Alice Frank a Yurok, Native American woman. 1907.
The Yurok, whose name means "downriver people" in the neighboring Karuk language, are Native Americans who live in northwestern California near the Klamath River and Pacific coast. Their autonym is Olekwo'l meaning "Persons." Today they live on the Yurok Indian Reservation, on several rancherias, or throughout Humboldt County.
Traditionally, Yurok people lived in permanent villages along the Klamath River. Some of the villages date back to the 14th century. They fished for salmon along rivers, gathered ocean fish and shellfish, hunted game, and gathered plants.
Their first contact with non-Natives was when Spanish explorers entered their territory in 1775. Fur traders and trappers from the Hudson's Bay Company came in 1827. Following encounters with white settlers moving into their aboriginal lands during a gold rush in 1850, the Yurok were faced with disease and massacres that reduced their population by 75%. In 1855, following the Klamath and Salmon River Indian War the Lower Klamath River Indian Reservation was created by executive order. The Reservation boundaries included a portion of the Yurok's aboriginal territory and most of the Yurok villages. As a result, the Yurok people were not forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. They continue to live in these same villages today.
On November 24, 1993, the Yurok Tribe adopted a constitution that details the jurisdiction and territory of their lands. Under the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act of 1988, Pub. L. 100-580, qualified applicants had the option of enrolling in the Yurok Tribe. Of the 3,685 qualified applicants for the Settlement Roll, 2,955 person chose Yurok membership. 227 of those members had a mailing address on the Yurok reservation but a majority lived within 50 miles of the reservation. The Yurok Tribe is currently the largest group of Native Americans in the state of California with over 5,000 enrolled members. The Yurok reservation of 63,035 acres (255 km2) has an 80% poverty rate and 70% of the inhabitants do not have telephone service or electricity, according to the tribe's webpage.
Fishing, hunting, and gathering remain important to tribal members. Basket weaving and woodcarving are important arts. A traditional hamlet of wooden plank buildings, called Sumeg, was built in 1990. The Jump Dance and Brush Dance are part of tribal ceremonies.
Yurok is one of two Algic languages spoken in California, the other being Wiyot. Between twenty and one hundred people speak the Yurok language today. there language is passed on through master-apprentice teams and through singing. Language classes have been offered through Humboldt State University and through annual language immersion camps.
A usual feature of the language is that certain nouns change depending upon whether there is one, two, or three of the object. For instance, one human being would be ko:ra' or ko'r, two human beings would be ni'iyel, and three human beings would be nahkseyt.
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. Alfred L. Kroeber put the 1770 population of the Yurok at 2500. Sherburne F. Cook initially agreed, but later raised this estimate to 3100.
By 1870, the Yurok population had declined to 1,350. By 1910 it was reported as 668 or 700.
The US Census for the year 2000 indicates that there were 4413 Yurok living in California, combining those of one tribal descent and those with ancestors of several different tribes and groups. There were 5793 Yurok living in all of the United States.
Photograph was Hand Oil Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers.