Background Information

The Yurok Tribe is California’s largest Indian Tribe with nearly 5,000 enrolled members. The Yurok Tribe’s Territory consists of all Ancestral Lands, specifically including, but not limited to, the Yurok Reservation’s lands, which currently extend from one mile on each side from the mouth of the Klamath River and upriver for a distance of 44 miles. The Yurok Tribe’s people are also known historically as the Pohlik-la, Ner-er-er, Petch-ik-lah and Klamath River Indians. For millennia traditional Yurok religion and sovereignty was pervasive and practiced throughout all our historic villages along the Pacific Coast and inland on the Klamath River. The Yurok people carried on extensive trade and social relations through this region and beyond. Yurok commerce traditionally included a monetary system based on the use of dentalium shells, Terk-n-term and other items as currency. The Yurok traditional ceremonies include the Deerskin Dance, Doctor Dance, Jump Dance, Brush Dance, Kick Dance, Flower Dance, Boat Dance, and others, that have drawn Yurok people and neighboring Tribes together for renewal, healing and prayer. This whole land, this Yurok country, stayed in balance and was kept that way by our good stewardship, hard work, wise laws and constant prayers to the Creator.

The Yurok social and ecological balance, thousands of years old, was shattered by the invasion of the non-Indians beginning in the 17th century. As white explorers, gold-miners and settlers came to this region, the Yurok people lost more than three-fourths of our population through fatal contact with European diseases and unprovoked massacres by vigilantes. The Yurok people agreed to sign a “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” with representatives of the President of the United States in 1851, however, the US Senate failed to ratify the treaty. In 1855, the US Government ordered our people to be confined on the Klamath River Reserve which was created by Executive Order. The relocation of Yurok families to unfamiliar lands caused great hardships. The forced removal of our children to US Government boarding schools where they were denied the right to practice their cultural traditions caused the disruption of our heritage. Throughout the past history of Yurok contacts with the US Government and State of California, we have fought to protect and maintain access to our Ancestral Lands. These struggles were legally complicated by the fact that the Yurok people had never established a formal structure with a written form of government. After the land-based natural resources and fisheries of our aboriginal lands had been decimated, and the traditional stewardship of our people ignored, the Yurok people knew it was time to establish a federally recognized Tribal Sovereignty and Authority to protect and preserve both the traditions of our people and the land and river of our ancestors.

On November 24, 1993, the Constitution of the Yurok Tribe was certified and approved, after having passed a Ratification Election by a majority of the Yurok Tribal members. The Constitution defines the territory, jurisdiction and authority of its Tribal Government. The Yurok Tribe’s main offices are located in Klamath, California and the Tribal government employs nearly 200 individuals. Enrolled and registered to vote Tribal members elect nine of its members to the Tribal Council. The Tribal Chairperson and Vice Chairperson are elected at-large. Seven Council members represent the seven Tribal Districts. Each Council member serves a term of three years. The Council meets at least monthly. Individual Council members have District meetings at least quarterly. All regular and special meetings of the Council are open to members of the Yurok Tribe. All votes of the Council are a matter of public record.

The Yurok Tribe is the largest Indian Tribe in California, with nearly 5,000 enrolled members. While much of the land has been wounded, broken or lost, the Spirit of the Creator and our inherent Tribal Sovereignty still thrive in the hearts and minds of our people as well as in the strong currents, deep canyons, thick forests and high mountains of our Ancestral Lands. The new dawn on the Yurok Tribe that has emerged is giving us renewed strength, pride and recommitment to the sacred and vibrant traditions of our people.

In accordance with our Constitution, in order to exercise the inherent sovereignty of the Yurok Tribe, we pledge in common to:

1.) Preserve forever the survival of our Tribe and protect it from forces which may threaten its existence.
2.) Uphold and protect our Tribal sovereignty which has existed from time immemorial and which remains undiminished.
3.) Reclaim the Tribal land base within the Yurok Reservation and enlarge the Reservation boundaries to the maximum extent possible within the Ancestral Lands of our Tribe and/or any compensatory land area.
4.) Preserve and promote our culture, language, religious beliefs and practices and pass them on to our children, our grandchildren, and to their children forever.
5.) Provide for the health, education, economy and social well-being of our members and future members.
6.) Restore, enhance and manage Tribal fishery, Tribal water rights, Tribal forests and all other natural resources.
7.) Insure peace, harmony and protection of individual human rights among our members and among others who may come within the jurisdiction of our Tribal government.

Basic Facts and Challenges

• At 63,035 acres, the Yurok Reservation is the size of many cities or counties. Without a tax base, gaming or other business revenues, the Yurok Tribe does not have the resources to construct essential community facilities, to install or replace eroding infrastructure or to create sustainable economic development on the Reservation.
• Over 70% of the Yurok reservation has no access to basic telephone or electricity services.
• Poverty rates average 80% on the reservation.
• Problems including lack of land for economic development and community facilities, inadequate telecommunications and electrical infrastructure and a grossly substandard transportation system inhibit chance for economic growth, access to health care and educational opportunities, reduce any potential for agricultural production, and limit job opportunities.
However, as a newly organized government, the Yurok Tribe employs 200 individuals in more than 12 departments including Environmental Protection, Social Services, Forestry, Fisheries and Education. The Tribe is hopeful about our increasing capacity for self-governance and cultural preservation and for a bright future of the Yurok Tribe and our people.