Demonstration Yurok village dedicated

May 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By Eric Caldwell

Triplicate Staff Writer

Keeping the Yurok spirit and culture alive, the Au-Minot demonstration village was dedicated yesterday at Margaret Keating School in Klamath.

The village, dedicated to all the students of Del Norte County, was constructed to bring the Yurok culture into the public school system and allow people a chance to see what traditional Yurok houses, sweat lodges and brushdance houses were like when the villages once dotted the Klamath River banks and valleys.

Students at Margaret Keating will provide informational tours to other school groups in an effort to expand the curriculum by introducing local culture into the public school system. The village will also be available for community members and Yurok elders to give presentations.

What a great way to bring our culture to a school, said Jim McQuillen, principal of Margaret Keating.

Public schools should serve the community that they represent. This is a great example of that, he said.

According to McQuillen, many Yurok elders when they were children were forced to go to public schools, some as far away as Eugene, Ore.

Many educators know public schools have not always served the American Indians, they know of the black history involved in the integration of Native Americans into the public school systems, said McQuillen.

The Au-Minot demonstration village, and the teaching of the Yurok ways is an effort to heal that rift and make public schools work for the American Indians.

McQuillen led the ceremony which honored the committee responsible for getting the project started and finished, and the builders of the village. Each member and master builder was paid with traditional Yurok currency, a shell necklace as gratitude for the successful venture.

The idea for a community educational village to teach Yurok life originated 10 years ago, and fund raising for the past five years helped to make the idea a reality.

The village consists of one traditional Yurok house, one sweat house and a dance house.

The family house is constructed out of redwood planks and poles. Charlie Frye, a master builder of the Yurok village, explained that you have to get the right grain of wood, for a successful house. Grain and age are very important, it must be old-growth redwood, he said.

Traditionally, the wood was split by using carefully selected fallen trees. The planks were split from the logs using elk horn wedges and mauls made from oak root.

The demonstration village builders used steel tools and wedges, as constructing a house in the traditional method would have taken over a year. Hazel or grapevine is used to lash the poles together. And at the center of the house is the heart pole.

The pole brings the life spirit of the tree, of the creator, into the house, said Walt Lara Sr., another master builder of the Yurok village. The pole is also used to slide the movable portion of the roof to allow the sun to come in and traditionally in summer, the entire roof would be removed.

Inside the house is a pit roughly four-feet deep with a fire ring in the center. Redwood planks retain the earth from caving in the walls and the higher perimeter of the inside would traditionally be used for sleeping and storage.

According to Lara, at times, three generations would live in one house.

The men and boys lived in the sweat house and would join the rest of the family at mealtime.

The sweat house was as much a home as it was an educational facility. The fathers and elders would teach the youths about the past, future, fishing and how to live the Yurok way. And most importantly, prayer honoring the creator was taught and practiced in the sweat house.

The sweat houses are much smaller than the family house. With an entrance at ground level and only two feet high, the sweat is constructed with walls of rock and plank roofs.

The dance house is open-air post-and-beam construction with minimal planks for the roof. In the center is a four-foot deep pit lined with more redwood planks for support. The pit is where the dancers perform brushdances healing ceremonies for sick children.

The Au-Minot demonstration village and endeavor is a great beginning to merge local tribes, and education. It shows that one doesnt have to give up culture and who they are in order to be successful in todays modern world, McQuillen said.