The Yurok Tribe is a Native American people of northern California, currently living in Del Norte County and Humboldt County. They are currently the largest group of Native Americans in the State of California. While Yurok means "downriver people," the tribe historically called itself Oohl, or "Indian people."
Historically, members of the Yurok Tribe were fishers, eelers, hunters, and gatherers, relying on the natural environment. Acorns and salmon were the main staples of the Yurok diet. The Indians also crafted canoes and baskets from natural materials, and family homes, sweat houses, and women's menstrual huts from fallen redwood trees.
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Yurok Indians used dentalia shells, harvested from the ocean, as currency, and men tattooed their arms to indicate the length of dentalia shell strands they owned. Traditional dress included a deerskin loincloth and moccasins for men and heavily decorated, knee-length deerskin skirts for women. The Yurok Tribe also has a rich cultural tradition, including traditional healers and annual ceremonies such as the White Deerskin Dance, Jump Dance, and Brush Dance.
The Yurok Tribe did not have much contact with Europeans during the Mission period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but lost 75% of their population due to disease and massacre as a result of the influx of settlers during the California Gold Rush of 1849. In 1855, the remaining tribal members were relocated to the Yurok Indian Reservation on the Klamath River. In the late 19th century, Yurok children were relocated to various reservations and educational institutes to be educated in the missionary style, which suppressed their language and cultural traditions, often through abuse.
There are currently just under 5,000 enrolled members of the Yurok Tribe, with just over 1,000 living on the reservation. The poverty rate on the reservation is extremely high at 80%. The Yurok Tribe is dedicated to protecting the natural environment, and to revitalizing their language, religion, and cultural traditions to address the damage perpetrated by non-Indian settlers and the educational programs of the 19th century.
The Yurok language belongs to the Algic family, and is related to Algonquian languages like Blackfoot and Cree. It is severely endangered, with only 11 native speakers. However, there are about 300 basic speakers as a result of revitalization efforts, aided by the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) beginning in 1996. There are increasing numbers of language classes available to Yurok Tribe members, and the revitalization program makes use of modern technology such as Internet sites and digital media.