Andre Cramblit: Sharing history of tribes in northern California

Andre Cramblit. Photo from From The River Collective

In the spirit of Native American Heritage month, Andre Cramblit, a member of the Karuk Tribe, offers a history of tribes in northern California:
The Tribes of northwest California were untouched by contact with Western society until the discovery of gold in 1849. The quest for gold did not last long, though, and this is one of the few areas that remain culturally intact, and for the most part was separated from the direct influence of America until the early 1900’s. These Tribes have a connection to their homelands, languages and ceremonies to a degree that, unfortunately, is not typical for many Native peoples. One of the things that has always amazed is the experience of my Great Uncle, Leonard Super. He was born at the turn of the 20th century in a time where in the homeland of the Karuk people there were no roads, electricity, phones or very many white people. By the time he died in 1992 he had traveled half way around the world to fight in World War II, bought cars-learned to work on their motors and drove all over the western US, flew on airplanes, went to see the SF Giants, rode in a stretch limo, watched the space shuttle go up, typed on a laptop computer and saw a man made spacecraft circle Mars. Try explaining a CD to someone who grew up with music and sound coming from wax cylinders and metal disks.

One distinctive cultural norm that all these tribes share is the emphasis of the role an individual played within the health of the village. Our Tribes did not live in large clusters of people like some other Nations, but rather were small communities of families that inhabited the best living spots along the rivers. As such, each village was independent and autonomous. This meant that the individuals within that community had to meet all the survival needs of the people.

The Karuk, Hupa, Tolowa, Wiyot and Yurok Tribes remain on their traditional homelands to this day. While sharing a similar cultural framework, each of these Tribes has a wholly distinct Tribal language. It has been said that our languages are so diverse it would be like trying to have people that speak Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili trying to hold a conversation. Language retention and revitalization is a major effort of the Native communities in our region.

Get the Story:
Andre Cramblit: The Season of the Natives (Indian Country Today 11/5)

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