Teacher’s Learning about Karuk Culture

One very special item that Jennifer Goodwin and Erin Hillman shared with teachers this week was the creation of regalia for a girl to dance in ceremonies this weekend. It took many hours of work over weeks to sew and decorate the skin skirts with fringes, shells, beads albalone, deertoes, and braided bear grass but it was beautiful and made a pleasant sound as it moved around. The design on the top was “friendship design.” The skirts were made by grant of $5,000 and worn by Frankie Snyder in her first ceremonial dance. 

 The Karuk Tribe of California Education Program Director, Jennifer Goodwin, arranged an exciting opportunity for teachers in the area schools learn more about the cultural background of the students in their classes. Not only were teachers from Happy Camp Elementary and High Schools but Jefferson Continutation school and Junction School from Somes Bar. It was a pleasure to have Tom Fox of the Northern California Writing Project and transferring soon to the the National Writing Project share current resources for teaching writing.

 A panel was assembled to answer all the questions that the teachers cared to ask about the Karuk culture, past and present. Jennifer and Erin shared the regalia project. Dan Goodwin, tonyu, Blanche, Bud Johnson,  of fisheries, Paula McCarthy, Clayton Tuttle, Ben Harrison and Phinuggtuuf took part in the panel. The brush dance was traditionally done at the home of a sick child for healing and although it is still done for healing, it is done on a regular basis for good health and prosperity to preserve the tradition. There isn’t alot of “pow wow” dancing here but war dancing was mentioned. Community is always open to watch and usually food for all. It’s a way of balancing, a way of living, they said. Because the Karuk never had a reservation each family had their own place that they lived from Bluff Creek to Seiad Valley. When the gold rush intruded into this place, the government wanted to ship them all out to Hoopa, not realizing there was differences between Hoopa Tribe, Yurok Tribe and Karuk Tribe who didn’t speak the same language at all.  The Yurok were “downriver “people and the Karuk “upriver people.” Paula McCarthy siad her mom was sent to Indian School in Riverside and Native Americans there were punished for speaking their native languages. The Karuk Tribe of California started with 10 or 12 acres donated to the Tribe in Orleans and has purchased and developed nearly 600 acress in Orleans, Witchepec, Happy Camp and Yreka since being recognized.  Verna shared how she learned basketweaving from Grace and Madeline Davis and they wanted her to “pass it on.” Kenneth Brink said, “Red devils, blue devils or dust devils”, the Putawan is a devil, but “not so scarry anymore.” The mascot of the Happy Camp Elementary School has been the Putawan for many years. So the teachers learned many new things from the panel on the Karuk culture and hopes are to share further in the future. 

 Besides delving into discussions on “What connections there are or could be between writing in school and writing in real life in Happy Camp,” there were opportunities to talk to tribal members about their culture and Tribal employees about how they use writing in their employment, working with language as Susan Gehr, writing grants like   or writing lessons to teach. reports, minutes, agenda’s and articles.  

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