Winter view of "Pretty Girl" Mount Shasta, sacred mountain to northern California Native peoples Image © Mike Simons
KARUK LANGUAGE TEACHER / CULTURE BEARER
FRANKLIN "WALKING BACKWARDS" THOM
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Click for the different MEANINGS of the name Walking Backwards
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Frank Thom singing sacred songs in the Marble Mountains, 1989
Image taken from video of Frank, his father Charlie Thom and his nephews © John Veltri
FRANKLIN THOM, a Káruk language teacher, sacred dance teacher and ceremonial leader, was born in 1956 in Yreka, California, to June Elaine Richards (Káruk) and Káruk medicine man Charles “Red Hawk” Thom. Born very tiny, Frank was blind throughout his early childhood. Although surgery at age seven miraculously restored the vision in one of his eyes, he struggled just to survive. Happy times were when the family visited the ancient Káruk ceremonial village of Katamin, near Somes Bar (aka “Indian Country”) in Siskiyou County, California, where he, like his father Charlie, was given the medicine name of WALKING BACKWARDS.
When Frank turned 12, many of his teachers started believing in him and supporting him in different ways. With his clever mind, a great sense of humor, a willingness to learn - and a lot of stubbornness - high school became four years of academic success and accomplishments... acting in plays, singing in the chorus, participating in gymnastics, and becoming Indian Club President. School was a joy, and Frank especially enjoyed newfound popularity with the girls!
Frankie Thom, age 12 (on the left in photo) in "Y-Town" (Yreka, California)
with 9 year old Buzzy, who was his cousin and "best buddy"
In 1973 Charlie "Red Hawk" Thom, who had been absent during much of Frank's early life, came to see his son. After a short meeting between his parents, Frank and his dad were soon “on the road” to visit some of Charlie’s elderly friends and relatives who lived along the Klamath, Salmon, and Trinity Rivers. They would “make history”, Charlie said, by reviving the Káruk culture. They'd help bring back the Brush Dance, Jump Dance, War Dance and the White Deerskin Dance. And they did!
In 1992 Frank married the love of his life, Silvia Solis. "When Silvia passed away [in 2004], I was left with reality". Frank is the proud stepfather of Silvia's daughter, Rebeca, and grandfather to her three beautiful children.
Much of Frank’s life has been spent in search of his roots. He enjoys researching his Káruk culture, writing his memoirs, singing the ancient medicine songs, going to Káruk culture camps, and continuing to learn his ancestral language. Between 1994-2018 he volunteered in Yreka’s Head Start Program, teaching Káruk to the children.
[continued] These days, Frank participates in as many Káruk cultural events as he can. He is honored to be included in Native Language Symposiums and Elders Councils. He enjoys attending and participating in the sacred dances and, for the past few years, has been teaching young people the Brush Dance. He visits local Yreka schools to tell stories (translated from Káruk to English) and sing the sacred healing songs. He occasionally leads purification sweat lodge ceremonies. His greatest joys include spending happy times with his family and - as one of only approximately 60 fluent Káruk language speakers in the world - teaching oral Káruk to any student who might be interested. He gratefully acknowledges that the Creator guides and protects him on his path. He also knows that the ancestors are with him every step of the way. They are proud. They are smiling.
"My heart is innocent in learning and in carrying on my ancestors’ wishes" - Franklin R Thom
PRAYER FOR MY PEOPLE (video above)
This is a Prayer for my People. We are a proud people who love coming to the dances and the ceremonies. We come to meet new people and see old friends. We come to heal our babies and honor our elders. We learn about our culture, speak our language, watch and participate in the dances, eat good foods - and laugh a lot. The young men dance, and the women keep it all together. We hold women in high regard; they are our strength. - Franklin R Thom
SONGS FROM THE RIVER (video above)
"Songs from the rivers flow within my heart. My ancestors sang like that, when it was their time. They taught me to sing and dance for all the world, to keep our “way of life" alive. Sitting quietly, ever listening, the winds bring melody to help my present days flow. A certain riffle makes a beat. Then
comes an eagle, hawk, or blue jay, birds that balance the orchestra with their song. The four-legged, brushing by in a nearby tree, hears my song from long ago. I sing to bring forth our beautiful káruk language, I sing songs of prayer for today’s people of the rivers called Home. Our songs will never die! Oh, Great Spirit, guide me, as you guide the river wild. Yôotva, yôotva, yôotva..."
- Franklin R Thom
THE KÁRUK LANGUAGE
One of many endangered Native American indigenous languages, the Káruk language is the traditional language of the "Upriver" or Káruk people of the Klamath River in northwestern California. Most Káruk now speak only English.
The Káruk language originated in tribes that lives near the Klamath River between Seiad Valley and Bluff Creek. Prior to European contact in the 1850s, it is estimated that there may have been up to 1,500 speakers. Today, the few remaining fluent Káruk speakers can be found in Yreka, California, and in some of the towns along the Klamath River: Somes Bar (near Katamin, the "Káruk Center of the World"), Happy Camp ("Athithufvuunupma") and Orleans ("Panamniik"). Language classes in Káruk are being taught in a few of the public schools in these areas.
From James A. Waddell, member of the Káruk Tribe / "Káruk Tribe’s Spirit World”: “The Káruk are thought to be the oldest tribe of people, a tribe of the Hokan language, in northern California. Some say that they have been here for 3,000 years. Others say that they have been here for 10,000 years. Later, reportedly only a thousand years ago, came the Yuroks of the Algonquian, then the Hupa of the Athabascan Language.”
An isolated language, the Káruk language shares few if any similarities with other nearby languages. Although it is thousands of years older and completely different from the languages of the Hupa and Yurok Tribes, all three Klamath River tribes have similar cultural traditions, practices and ceremonies.
From Crawford / "Endangered Languages":Hundreds of North American indigenous languages have vanished since 1492. In the 1880s an official policy of linguistic genocide was institutionalized in the government boarding schools, which were established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Under strict "English Only" rules, students were punished and humiliated for speaking their native language, as part of a general campaign to wipe out every vestige of their "Indian-ness". This has left a legacy of opposition to bilingual education among Indians who vividly remember the pain they suffered in school and who hoped to shield their children and grandchildren from the same experience.
"To know our culture is to know our language" - Frank Thom
SCROLL DOWN FOR FRANK'S SONGS, KÁRUK TRANSLATIONS, AND POEM
Káruk sacred dance instructor Frank Thom, far left, singing while leading his students in a Brush Dance demonstration, 2018
Frankie Thom says, "áyûukii, nanithvuuytih; i’fúthkamîipma"
Hello, my name is Walking Backwards. Here are some Káruk words to learn!
ikshûupan ... show’er / teacher
kôovura ... all of us
árishrahêen ... singer
pákarii ... song
áho, mava pay ôok ... walk over here
yáxa ... look
ni’xútih ... to see
ik’rîivkih han ... month of May
sûupah ... day
itha’suupah ... all the day
áraar ... cousin
áfyiiv ... friend
amma ... salmon
ah ... up!
hâa ... yes
pûufâat ... no more!
táy ... lots
yâamich ... beautiful
yêeshiip ... great!
íman ... tomorrow
íput ... yesterday
ípat ... earlier
suvánik ... see you later
ni’tapkuup ... I like you
aachícha ... sad
tani’ay ... I am sad
káruk ... upriver
Yurok ... downriver
áraarhii ... ancestors
ish’puk ... Indian money (dentillian shells)
Káruk Brush Dance demonstration 2018 Photo by Amy Wingo
Frank says: "Take a look at a page from my Káruk Spelling Chart. What can you learn today?"
Káruk Brush Dance demonstration Native American Day, Sacramento, California 2018, led by Frank Thom (right) Photo by Amy Wingo
Click on arrow above to hear
Káruk "UPRIVER SONG"
by Franklin R Thom
Click on arrow above to hear
Káruk "LOVE SONG"
by Franklin R Thom
Blessings to you, my friend,
Bless your home, and family... Oh!
May each sunset be a lesson of beauty,
the beauty in each one of us....
With the four-leggeds behind me,
and my ancestors all around...
I thank you, Creator,
for making my life worth living.
A rainbow is my hope
God's way of saying I love you,
Thank you for shining, for showing me the way.
One day there will be a better day.
Creator, here is an offering of smoke from sage.
Please hear my prayer, my song, my heart.
I seek you everyday
so I won't get lost in chance.
Creator is my refuge,
inside and outside....
I love you, my life of prayer...
quiet, solemn, peaceful. Oh!
Life may change at any moment;
Prayers for the ones who are lost.
My heart loves what I cannot see,
and my soul feels for the broken-hearted.
Love to the ones who matter,
and love to the ones who don't care.
Listen, learn, and be proud of who you are.
Remember always, "It's got to be you!"
- Franklin R Thom
We, the Native People of America, are created equal in all aspects of human existence.
We sing from deep within, we dance for the healing of many, and we speak our prayers to give strength to the Whole Wide World. - Franklin "Walking Backwards" Thom