Karuk White Paper

Executive Summary

This paper documents Karuk tribal uses of resources found within the Klamath River corridor which may be affected by the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. This great range of resources includes plants, animals, and fish as well as locations long enshrined in mythic accounts of legendary events. From millennia of dependence on the resources of the Klamath River corridor, a dense web of cultural practices and social institutions has developed that define the Karuk People as well as the other tribes of the Klamath Basin. In order to establish the depth and unity of these cultural utilizations with the environment and their consequent vulnerability to influences inimical to the environment, the following strategy has been developed. Section I presents a reconstruction of the natural setting and patterns of early habitation of Karuk Ancestral Territory. Particular attention is paid to cultural elements that are directly dependent on the Klamath River health and upon salmonid resources.


Section II follows this establishment of setting and duration of cultural adaptations with a series of ethnographic interviews of Karuk people and knowledgeable individuals. Interviewees were presented with an extensive series of questions and issues concerning cultural and natural resources of the Karuk, and other Klamath River corridor tribes, which may be subject to effects caused by Iron Gate Dam. This same inventory has been incorporated in a series of white papers being written on behalf of these other tribes in conjunction with the upcoming Federal Energy Relicensing Commission (FERC) proceedings concerning relicensing of Iron Gate Dam. The use of similar inventories of questions and issues by the concerned tribes is intended to produce a body of information approaching the Klamath River as an extended ethnographic landscape. This cultural landscape reaches from the region of Klamath Lake and the territory of the Klamath Tribe to the Riverís mouth at the Pacific Ocean where the Yurok live. Interview transcripts have been coded according to the issues addressed by the informants. This section of ethnographic interviews and empirical observations is followed by Section III, Current Conditions and Historical Factors Affecting Fish Populations and River Health, a discussion of water quality and fish passage issues drawn from ethnographic and recent scientific literature.


This paper ends with a Summary and Conclusion which summarizes the material developed in the text as described, bringing together, within an ethnographic context, the conclusions of formal articles with those of the Karuk informants concerning the effect of Iron Gate Dam on the cultural and natural resources of the Karuk Tribe and People.



Traditional Karuk knowledge holds that our ancestors were spirit people who were transformed into humans, animals and natural features at the time of creation. During this period of time the fish and other resources were created and given to us to utilize and manage. Traditional laws were given to the Karuk people which remain the basis for management techniques and ceremonies. In specific ceremonies these practices are kept alive and perpetuated as a living culture. The anthropological perspective is considered by the Karuk to be a theoretical explanation of the vast array of events which have long been addressed in the Karuk oral tradition.



PacifiCorp is entering into a professional services contract with the Consultant on behalf of the Karuk Tribe of California for the identification and documentation of traditional cultural properties, other sensitive cultural resources, and those properties and resources’ ethnographic contexts associated with Karuk tribal uses within the Klamath River Corridor that may be affected by the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. The purpose of this study is to develop a context statement on the ethnographic, and historic evidence of traditional patterns of use and belief in the Klamath River Corridor. This context statement will assist PacifiCorp and the Federal Energy Relicensing Commission (FERC) in making a National Register determination of eligibility for the Klamath River as an ethnographic riverscape. This information will be used to satisfy both Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and to develop protection, mitigation and enhancements measures in the Historic Properties Management Plan or Programmatic Agreement(s).


The results of this study will be integrated with other tribal ethnographic Klamath riverscape studies generated by this project. The purpose of the individual Tribal reports is to provide information to a “final anthropologist” who will be funded through five tribal contracts. The purpose of the final report is to bring together the several studies into a single document evaluating the effect of Iron Gate Dam on the river as an ethnographic riverscape in its totality. This final integrated tribal ethnographic study will identify impacts from hydroelectric project operations to culturally significant traditional Native American culture and resources such as water, fish, wildlife, plants.


The Karuk Tribe of California, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, occupies some 1,400,000 acres of land located in Siskiyou and Humboldt Counties of northern California. According to oral tradition and archaeological evidence, ancestors of the current Karuk people were among the earliest inhabitants of aboriginal California (Whistler 1979).


To view the whole report email your request to: Klamath Restoration Council