush Dance). It was standard years ago, to use dentalia to settle debts, pay dowry, and purchase large or small items needed by individuals or families. Tattoos on men’s arms measured the length of the dentalia.