Tribes trace history in region back much further than 150 years

January 17, 2007 12:00 am

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By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Del Norte County may celebrate its

anniversary this year, but the area hosted occupants long before then.

Possibly, Yurok and Tolowa members believe, for all time.

"This is where the makers of the universe started life," said Loren Bommelyn, a Tolowa linguist, tribal council member and a teacher for the Del Norte County School District.

Just south of the mouth of the Smith River, Yontucket marks the creation point — similar to the way that the Bible celebrates the Garden of Eden as the start of creation.

The Tolowa disagree with theories that their people walked over — or descended from those who walked over — land that once stretched across the Bering Strait between Asia and North America.

The creators made people, after the sun, water, earth, animals and trees — with the Redwoods marking the center of the earth, the Tolowa believed.

The Tolowa would come to occupy lands from Wilson Creek to Six Rivers and north into the region that would become the Applegate area of Oregon, near Grants Pass. They also would be called Chetco and Tututni.

The Yurok Tribe, now with more than 5,000 members, lives by a constitution that begins with a recounting its origin.

"Our people have always lived on this sacred and wondrous land along the Pacific Coast and inland on the Klamath River, since the Spirit People, Wo-ge', made things ready for us and the Creator, Ko-won-no-ekc-on Ne-ka-nup-ceo, placed us here," the document states.

Spirits took the form of trees, including the Redwoods, and the fountain of water took the form of woman.

The Yurok people would spread along the Klamath River and the constitution recounts thousands of years of the tribe's trade, transportation, social aspects, currency, economic system and crafts expertise.

"For millennia our religion and sovereignty have been pervasive throughout all of our traditional villages," the constitution states. "From the beginning, we have followed all the laws of the Creator, which became the whole fabric of our tribal sovereignty."

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About This Series

Del Norte County turns 150 this year. To celebrate our county's storied history, The Daily Triplicate will carry an article, about the past 150 years, in each edition for the rest of the year. The series began Saturday with the Northcoast Life cover story about how Del Norte became a county. We continue today with a look at the Native Americans that inhabited the region when the first East Coast and European settlers came.