white deerskin dancers - nicholson 1923

Káruk White Deerskin Dance at Katamin on the Klamath River in Northern California, 1912   Photo Grace Nicholson Collection

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Understanding, respecting and participating in the sacred ceremonies for collective, tribal and personal health and healing

Click for the different MEANINGS of the name Walking Backwards

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Ceremony is a time to pray to Creator, to give thanks for all we receive from the natural world; for respect and gratitude for each of the seasons, for the food that is gathered, the salmon that is caught; for good luck

and the healings that are received, and for the protection and healthy living of all people. Yôotva!

-  Káruk language teacher Franklin "Walking Backwards" Thom



Jump Dance: dancing for healing, good luck, an abundance of foods and good will between people

The following information was respectfully written and submitted by Káruk language teacher Franklin R Thom


Although the languages of the tribal peoples of the Klamath River are vastly different, many of their ceremonies are similar. Káruk ceremonies are traditionally started with the “last moon” in mid-May. Historically, at this time fires were built on the tops of all mountains near the ceremonial-dance areas. Each ceremony is done for the same purpose: to allow individuals to find the healing they seek, for appreciation of the bounty of the Earth, for the animals, the salmon ("áama") and the birds. Ceremonial medicine is carried in with the help of a boy or young man. 



Animals play important, special parts in the making of ceremonial regalia. The beaver offers his/her hide to carry the regalia. Necklaces, which are worn during ceremony and brought to trade, are handmade with plants, shells and seeds. Insects play their part in the jewelry-making, too. “ásvûut” ants clean the Juniper tree seedlings that fall to the earth. These ants take the seeds and make piles of them; the ant families then swarm the piles and eat the center of the seedlings, leaving many hollow "seed beads". Piles of these seeds can be found throughout Shasta Valley, and in other far-northern California areas.


During each of the 13 'káruk han' (there are 13 full moons in the Káruk calendar) the Káruk people celebrate by singing different songs for each of the ceremonies and seasons. The men do their best to "please the season", whether that means the gathering of special herbs and medicinal plants in the mountains in the spring and summer, praying for good hunting and fishing throughout the seasons and the bountiful harvest of crops each autumn, or the skillful making of hunting tools and ceremonial regalia in the winter. Participation in the sweat ceremonies are an important part of each season. 


This sacred dance is performed for the healing for a sick child. This ceremony has similarities with other Káruk ceremonial dances and ancient ways, in that the medicine man fasts, taking ten days to pray and prepare for the Brush Dance. The dance does not starts until he returns from collecting herbs and making his medicines. After the fire has burned for 4 days, there are three days of evening dances, commencing just after the leaving of the light. The ceremony for the healing of a sick child happens next. Friday is a day of rest, yet the fire keeps burning. The Brush Dance usually starts the 3rd week in August, the 12th moon of the Káruk People.

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Káruk Brush Dance, Orleans, California, 1923, with medicine woman Phoebe Maddux (center)

 Photo Grace Nicholson Collection

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Click on arrow (left) to hear Frank Thom singing Charlie "Red Hawk" Thom's BRUSH DANCE (Light Song), for the healing of a baby or sick child


As a girl approaches womanhood, she may be honored in the “ihuk” (Káruk language) or Flower Dance Ceremony. After fasting for seven days on acorn soup, chosen 12 year-old "young women" are assisted through this special coming-of-age ceremony by a medicine woman. Lyn Reisling Lang, a well-known Klamath River Native artist and ceremonial leader, has helped many girls in this way.


This dance, which starts for the Káruk people at “ámikîiáram” (Ike’s Falls on the Klamath River) and lasts for several days, is performed to heal people and to pray for plentiful foods such as deer and salmon. Jump Dances are also performed to bring good luck and restore good will to the people. Frank Thom, Káruk language teacher, and others teach the children this dance. 

Cooking salmon (amma) over open fire pit


This joyful celebration brings families together to feast, to honor "áama" (salmon), and to express gratitude for life. People enjoy gathering for the fellowship of this ceremony, to heal, and to pray for personal needs.


The sacred War Dance is performed to ward off evil spirits. It begins in May and is held in “tíh’thuf îimtap” (Ti Bar) on the Klamath River. During this time, Roosevelt elk, the largest native elk in California, can be seen browsing throughout this area. 


The Káruk World Renewal Ceremony, or pikyávish, is held each year at Katamin (ka'tim'îin) during the harvest season and lasts several days. It is performed for the purpose of ensuring a bounty of food for the People as well as protecting them from sickness and bad luck in the coming year. Prayers are sent out around the world.

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Káruk "Center of the World", Katamin (ka'tim'îin)


The following individuals share personal viewpoints, memories, songs and other information 

about the ceremonial practices of the Klamath River Native peoples. 

Ceremony is our way passing on the wisdom, methods and traditions of the past. It allows us to show the youth the traditional ways in a memorable form.

- Ronald Griffman  (Shasta/Káruk/Yurok/Rogue River/Modoc/Pit River)