For a century, at least, the Karuk Tribe has been unable to manage the lands surrounding the center of its world -- Katimiin, at Ishi Pishi Falls near Somes Bar -- the way it did for thousands of years prior.
So the recent agreement between the tribe and the United States Forest Service allowing a return to traditional management there, using fire as a main tool, is no small achievement. For that matter, any agreement between the tribe and the forest service is significant, says Craig Tucker, spokesperson and Klamath Coordinator for the tribe.
"Usually when we put out a press release about the forest service, we're mad at them or mentioning them as the defendant in our latest lawsuit," Tucker said on Tuesday. "This shows a big turn around, and that a positive relationship has developed. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come."
Katimiin is where the tribe's World Renewal ceremony -- "Pikyawish" -- concludes each year. The tribe, with 4,000 enrolled members, is the second largest tribe in the state next to the Yurok. Yet it still does not have its own reservation. Most of the Karuk ancestral territory is managed by Six Rivers National Forest; every time the tribe wants to conduct ceremonies at Katimiin it has to get a special use permit from the forest service. The land has changed dramatically, in the meantime.
"That whole landscape has gone from big, majestic stands of old-growth tan oak to basically a Doug fir tree farm," Tucker said. "We want to go in and treat these areas with fire in traditional ways to cultivate traditional foods and basket-making materials. We want to actively manage for stands of tan oak -- the Karuk are the acorn people."
Tucker attributes the ability to reach this agreement in part to current Six Rivers National Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley's hiring of local tribe members into management positions -- including Hoopa Valley Tribe member Merv George, who became deputy forest supervisor in January.
This doesn't mean all matters between the entities are now resolved, of course.
"In the long term, the Karuk think the land should be theirs," Tucker said. "It is the most sacred landscape in their culture."