What is the Hupa Tribe?

Bethney Foster

The Hupa tribe is a group of Native American people living in northwestern California. Also referred to as the Hoopa, Hupa, or Ntinixwe, they live on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, which has a population of more than 2,600 people. The reservation is just more than 141 square miles (365 square km) and was established by the United States government in 1864.

The Hupa Indian tribe has many commerical interests, including timber logging.
The Hupa Indian tribe has many commerical interests, including timber logging.

The reservation of the Hupa tribe is the largest Native American reservation in California. Located in the northeastern corner of Humboldt County, it is 50 miles (80.5 km) from the Pacific Ocean. The reservation includes 133 miles (214 km) of rivers and streams, 3,200 acres (1,294 hectares) of wetlands, and part of the Trinity River.

The Hupa Tribe resides in northwestern California.
The Hupa Tribe resides in northwestern California.

Eight elected tribal council members and a tribal chairman govern the Hupa tribe today. The Hupa tribe has the only Native American-owned and operated radio station, KIDE 91.3 FM, and a newspaper, the Two Rivers Tribune. In addition to other enterprises, the Hupa have a logging company, their own chamber of commerce, and Lucky Bear Casino.

The people called themselves Natinook-wa, which translates to “people of the place where the trail returns.” Officially known as the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the people traditionally spoke a language of the Athabaskan family. Classes in the traditional language are offered weekly on the reservation. The tribe is also working to preserve other aspects of its heritage, including the traditional flower dance.

The culture centered around the twice-annual runs of king salmon on the Trinity River. Acorns were another staple of the traditional diet. Acorns were prepared by drying, crushing, and boiling to make a mush. Acorns were sometimes made into a type of bread that was cooked on a hot stone.

There were 13 villages within 7 miles (about 11 km) along the river before the Hupa tribe first had contact with Europeans. The people lived in homes called xontas, made of cedar planks. Women and children slept in the xontas, and men slept in nearby sweathouses. Women gave birth in a shelter called a minch, and women and girls went to the minch when they were menstruating.

Traditionally, marriages were held in summer. The marriage was negotiated by two men, one representing the bride’s family and one representing the groom’s family. Once an arrangement was reached, the bride’s family was given a payment in shell money. In most instances, marriages were between men and women of different villages. Women were responsible for gathering food, childcare, and cooking, with men being responsible for hunting and fishing.

American Indian tribes of the Pacific U.S. are strongly associated with the construction of totem poles.
American Indian tribes of the Pacific U.S. are strongly associated with the construction of totem poles.

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Discussion Comments


It is a shame that so much of the rich history of the Natives was lost during the invasion of European settlers. Some men, like David Brainerd, made an effort to learn the Native languages and understand the culture. Unfortunately, examples such as his are vastly outweighed by deportation and slaughter on the part of the Southern Jacksonian white Scottish settlers.


Many diverse Native groups are represented in the population of California. Certain tribes, such as the Tongva, are part of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages, related to families in Central America such as the Aztec languages. The most popular language in this family is the Nahuatl languages, which are Aztec languages still spoken widely throughout Mexico.


The nearby Yurok language family is part of the Algic language family, which is linked to most tribes in the American northeast. These are the Algonquin languages, commonly associated with tribes such as the Massachusett, who were the first Natives the Pilgrims made contact with.


The Athabaskan language family, of which Hupa is a part of, is an Alaskan family which is considerably different than other Native American language families in the US. This language family is a subdivision of the Na-Dene family, which in turn is part of the Dene-Yeniseian family. This family is one of the most interesting in the world, because it links certain languages of Central Siberia. This is a positive link between Alaska and Siberia, showing that these peoples migrated across the Bering Strait.

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