Karuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Need for Knowledge Sovereignty:

Social, Cultural and Economic Impacts of Denied Access to Traditional Management


Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 3.35.31 AM

Ron Reed dipnet fishing at Ishi Pishi Falls. Photo: Karuk Tribe

Karuk management principles have been central to the evolution of the flora and fauna of the mid-Klamath ecosystem (Andersen 2005, Lake et al 2010, Skinner et al 2006). Ongoing and future climate change intensifies existing ecological pressures in the Klamath Basin and on Karuk traditional foods and cultural use species already under threat. Future climate scenarios for the Klamath Basin point to unique threats to both riverine and “upslope” species, as shifting and increasingly variable precipitation patterns impact stream flows, stream temperatures and fire regimes (Karl et al 2009). Climate change poses a threat not only to the Klamath ecosystem, but to Karuk culture which is intimately intertwined with the presence, use and management of cultural use species (Karuk Tribe 2010, Lake et al 2010, Norgaard 2005). In the context of climate change, Karuk tribal knowledge and management principles can be utilized to protect public as well as tribal trust resources (Karuk Tribe 2012).

For Tribes within the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative such as the Karuk where significant knowledge of traditional management practices is intact, but where all or part of ancestral lands are managed by other agencies, it is important that the implementation of traditional management take place in a manner that promotes rather than hinders tribal sovereignty and the Federal tribal trust responsibility. In this context, the most immediate barrier to the wider employment of Karuk traditional management and sharing of Karuk TEK is not knowledge itself, but understanding of how to communicate traditional TEK and expand traditional management in a manner that simultaneously promotes knowledge sovereignty, Tribal self-determination and Tribal self-governance.

This report is Part I of a two part series produced under the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative Tribal Climate Change initiative on Knowledge Sovereignty. This report situates Karuk traditional knowledge in the practice of cultural management, indicating how Karuk knowledge cannot be separated from either the practices that generated the information, or the practices that emerge from it. While non-Native agency practitioners and western scientists have assumed that this “knowledge” of how to burn the forest or how to manage the fisheries can be described by Karuk people, shared in various agency processes and then applied by multiple actors in different contexts. Underlying this assumption are two very different understandings about the nature of knowledge. While the non-Native world sees “people” as separate from “nature,” and “knowledge” as an abstraction that can be transferred across generic landscapes or multiple “users,” Karuk knowledge of the landscape is inseparable from the practice of Karuk culture. For Karuk knowledge is embedded in and emerges from the practice of traditional management. Knowledge and management are about culture. Part of understanding why knowledge cannot be readily “picked up and used” by other agencies has to do with the nature of indigenous knowledge not as a static, one size fits all rulebook or recipe book for actions on the landscape, but rather how that knowledge is generated through an ongoing process that involves not only observations and actions over time, but moral and spiritual components as well as ‘social license’ of knowledge practitioners. Thus traditional knowledge is fundamentally part of management, and management is centrally about Karuk culture, identity, spirituality and mental and physical health.

Yet although knowledge cannot be transferred in the manner many non-Native managers presume, there are many ways that the use and application of Karuk traditional knowledge can expanded that will strengthen tribal culture and enhance sovereignty. Part II of this series “Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty: Expanding the Application of Tribal Traditional Knowledge on Forest Lands in the Face of Climate Change” will detail mechanisms through which knowledge (and culture) have been inappropriately engaged in the past and provide a road map of proactive actions.


Thankfully none of us think, work or exist in isolation.

This report could never have been written without the assistance of a great many people. It has been an honor to listen and learn from William Tripp, Ron Reed, Leaf Hillman, Lisa Hillman and Bob Rhode of the Karuk Tribe, Frank Lake of the U.S. Forest Service, Kyle Powys White of Michigan State University, Sibyl Diver and Daniel Sarna of University of California at Berkeley, and Mary Wood, Kathy Lynn, Julie Bacon, Kirsten Vineyta, Seth Bichler and Amanda Rogerson of the University of Oregon in the course of writing this document.

Many thanks also to all the ongoing efforts of the Intertribal Timber Council, the National Congress of American Indians, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) and other organizations whose vision and labors have provided a critical foundation for this report.

The North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative provided generous funding through Award #FI2AP00826

May the Karuk and all Tribal People achieve the full sovereignty over their knowledge, lands and spiritual practices.

Table of Contents

Karuk Traditional Knowledge, Climate Change and Knowledge Sovereignty

Chapter 1

  • Karuk Practices of Caring for the Land: Tending, Burning, Ceremony
  • Western Science and Traditional Knowledge As Distinct Cosmologies
  • Management Is Culture: The Integration of Ecological, Economic, Cultural and Health Outcomes of Traditional Management

Chapter 2

  • Historical Influences on Loss of Knowledge Sovereignty and Traditional Management: Genocide and Forced Assimilation
  • Criminalization and Restriction of Management Activities Today

Chapter 3

  • Food and Hunger
  • Subsistence Activity as Social Capital and Social “Glue”

Chapter 4:Knowledge Sovereignty, Traditional Management and
Physical Health

  • Healthy Foods and Physical Health

Chapter 5: Mental Health Impacts of Denied Access to Management
and Culture

  • Social Causes of Psychological Stress
  • Environmental Decline and Mental Health
  • Individual Mental Health: Self-Efficacy, Power and Identity
  • Role Strain and Role Stress
  • Mental Health Stressors are Both Individual and Community Wide
  • Association of Environmental Degradation and Denied Access to ManagementWith Genocide.

Copyright © 2016 the Karuk Tribe. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all materials on these pages are copyrighted by the Karuk Tribe. All rights reserved. No part of these pages, either text or image may be used for any purpose other than personal use. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system or retransmission, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, for reasons other than personal use, is strictly prohibited without prior written permission.