In 1979, the United States federal government recognized the Karuk Tribe as being a sovereign tribal nation, with a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Karuk Aboriginal Territory was defined, along with the establishment of the Karuk Tribal Constitution. This recognition was without a conveyance of reservation and/or trust land, but did establish a unique jurisdiction for the Karuk people. The Tribe began to reacquire parcels of aboriginal lands, beginning with a 6.6-acre parcel in Orleans that was acquired in 1977. Currently, the Tribe has acquired many parcels totaling 1,660 acres. Land acquisition and fee-to-trust conversions continue to be a primary goal of the Tribe. Since the approval of the Tribe’s Constitution in 1985, the Karuk Tribe has grown from 2.5 employees and a $250,000 annual operating budget to becoming a complex governmental organization with ~231 employees and an annual operating budget of ~$37 million. In 1996, the Tribe became a selfgovernance Tribe, assuming fiduciary and administrative responsibility for implementing certain federal programs and/or functions. Today, the Karuk Tribe is the second largest federally recognized Tribe in California with 3,744 tribal members and 4,110 enrolled descendant tribal members.
The Karuk Department of Natural Resources (DNR or Department) is a Tribal department that has seen exceptional growth since it was established in 1989. Founded with a single employee after Congressional appropriations were allocated to support fisheries management and the restoration efforts of the Tribe, DNR has grown into a multi-program department that has included over one hundred (100) employees during fire events – all sharing the common mission of protecting, promoting and preserving the cultural/natural resources and ecological processes upon which the Karuk depend. A focus of the department is to integrate traditional management practices into the current management regime, which is based on certain principles and philosophy. This is noted in the Department’s Eco-Cultural Resources Management Plan (ECRMP):
“As guardians of our ancestral land, we are obligated to support practices that emphasize the interrelationships between the cultural and biophysical dimensions of ecosystems. The relationships we have with the land are guided by our elaborate religious traditional foundation. For thousands of years, we have continued to perform religious observances that help ensure the appropriate relationship between people, plants, the land, and the spirit world. We share our existence with plants, animals, fish, insects, and the land and waters. We are responsible for their well-being. Our ancestral landscapes overflow with stories and expressions from the past, which remind us of who we are and direct us to implement sound traditional management practices in a traditional and contemporary context.”