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.