The basis of the religion of the local people relies on individual effort through ritual cleanliness and ceremoniesthat include the entire tribe. The Tribes of this region practice the annual World Renewal Ceremonies, such as the Karuk Pikyavish, the Tolowa Nee-dash, the Hupa and Yurok White Deerskin Dance and most Tribes perform the Sacred Jump Dance. The purpose of the ceremonies is to renew the world or “fix the earth," as one tribe described it. Four countless generations, the songs and dances of this ceremony have been preserved. Most of these rituals are considered to have a connection with medicine. Medicine included not only that which was administered to cure sickness, but anything: root, herb, plant or bark that is used to promote physical,mental and spiritual health. One of our most powerful medicines is known in the dominant society as angelica root. The Brush Dance is both a community event and a healing ceremony in which the people of the local Tribes dance, sing, make medicine and pray in order to bless or heal a sick child or infant. The dance takes place in a Brush Dance pit, and it involves men, boys and young girls. The herbal healing ceremony includes singing, chanting, rhythmic dancing around the medicine fire in the pit and jumping center to confront the evil or sickness. The spectators seated on benches around the pit, also pray and help in the spiritual treatment of the child.
Native people from this region excel in basketry. Weaving and use of baskets has always been a main element of the cultures of California tribes. Our baskets are of the twined, woven type and are tight enough that they can hold water for cooking. These tribes make a wide variety of baskets for daily use such as baby baskets, collecting vessels, food bowls, cooking items, ceremonial items and we also make basket caps, which are worn by both women and also men, of open weave.
Gambling is a typical traditional recreational activity for local native people. In pre-contact times, men would gamble each evening and continue singing in the sweathouse, which served as their lodging (men and women slept separateley). Gambling today is still common. In the most popular game, players hide sticks, one specially marked, behind their backs. The opponents attempt to guess which hand holds the marked stick. Gambling, like many activities, is spiritually based and being “lucky” is more a reflection of the quality of your character than an association with random chance.
Our peoples also play an energetic fun endurance and strength game in which men or boys use carved sticks, with a small “hook” to try to throw a "tossel" (two small wooden blocks attached by a cord) across opposing goal lines despite the very physical interference of the other team.
We were, and are, people of specialties. The health and well-being of the people as a whole relied upon the strengths of the individuals. Some were hunters, fishermen, basketmakers, medicine people, community leaders, dance owners, regalia makers, gamblers, etc. The well known concept, “It takes a village to raise a child”, might be more appropriately stated for us, “It takes a village to maintain a village.” What we can do to help the development of our people is to find out what role we play in the health of our tribes.
Our future lies in two directions, forwards and backwards. Forward to embrace technology, education and the development that will assist our people. Backward to renew our connection to our cultures, our ancestors our sacred geography, our traditions and rituals so that the world will once again make sense, we have a responsibility to our families to make the world a better place, to forge the kind of future we want for our children.
As you pass through each day, give thanks to your ancestors for their courage and perseverance; remember you are on Indian land of some Tribe, and that you are a role model. Seek the knowledge and values of your own Tribe to become the Leaders that we need to enter the future.
Andre Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California. He is the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council and lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.