Rosie Clayburn
Acting Cultural Resource Manager
(707) 482-1350 ext. 1309 office

Yurok Tribe
Klamath Office
190 Klamath Blvd
Klamath, CA 95548

Culture (cont.)


The Fort and Agency were built from redwood, which was an abundant resource and culturally significant to Yurok. Non-Indians pursued the timber industry and hired local Indian men to work in the up and coming mills on the Reservation. This industry went through cycles of success, and was largely dependent on the needs of the nation. At the time, 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. The Yurok people opposed non-Indians taking of the salmon and asserted that they did not have the right to take fish from the river because it is an inherent right of the Yurok people. 



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.     The goal of the missionary style of teaching was to eliminate the continued use of cultural and religious teachings that Indian children’s families taught. Children were abused by missionaries for using the Yurok language and observing cultural and ceremonial traditions.  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. Some elders went to great lengths to escape from the schools, traveling hundreds of miles to return home to their families. They lived with the constant fear of being caught and returned to the school. Families often hid their children when they saw government officials. Over time the use of boarding schools declined and day schools were established on the Yurok Reservation.  Elders recall getting up early in the morning, traveling by canoe to the nearest day school and returning home late at night. The fact that they were at day schools did not eliminate the constant pressure to forget their language and culture. Families disguised the practice of teaching traditional ways, while others succumbed to the western philosophy of education and left their traditional ways behind. 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. The younger generations of Yurok who survived these eras became strong advocates (as elders) for cultural revitalization.



Similar to other tribal groups in California, Yurok people overcame the destruction of their villages, and assimilation attempts by non-Indians. Many Yurok people went to extreme measures to hold on to their traditional ways. When government policy forbade the use of traditional languages and outlawed the practice of traditional ceremonies, Yurok people continued. Some dances stopped while others were revitalized. Most importantly, the knowledge and beliefs continued and eventually reappeared and have remained constant.     The late 1970s and 80s were a time when the revitalization effort soared in the local area. The Jump Dance returned to Pek-won in 1984, a War Dance demonstration was held in the late 1980s, and communities came together to support the revitalization of Brush Dances along the river and the coast. In the year 2000, the White Deerskin Dance was held again at the village of Weych-pues. For several generations there were times of darkness – no cultural traditions being passed on and the language slowly fading away. With so few Yurok families able to hold onto traditional ways, it appeared as though the attempts to eliminate the cultural traditions would be successful. With the help of many elders (who have since passed on), a glimpse of light began t0 emerge. Young people who were eager to learn Yurok traditions did so and for the past twenty years Yurok traditional ceremonies have continued.  



The use of the Yurok language dramatically decreased when non-Indians settled in the Yurok territory. By the early 1900s the Yurok language was near extinction. It took less than 40 years for the language to reach that level. It took another 70 years for the Yurok language to recover. When the language revitalization effort began the use of old records helped new language learners. However, it was through hearing fluent speakers that many young learners fluency level increased. When the Yurok Tribe began to operate as a formal tribal government a language program was created.      In 1996 the Yurok Tribe received assistance from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA). With the development of a Long Range Restoration Plan a survey was completed and the results showed that there were only 20 fluent speakers and 12 semi-fluent speakers of the Yurok language. After a decade of language restoration activities, the Tribe most recently documented that there are now only 11 fluent Yurok speakers, but now have 37 advanced speakers, 60 intermediate speakers and approximately 311 basic speakers. The Yurok Tribe continues to look to new approaches like the use of digital technology,  internet sites, short stories, and supplemental curriculum. The Tribe continues to increase the number of language classes taught on and off the Reservation, at local schools for young learners and at community classes.



The Yurok Tribe is currently the largest Tribe in California, with more than 5,000 enrolled members. The Tribe provides numerous services to the local community and membership with its more than 200 employees. The Tribe’s major initiatives include: the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act, dam removal, natural resources protection, sustainable economic development enterprises and land acquisition.