The ancestors of the Karuk People are the spirit people, the ikxaréeyav, some of whom were transformed into humans, animals and natural features at an early turning point in the history of creation. Since this time we call immemorial, the Klamath River and its many tributaries and surrounding landscapes have shaped and, in fact, define the cultural units of the indigenous peoples who live here, of which the Karuk number. The profound bond of the Karuk people to their land and its corresponding development of self-identity are apparent in endless ways. The significantly localized nature of the Karuk language provides corroborating evidence to an eternal marriage of environment and people. Cardinal directions are in relation to the river and landscape: káruk means upstream, yúruk means downstream, and máruk and sáruk mean uphill and downhill – away from and towards the river. Place names are most often translatable to the main resources defining the area, e.g. xáyvishshar, a place on the ridge above Ishi-Pishi Falls meaning “where they pick lots of mushrooms.”
The relative plenitude of resources in these areas was the result of long developed strategies of land management, largely through the repiticious use of the low intensity fires now known as cultural or prescribed burns. Prescribed burning is an ancestral cultural practice that has taken place for thousands of years to manage the landscape, to stimulate the production of resources for humans and for animals, to prevent catastrophic wildfires, and to provide for species abundance and diversity.
Over an uninterrupted period of thousands of years, we have refined and developed sophisticated land management practices. This was and remains true science: Native knowledge is based on generations upon generations of experience with this land. The combination of ritual, spiritual and technical elements that sustained this ecosystem not only resulted in replenished food and fiber resources, it also served to consciously enhance and enrich the diversity of these systems.
The intrusion of Euro-Americans to this area wreaked havoc upon the indigenous groups in the mid-Klamath basin: In 1852 whites burned the sacred villages of Yutamin and Katimiin (Lower Fishing Place and Upper Fishing Place), near Ishi Pishi Falls, site of the annual World Renewal Ceremonies. In the two decades following, the easily accessible placer gold was mined away, yet many whites remained and new resources were found to be equally desired for their economic value.
While this extension of our story develops tragically in so many ways, we are fortunate to live so remotely, and to have remained steadfast in our dedication to our people, to our land, to the animals and birds, to the fish and the water, to fire, wind, the rocks, the moon, and the stars. It is upon these truths that the goals of the Eco-Cultural Revitalization Branch of the Department of Natural Resources are built, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to this land and its resources as Karuk people.