Under a purple pre-dawn sky, a small group of Northern Californian Indians ventured out onto the wet sand where the mighty Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean. They had come to honor and fight for the salmon that have sustained their ancient culture for generations.
Parents with their children burned sacred sage in the chilly morning air, then pulled out intricate wooden batons carved to look like salmon. As barking sea lions serenaded them, two boys accepted the batons from their elders and bolted down the beach. The boys dipped the wooden salmon into the tide, whipped around and ran as furiously as they could upriver.
The salmon runs performed by the Yurok, Karuk and other Northern California tribes have long spread the joyous news from village to village that the fish were returning from the ocean. This year, however, the event also brought bad news.
The 6,100-member Yurok, which means “downriver people” in their language, and their upstream neighbors, the 4,000-member Karuk, or “upriver people,” have built much of their culture and way of life around the salmon’s annual spawning trek, said Karuk tribal leader Crispin McAllister.
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