Who are the Hupa Indians?

C. K. Lanz

The Hupa Indians, known officially as the Hoopa Valley Tribe, are American Indians native to California’s Hoopa Valley. The tribe’s traditional language also called Hupa is part of the Athabaskan linguistic family and connects the Hupa Indians to other western native peoples from Alaskan nations to the Navajo and Apache. It is thought that the Hupa Indians have inhabited the Hoopa Valley for at least 4,000 years and only made contact with American settlers comparatively recently in the mid-19th century. The Hupa Indians remain in the Hoopa Valley, a region that was designated as a reservation in 1876.

The Hupa Indians hunted deer and elk for food.
The Hupa Indians hunted deer and elk for food.

Since American settlers did not arrive in the Hoopa Valley until the mid 1800s, the Hupa Indians have been able to preserve a great deal of traditional cultural and history. Prior to contact, the tribe lived in permanent villages in houses made of red cedar planks, navigated the Trinity and Klamath rivers in dugout canoes and subsisted on agricultural and hunting practices. The Trinity River’s semiannual king salmon run was a crucial tribal support.

The Hupa Indian tribal counsel presides over the tribe's commerical interests, including timber logging.
The Hupa Indian tribal counsel presides over the tribe's commerical interests, including timber logging.

In addition to fishing salmon, the Hupa Indians also baked acorn bread and hunted deer and elk with bows and arrows made of syringa shoots. The hunters would wear the skin of prey to cover human odor. Deer were hunted with arrows, captured in snares or driven into the water by packs of dogs. Meat was cooked by roasting over a fire or burying it in ashes encased in the animal’s stomach. Both fish and meat were smoked as a preservative measure.

American settlers first made contact with the Hupa Indians when they pushed into the Hoopa Valley in the mid 19th century in search of gold and furs. At this time, the tribe was lead by a chief known as Ahrookoos, a position that was granted based on wealth and that could be passed from father to son. A United States military post was established on Hupa land in 1855 where it remained until 1892.

The Hupa Indians along with the South Fork, Redwood and Grouse Creek tribes negotiated a Peace and Friendship treaty with the United States in 1864. The treaty was ratified by the American government in 1876, and the Hoopa Valley was designated as the Hupa Indian reservation. The reservation includes an area of approximately 141 square miles (365 square kilometers).

Unlike many other Native American tribes, the Hupa Indians were never forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and have had relatively peaceful interactions with the United States government, military and American settlers. The tribe is governed by a seven member-tribal council and administers several commercial enterprises including gaming, lodging, basic services and timber logging. The tribal government provides many social services such as adult vocational and continuing education, tribal police and fire departments, a medical center, human services, and a tribal court and housing authority.

The Hupa fished for salmon.
The Hupa fished for salmon.

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