09 July 2021

My Experience with the Karuk Tribe

Written by: Stephanie Menjivar

In the town called Happy Camp in California, there exists a museum that I went to after completing my river survey. It was at the Community Center in Happy Camp about the Karuk Tribe who resides in that area. I was greeted warmly by a lovely Karuk woman named Elaine who was working the front desk at the gift shop. She asked what I was there for, and I said that I came to look at the museum. She happily offered to give me a tour of the museum.

We talked about the health of the river, and how the water is running low and warmer than usual. I told her about my fellowship and how I look for Western Pond Turtles, which she was excited about, until I told her about the invasive bullfrogs taking over. She said that this was important to talk about, and that she is planning a River Health Talk, to discuss the health of the Klamath River. She wanted me to talk about my experiences on the Klamath River, and to talk about the bullfrogs and the turtles. I eagerly agreed to do so.

We continued the tour and she taught me about the Karuk Tribe’s basket weaving. Different baskets are weaved for different purposes such as carrying babies, cooking food, storage for ceremonial items, and as ceremonial caps to be worn for important events such as a girl's coming of age ceremony, the Flower Dance. The baskets looked amazing with intricate designs and beautiful handiwork. Then I met the tribe's master basket weaver, Verna, who would teach the women in the Happy Camp community how to weave baskets.

The week afterward, I ran into Verna as well as her family at the campsite I was staying at. They were at the creek gathering materials for basket weaving. We talked about turtles, and how great it is to see a hatchling on the river because of all the obstacles they must overcome be there. They told us about why they gathered the willows and fern for their basket weaving, and how they dye the material from the ferns with bark to make a beautiful red-brown color. Then they asked me and my coworker if we wanted to help them extract basket weaving materials from the fern. We gladly accepted and found each of ourselves a flat rock to help extract the fiber by smashing the fern with a flat rock. We had a lot of fun and shared good laughs and stories.

I really felt like I made a connection with some of the people in the tribe. Being invited to the events that they have such as a Flower Dance, their basket weaving gathering, and their Cultural Restoration Retreat really makes me feel involved. After making this connection, I feel as though it is best to continue moving forward with this connection, and not leave it behind after I complete this fellowship because they are so warm and kind.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office

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