Base of Katamin, the Káruk "Center of the World", where the Salmon River (Masuhsava) flows into the Klamath River (Ishkeesh) in far Northern California
Keeping Native cultures alive by understanding the history, learning the language
practicing the cultural traditions, participating in the ceremonies and teaching the children
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THE KLAMATH RIVER CULTURES
For thousands of years, tribal peoples have lived in the lush mountainous areas and rivers in what is now the Klamath River region of far northwestern California. Their homeland was abundant in fish, game, and a wide variety of edible and medicinal plants. Any object which could not be found in nature or made from natural materials was accumulated through trade.They lived their lives in relative peace, and throughout the year participated in sacred ceremonies that were used for healing, life transitions and celebration.
Generations of skilled Klamath River basket weavers, renowned for their beautiful baskets, have produced “an art in which hope, aspiration, desire, love, religion, national pride, and mythology are all interwoven” [from Karuk, The Upriver People by Maureen Bell / publisher Naturegraph]. Basketmakers often wove intricate design patterns, and the designs and materials that were used indicated which tribe or family the baskets came from.
Káruk basketweaver Phoebe Maddux, whose ceremonial name was Imkánvaan or "Wild Sunflower Gatherer" was born and raised at íshipishi, a Káruk village located across the river from the sacred Káruk ceremonial site of Ka'tim'îin. Phoebe is fondly remembered for helping to save vast amounts of important information about the Káruk culture. Source of information: Julian Lang, from "Ararapikva"
Photo: Grace Nicholson Collection
In 1848, a major catastrophe hit northwestern California: the CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH. By 1849, thousands of greedy, destructive gold seekers from places around the world flocked to California to seek their fortune. Within one year, the number of immigrants in California - mostly unskilled miners who had arrived penniless and hundreds of businessmen who schemed to make a profit off the naive prospectors - had swelled to more than 300,000 people. In their lust for profit, they raped the land and eventually attempted to murder any Native peoples who might be in the way. When initial gold strikes began to dwindle, thousands migrated to the western rivers of California. Swarming the remote Klamath River region, crazed with the lust for gold, they invaded and destroyed Native villages and the natural environment every where they went, killing or terrifying the tribal peoples into leaving their ancestral lands. The few who escaped to the mountains faced starvation and exposure from the harsh elements. When illness and the bitter cold of winter forced them back into the villages, many either died of disease or were shot. At the close of the 1860s, the indigenous inhabitants of the Klamath River as well as their villages, languages, ancient ceremonies, sacred sites, and traditional ways of living were all but destroyed.
On the way to Katamin, Klamath River Photo © Marguerite Lorimer
When California's gold mines began to decline, the US government became involved in other ways. Bounties were offered to kill off any remaining Native peoples. Agreements made with Klamath River Natives (who upheld them as sacred promises) were repeatedly broken. Vast areas of lush grazing lands, forests, meadows, streams and rivers - teeming with precious natural resources and sensitively taken care of by the Káruk and other Klamath River tribes for thousands of years - were appropriated to rich land owners or outright stolen. The idea of "owning" land was not understood by many of the Natives. When some were given checks to buy their property (without any accompanying explanation) the desperate, poverty-stricken Native people - many who were unable to read or comprehend governmental trickery - cashed the checks, not understanding that they had just sold their ancestral lands. Some of those who chose to not "sell" soon discovered that they no longer had access to water, as their water rights had been ceded, bought by or assigned to rich ranchers and land holders. During this time, Klamath River Natives who had survived the Gold Rush genocide were relocated to the Hoopa and Quartz Valley reservations. After arriving, their children were rounded up by government authorities and sent away to boarding schools to become assimilated.
Charlie Thom told the story of his grandfather, Jim Tom (the Tom family name was later changed to Thom) who was known as "TinTin". According to Charlie, TinTin was a great leader of the Káruk who carried the medicine name, as did Charlie, of Walking Backwards. Toward the end of the Gold Rush, Tin Tin fled to the remote nearby Marble Mountain Wilderness to escape being murdered. After hiding there an astounding forty years, he returned to his people, only to find them greatly suffering, living in despondency. Struggling to survive, they faced pervasive poverty, rampant racism and continual violence. Robbed of their children, their lands, their water rights and ancient ways of living, alcoholism sometimes became a way of coping. Determined to help his people recover and keep the Káruk culture alive, TinTin spent the rest of his days encouraging his people to remember their ancient language, practice healthy, traditional old ways, sing the medicine songs, and participate in sacred dances and ceremonies. In many ways, Charlie Thom's life was shaped by - and certainly inspired by - his remarkable grandfather, Jim "TinTin" Tom (photo below).
TinTin (Káruk), 1923
Photo: Grace Nicholson Photograph Collection
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Cultural revival, which is extremely important to indigenous peoples around the world, is critical to the tribal people of the Klamath River. The KÁRUK TRIBE, once one of the most powerful tribes on the western US coast, strives to strengthen and uplift its individuals, families and communities by bringing positive ancestral traditions back to the People. Káruk language classes are being taught, individuals and families are encouraged to participate in traditional ceremonies, sacred dance instruction is offered, traditional arts, crafts and skills are advocated, and healthy living is brought to the community through opportunities in physical fitness, education about optimum food choices, and the creation of healthy relationships. The Káruk people are brave, talented, resilient survivors!
TRADITIONAL KÁRUK FOODS
which is roasted, made into soups or stews, or salted, smoked or dried
made into soups, flour, mush
pine nuts (ús'îish)
onions (xánaachu) mushrooms (xay'vîish)
as well as huckleberries, hazelnuts and raspberries
These foods are still enjoyed today
Traditional way of roasting aama (salmon) over an open fire pit
DAILY LIFE ON THE KLAMATH RIVER
Until modern times, Káruk people who lived along the rivers started their days with an early morning bath in the rushing water. Daily tasks, which commenced with the gathering of water and lighting of the first cooking fire, were generally done in private. The men hunted, fished, made arrowheads, built cedar plank structures, mended fishing nets and any thing else in need of repair, told stories and sang in the sweat house, and taught the boys what to do. Women cared for the young and the elderly, cooked, collected water and firewood, berries, medicinal plants and seasonal roots, taught the girls how to make baskets, made everyday clothing and ceremonial regalia, and strived to keep a balanced life for their families. - Franklin Thom, Káruk language teacher
CLICK HERE to learn more about Káruk elder LESTER ALFORD (above)
Images (above) by Káruk artist Jimmy "Running Deer" Thom