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It is simple: just listen

Please take a moment to read through this story-map created by the Karuk Wildlife Team to learn more about the resilience of the Karuk people and what future projects lie ahead for the Wildlife Department at KDNR:

Listening to each other’s stories is essential for growth, especially in our western-oriented societal culture. These digital story-maps have the potential to showcase perspectives and promote change in tribal communities. Despite there being challenges with working remotely, listening to these stories can still continue with this online web-service. While in-person conversations are more meaningful, this link can help share the Karuk tribe’s story so that more people can listen and be a part of their conversation.

Source (map on left): an_ecocultural_politics_of_scale_in_the_Klamath_Basin

Through continuous European colonization and genocide of the Karuk people, most rights that the Karuk people have over their land have been taken away. From time immemorial, fire has been used on Karuk Aboriginal Land by Karuk people as a cultural practice to enhance basketry stem production, to restore the ecosystem and to practice pikyav.

“The Karuk word pikyav means “fix it,” and refers to the Tribe’s continuing ceremonial and diurnal efforts to restore the earth and its creatures to harmonious balance”

- The Karuk Tribe

Fire suppression and excessive hunting for elk hides during the 1870s by European colonists exterminated elk in the Karuk’s aboriginal territory. It was not until 1985 that they were reintroduced to the Karuk land. Elk research at the Wildlife DNR is essential to monitor the herds and to understand their population changes. Here is a link to their most recent research on elk:

“Having morality and love for, and interdependence with, our natural world is our culture and this life way, this landscape, and all the life within is who we are; it is our identity, our health, our life, our children, our family, our community, our everything.”
-Wildlife Department KDNR

Cultural genocide restricts tribal members from continuing their cultural practices on their homeland. Starting in 1911 the Federal Policy (Weeks Act) was enacted with a strict goal to suppress all fires and so all cultural practices on the landscape were banned. These federal laws perpetuate the cultural genocide of the Karuk people and is an ongoing threat to tribal sovereignty as a whole.

Earlier in September and October 2021, there were two new bills that enacted allowance of cultural practitioners to continue ceremonial activities on their aboriginal land without consent from the forest service. Existing laws state that if anyone ”negligently, or in violation of the law, sets a fire” they must be “liable for the fire suppression costs incurred in fighting the fire.”

One of the new bills, SB 332, will “provide that no person shall be liable for any fire suppression or other costs otherwise recoverable for a prescribed burn if specified conditions are met, including, among others, that the burn be for the purpose of wildland fire hazard reduction, ecological maintenance and restoration, cultural burning, silviculture, or agriculture, and that, when required, a certified burn boss review and approve a written prescription for the burn.”

It is important to note that “Cultural burns conducted by a cultural fire practitioner are exempt” from receiving approval from a certified burn boss and to be in compliance with a written prescription.

The other new bill, AB 642, defines a cultural fire practitioner as one who is “associated with a California Native American tribe or tribal organization with experience in burning to meet cultural goals or objectives, including for subsistence, ceremonial activities, biodiversity, or other benefits.” Though the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection makes the final call on prescribed burns, but this bill will now require a cultural practitioner liaison that works with them additionally:

“This bill [AB 642] would require the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection to appoint a cultural burning liaison. The bill would require the cultural burning liaison to, among other duties, serve on the State Board of Fire Services and to advise the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on developing increased cultural burning activity.”

It has taken over 100 years to start to make these strides towards tribal sovereignty. Thank you to the Karuk tribe DNR for sharing your stories with me and teaching me about your homeland. Coalitions against settler colonialism will help preserve the Karuk culture. Sharing stories will only promote change, so please share this story-map and information to others in your community.

Resources: nce_Towards_an_ecocultural_politics_of_scale_in_the_Klamath_Basin

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