Hupa and Yurok

The Hupa and Yurok peoples have lived along the Klamath River for thousands of years, sustained by the bounty of the waters and trade with one another and other tribes. Along rocky seacoasts, Yurok hunted seals and sea lions, occasionally harvesting whales. They also netted smelt and gathered shellfish in tidal flats.

Since the 1850s, the Yurok and Hupa have tried to protect their traditional ways of life from a series of threats: gold prospectors, settlers, and then dams on the Klamath and Trinity rivers that blocked the path of migrating salmon. Today, the tribes still strive to maintain the centuries-old relationship between the people, their homelands, and the waters.

Photo by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Fish-Weir Across Trinity River—Hupa

Along the rivers, Yurok and Hupa constructed fishing weirs—barriers of wooden stakes and strips that let the water pass through but slowed fish. Native fishers harvested the fish with spears and nets. Members of the tribes were responsible for maintaining the weirs, ensuring that fish got through and preserving the spiritual balance between the fish and the communities.


The Klamath [River] is everything to me. It is my home, church, garden, highway, counselor, friend, brother, and provider.
—Barry Wayne McCovey Jr., Yurok Tribal Fisheries Department, 2002


The Trinity [River] is the heart of the Hupa Nation. The people depend on it for water, food, and spiritual solace.
—Jimmy Jackson, Hupa ceremonial leader


People of the Coast

On the coast of Washington State, native Salish people live at the mouths of the many rivers that spill into the Pacific Ocean. A seafaring people, they have always hunted seals and whales. But they also depend on the salmon that run from the ocean upriver to spawn.

The Traditional Lands and Waterways of Pacific Coastal Peoples

In the late 1800s, they ceded most of their ancient lands to the federal government and removed to the reservations where they now live. But after a century of broken treaties, a 1974 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tribes co-managers of their ancient water resources, entitled to 50 percent of the harvestable salmon.

They have returned to a life of fishing for sustenance, income, and spiritual restoration.

Salmon are the measuring stick of well-being in the Pacific Northwest.
—Billy Frank Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission