Categorized | History, Local, Media

Oohl We-son’: The Indian Way

 

Reclaiming the Yurok Language and Culture

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

We were pleased today to see the Gensaw, Lara, Santsche, Swain, and Bailey kids working to preserve
their Yurok language and culture in this Access Humboldt video,
produced with fellow students at the Klamath River Early College
of the Redwoods.

ms. burdickKids, you may not know this, but we knew many of your families, relatives, Aunties and Uncles through the years living in Humboldt.  Consider it an old-school kind of thing.  Elders and community are like that.

We also know it wasn’t easy nor was it always this way.  These efforts took a long time to come about.  A very hard long time.

We Welcome You,” below, is from the Yurok Tribe’s website.  It explains more of the history and culture of the Yurok people.
 

Tradition

klamathAt 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” (the name means “downriver people” in the neighboring Karuk
language) we referred to ourselves and others in our
area using our Indian language. When we refer to
ourselves we say Oohl, meaning Indian people.

yurok houseOur 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 yurok canoeintuitive craftsmanship.  The primary function of the canoes was 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.

 

Contact and Change

minersThe Yurok did not experience non-Indian exploration until much later than other tribal groups in California and the United States.  By 1849 settlers were quickly moving into Northern California because of the discovery of gold at Gold Bluffs and Orleans.  The Yurok and settlers traded goods and the Yurok assisted with transporting items via dugout canoe.  However, this relationship quickly changed as more settlers moved into the area and demonstrated hostility toward Indian people.

The gold mining expeditions resulted in the destruction of villages, loss of life and a culture severely fragmented.  By the end of the gold rush era at least 75% of the Yurok people died due to massacres and disease, while other
tribes in California saw a 95% loss of life.

The Federal Government established the Yurok Reservation in 1855 and immediately Yurok people were confined to the area.  The Reservation was considerably smaller than the Yurok original ancestral territory.  This presented a hardship for Yurok families who traditionally lived in villages along the Klamath River and northern Pacific coastline.

 

Reservations, Relocation and Education

basketsWhen Fort Terwer was established many Yurok families were relocated and forced to learn farming and the English language.  Several Yurok people were relocated to the newly established Reservation in Smith River that same year.  Once the Hoopa Valley Reservation was established many Yurok people were sent to live there, as were the Mad River, Eel River and Tolowa Indians. 

In the years following the opening of the Hoopa Valley Reservation, several squatters on the Yurok Reservation continued to farm and fish in the Klamath River.  The government’s response was to evict squatters and use military force.   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.

Western education was imposed on Yurok children beginning in the late 1850s at Fort Terwer.  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. 

The Sherman Institute, Indian School Riverside, CAIn 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. 

chemawaElders 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.

 

Cultural Revitalization

yurock womanThe 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.

Yurock childFor 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 to emerge.  Young people who were eager to learn Yurok traditions did so and for the past twenty years Yurok traditional ceremonies have continued.

 

Language Revitalization

yurok languageThe 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

yurok language youthIn 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.

 

Today

yurok emblemToday, 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.” 

(And, we might add, a unique project to reintroduce the critically endangered California condor.)

 

yurok salmonWe invite all people sharing this planet with us to join in: our deep appreciation and respect for the natural world, acceptance of our role as responsible stewards keeping balance in the world, and realization of the power that every individual has within them to make positive change for all people, wildlife, and the world as a whole.”

* * * * * * * *

The Yurok people have worked tenaciously to reclaim their culture, language, young people, and rightful place in the sun.

 

baskets2Our appreciation goes out to Josh, Jeremiah, Lena-Belle, Sammy, James, Ke-yoh, Eric, Misty, Page, Mari, Jasmine, and Madison for carrying the lit torch and family fishing net further, and to the Elders for teaching them on their way.

“We Welcome You: History and Culture” has been abridged.  The full article can be found here

(Images by the Humboldt Sentinel)

 

 

Leave a Reply

HumSentinel on Twitter

RSS Progressive Review

  • Why you're lucky to have learned math before Common Core
    NBC Washington - An Iowa woman jokingly calls it "Satan's handiwork.'' A California mom says she's broken down in tears. A Pennsylvania parent says it "makes my blood boil.''What could be so horrible? Grade-school math.As schools around the U.S. implement national Common Core learning standards, parents trying to help […]
  • Police beat
    Bangor ME Police Dept - [Officer Kyle Pelkey]  spoke to a nice lady on lower Essex Street this past Friday night when her cat, Lily, arrived home with a blow dart in her hind quarter (Pelkey explained it differently but I have to answer for everything I write here). In any event, Lily's owner pulled the dart from the cat and Lily seems to be doing fine. […]
  • What's happening
    The Borowitz Report - President Barack Obama has decided to move his family into a full-service doorman building in Washington, D.C., saying that “it just makes more sense right now.” “It really will work better for us,” Obama said in a press conference Tuesday morning. “In addition to the doorman, there’s a guy at the front desk, and, if anyone comes to see […]
  • Remember that war you thought was over?
    NPR - Afghanistan has signed a pact with the U.S. to allow about 10,000 troops to remain in the country after the end of the year, when most American forces are to be withdrawn.The country's newly inaugurated president, Ashraf Ghani, signed the Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA, which would leave in place the U.S. troops and a few others from NATO al […]
  • Tip to the Washington Post and other media: No, the Swiss health system is not the same as Obamacare
    Jon Walker, Firedog Lake - Several reporters have compared the Swiss health care system to Obamacare after Switzerland’s recent vote to keep it, including the Washington Post: “Switzerland rejects single-payer, will keep its own version of Obamacare” and Vox: “Switzerland rejects single-payer in landslide, keeps its version of Obamacare.”The similarities bet […]
  • The retirement crisis
    Huffington Post - In a recent working paper, we find that only 44% of workers in the United States have access to a retirement plan at work. Except for workers with defined benefit plans, most middle class U.S. workers will not have adequate retirement income -- 55% of near-retirees will only have Social Security income at age 65. […]
  • Brain bank finds 96% of deceased NFL players with brain disease
    Time -The brains of 96% of deceased NFL players showed signs of a degenerative brain disease, according to a study by the nation’s largest brain bank. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Massachusetts, a collaboration between VA and Boston University’s CTE Center, found that the instance of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condit […]
  • 92% of those who use it say medical marijuana works
    Washington Post - A 2013 survey in the New England Journal of Medicine found that nearly 8-in-10 doctors approved the use of medical marijuana. Now, a wide-ranging survey in California finds that medical marijuana patients agree: 92 percent said that medical marijuana alleviated symptoms of their serious medical conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis, […]
  • MIT study predicts grim climate decay
    Environmental News Network - Global temperature is likely to rise 3.3-5.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, unless international climate negotiations in Paris next year are more effective than expected, according to a report released Monday by the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. The predicted temperature increase surpa […]
  • Race to the Bottom: Democrats
    The worst, weakest and/or least effectiveHillary Clinton Barack Obama Arne Duncan John Kerry Eric Holder Bill Clinton Chuck Schumer Diane Feinstein […]
  • Pocket paradigm
    Empires and cultures are not permanent and while thinking about the possibility that ours is collapsing may seem a dismal exercise it is far less so than enduring the dangerous frustrations and failures involved in having one's contrary myth constantly butt up against reality like a boozer who insists he is not drunk attempting to drive home. Instead of […]
  • Word
    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result -- Albert Einstein […]
  • The Post Office pays a visit
     From 50 years of our obverstocked archivesSam Smith, 2000- Government censorship was never much of a problem for us. Other publications, however, did not fare as well. In B.W. (Before Web) the Post Office was the most powerful prude around. As a young radio reporter in 1959, I interviewed the Assistant Postmaster General on the subject of obscenity in his o […]
  • What's happening
    The Smithsonian's African American History Museum will help you determine if your junk is culturally significant Low-income drivers face higher auto insurance, even when they have clean driving recordsJohn Cleese  analyzes Fox NewsCalifornia ends higher penalties for crack vs. cocaine   A good reason not to live in Louisiana: - Police in Louisiana are u […]
  • Number of world's wild animals halved in part 40 years
    The Guardian - The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.“If ha […]