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Karuk Indian Fact Sheet (Karok)

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Karuk tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Karok website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Karuk pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Karuk Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Karuk"? What does it mean?
Karuk is pronounced "KAR-uck." That means "upriver" in their own language. It is often spelled Karok instead. Like most Native American languages, the Karuk language was traditionally unwritten, so spellings of Karuk words in English sometimes vary a lot.

Where do the Karuks live?
The Karuks are original people of Northern California. Most Karuk people still live there today.

How is the Karuk Indian nation organized?
Most Karuk people live on a reservation in California, which belongs to the Karuk tribe and is under their control. The Karuk tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. Other Karuks live on rancherias together with Shasta, Klamath, Hupa, and Yurok Indians. Rancherias are small parcels of land that California Indians have partial control over.

In the past, each Karuk village was informally led by the wealthiest family head in town. Today, since the rancherias are home to Indians from many different tribes, they are ruled by tribal councils which are elected by all the residents.

What language do the Karuks speak?
The Karuk speak English today. Some older people also speak their native Karuk language. If you'd like to know an easy Karuk word, "Ayukii" (pronounced ah-yoo-kee) is a friendly greeting. Here is a Karuk picture glossary you can look at.

Today Karuk is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Karuk people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Karuk culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Karuk Tribe's homepage. On their site you can find information about the Karuk people in the past and today.

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How do Karuk Indian children live? What games and toys do the Karuks have?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Karuk children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have toys and games. Men and teenage boys played a sport called shinny, which is an athletic ball game similar to lacrosse and rugby. Children played string games similar to cat's cradle, and Karuk girls often played with dolls. Like many California Indians, Karuk mothers traditionally carried their babies in baby baskets.

What were Karuk homes like in the past?
The Karuks lived in rectangular redwood-plank houses with pitched roofs and chimneys. Usually these buildings were large and an extended family lived in each one. Here are some pictures of American Indian houses like the ones Karuk Indians used. Today, most Karuks live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Karuk clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Karuk men didn't usually wear clothes, though they sometimes did wear short kilts. Karuk women wore long grass skirts decorated with shells and beads. Shirts were not necessary in the Karuk culture, but both men and women wore ponchos or deerskin robes in cool or rainy weather. Like most Native Americans, the Karuks wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a website with pictures of moccasin shoes. For jewelry, the Karuks wore strands of shell necklaces around their necks. Here are some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

The Karuks didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux Indians. Karuk women wore woven basket caps, and men sometimes wore a deerskin headband. For special occasions, like a dance, Karuk warriors might wear a special headdress decorated with woodpecker scalps, like this. The Karuks didn't usually paint their faces, but they did tattoo themselves. Women tattooed lines on their chins, and men tattooed their arms.

Today, some Karuk people still wear moccasins or shell jewelry, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of kilts or grass skirts.

What was Karuk transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes-- the Karuk tribe traveled in dugout canoes. These canoes were made by hollowing out redwood logs. The Karuks didn't have many redwood trees in their territory, so they usually traded for canoes with their Yurok neighbors, who were well-known for their canoe-making skill. Here is a website with pictures of Native canoe types. Canoeing is still popular among California Indians, though few people carve a dugout canoe by hand anymore. Today, of course, Karuk people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Karuk food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Karuks were fishing people. Karuk men caught salmon and other fish, and also went hunting for deer and small game. Karuk women gathered acorns and ground them into meal to make bread and soups, as well as collecting berries, nuts, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about Native Indian foods.

What were Karuk weapons and tools like in the past?
Karuk hunters used bows and arrows or snares. Karuk fishermen used nets and spears. The Karuk didn't go to war very often. They had a complicated legal system and sued each other when they felt wronged, like Americans do today. But occasionally Karuk men would fight duels with clubs (usually not to the death.) Here is a website of pictures and information about Indian clubs and other traditional weapons.

What are Karuk arts and crafts like?
Karuk artists are known for their basketry and wood carving arts. Here is a picture of a beautiful Karuk basket hat.

What other Native Americans did the Karok tribe interact with?
The Yurok tribe was the closest traditional ally of the Karoks. Yurok and Karok people were frequent trading partners and sometimes intermarried, so many people were bilingual in their two languages. The Karoks also liked to trade with the neighboring Hupa and Tolowa tribes.

What kinds of stories do the Karuks tell?
There are lots of traditional Karuk legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Karuk Indian culture. Here is a story about the origin of fire. Here's a website where you can read more about Karuk myths.

What about Karuk religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Karok life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Karok people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Karuk religious traditions or this site about the Native American belief system in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you want to know more about Karuk culture and history, one good source is Karuk: The Upriver People. Younger kids may enjoy Fire Race, a picture book based on a Karuk Indian myth. Two good books for kids on California Indians in general are California Native Peoples and Native Ways; a more in-depth book for older readers is Tribes of California. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Karuk Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Karoks

Karok Indian Tribe
An overview of the Karok tribe, their language and history.

Karok Language Resources
Karok Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Karok Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Karok Native Americans past and present.

Karok Words
Karok Indian vocabulary lists.

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