Our people have always lived on this sacred and wondrous land along the Pacific Coast and inland on the Klamath River, since the Spirit People, Wo-ge’, made things ready for us and the Creator, Ko-won-no-ekc-on Ne-ka-nup-ceo, placed us here. From the beginning, we have followed all the laws of the Creator, which became the whole fabric of our tribal sovereignty. In times past and now Yurok people bless the deep river, the tall redwood trees, the rocks, the mounds, and the trails. We pray for the health of all the animals, and prudently harvest and manage the great salmon runs and herds of deer and elk. We never waste and use every bit of the salmon, deer, elk, sturgeon, eels, seaweed, mussels, candlefish, otters, sea lions, seals, whales, and other ocean and river animals. We also have practiced our stewardship of the land in the prairies and forests through controlled burns that improve wildlife habitat and enhance the health and growth of the tan oak acorns, hazelnuts, pepperwood nuts, berries, grasses and bushes, all of which are used and provide materials for baskets, fabrics, and utensils.
For millennia our religion and sovereignty have been pervasive throughout all of our traditional villages. Our intricate way of life requires the use of the sweathouse, extensive spiritual training, and sacrifice. Until recently there was little crime, because Yurok law is firm and requires full compensation to the family whenever there is an injury or insult. If there is not agreement as to the settlement, a mediator would resolve the dispute. Our Indian doctors, Keg-ae, have cared for our people and treated them when they became ill. In times of difficulty village headmen gather together to resolve problems affecting the Yurok Tribe.
Our people have always carried on extensive trade and social relations throughout our territory and beyond. Our commerce includes a monetary system based on the use of dentalium shells, Terk-n-term and other items as currency. The Klamath River was and remains our highway, and we from time beginning utilized the river and the ocean in dugout canoes, Alth-way-och, carved from the redwood by Yurok craftsmen, masterpieces of efficiency and ingenuity and have always been sold or traded to others outside the tribe. Our people come together from many villages to perform ceremonial construction of our fish dams, Lohg-en. Our traditional ceremonies – the Deerskin Dance, Doctor Dance, Jump Dance, Brush Dance, Kick Dance, Flower Dance and others – have always drawn hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Yuroks and members of neighboring tribes together for renewal, healing, and prayer. We also have always traveled to the North and East to the high mountains on our traditional trails to worship the Creator at our sacred sites, – Doctor Rock, Chimney Rock, Thkla-mah (the stepping stones for ascent into the sky world), and many others.
This whole land, this Yurok country, stayed in balance, kept that way by our good stewardship, hard work, wise laws, and constant prayers to the Creator.
Our social and ecological balance, thousands and thousands of years old, was shattered by the invasion of the non-Indians. We lost three-fourths or more of our people through unprovoked massacres by vigilantes and the intrusion of fatal European diseases. The introduction of alcohol weakened our social structure, as did the forced removal of our children to government boarding schools, where many were beaten, punished for speaking their language, and denied the right to practice their cultural heritage. After goldminers swarmed over our land we agreed to sign a “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” with representatives of the President of the United States in 1851, but the United States Senate failed to ratify the treaty. Then in 1855, the United States ordered us to be confined on the Klamath River Reserve, created by Executive Order, (pursuant to the Act of March 3, 1853, 10 Stat. 226, 238) within our own territory.
In 1864 a small part of our aboriginal land became a part of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation which was set apart for Yuroks and other Indians in Northern California. This became known as the 12-mile “Square.” In 1891, a further small part of our aboriginal land was added when “The Extension” to the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation was set aside by executive order authorized by the 1864 statute, which created the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. This statutory reservation extension extended from the mouth of the Klamath River, including the old Klamath River Reserve, about 50 miles inland and encompassed the river and its bed, along with one mile of land on both sides of the river.
But even this small remnant of our ancestral land was not to last for long. In the 1890’s individual Indians received allotments from tribal land located in the Klamath River Reserve portion of the Hoopa Valley Reservation and almost all of the remainder of the Reserve was declared “surplus” and opened for homesteading by non-Indians. The forests were logged excessively and the wildlife was depleted. Even the great salmon runs went into deep decline due to overfishing and habitat destruction. In the mid-1930s the State of California attempted illegally to terminate traditional fishing by Yurok people, the river’s original – and only – stewards from Bluff Creek to the Pacific Ocean. Our fishing rights were judicially reaffirmed in the 1970s and the 1980s after many legal and physical battles.
Throughout the first 140 years of our tribe’s dealings with the United States, we never adopted a written form of government. We had not needed a formal structure and were reluctant to change. The United States had decimated the Yurok population, land base, and natural resources and our people were deeply distrustful of the federal government.
Yet we, the Yurok people, know that this is the time to exercise our inherent tribal sovereignty and formally organize under this Constitution. We do this to provide for the administration and governance of the modern Yurok Tribe that has emerged, strong and proud, from the tragedies and wrongs of the years since the arrival of the non-Indians into our land. Our sacred and vibrant traditions have survived and are now growing stronger and richer each year.
The Yurok Tribe is the largest Indian tribe in California, and while much land has been lost, the spirit of the Creator and our inherent tribal sovereignty still thrives in the hearts and minds of our people as well as in the strong currents, deep canyons, thick forests, and high mountains of our ancestral lands.
Therefore, in order to exercise the inherent sovereignty of the Yurok Tribe, we adopt this Constitution in order to:
1) Preserve forever the survival of our tribe and protect it from forces which may threaten its existence;
2) Uphold and protect our tribal sovereignty which has existed from time immemorial and which remains undiminished;
3) Reclaim the tribal land base within the Yurok Reservation and enlarge the Reservation boundaries to the maximum extent possible within the ancestral lands of our tribe and/or within any compensatory land area;
4) Preserve and promote our culture, language, and religious beliefs and practices, and pass them on to our children, our grandchildren, and to their children and grandchildren on, forever;
5) Provide for the health, education, economy, and social wellbeing of our members and future members;
6) Restore, enhance, and manage the tribal fishery, tribal water rights, tribal forests, and all other natural resources; and
7) Insure peace, harmony, and protection of individual human rights among our members and among others who may come within the jurisdiction of our tribal government.