Karuk's “axiichas vaa if” Youth for Change Program

The Ancestral Territory of the Karuk Tribe is located in present day Siskiyou and northeastern Humboldt Counties in California, and comprises the Tribe’s present day service area. The current Karuk Tribe land-base is approximately 650 acres of trust and fee land, situated primarily along the Klamath River in the communities of Yreka, Happy Camp, Somes Bar, and Orleans. Siskiyou County has a population of approximately 44,450. Although it is California’s fifth largest county in terms of land area, the population density is only 6.87 people per square mile. Currently 88% of Karuk Tribal members in communities along the Klamath River have low, very-low, or poverty level incomes. Over half of these residents live below 200% of the poverty level. Similarly, in Yreka, 95% of Tribal households have very-low to low income. The linguistic, cultural, and territorial losses experienced by the Karuk throughout the past century are currently being exacerbated by the mental health and social problems that have attended the area’s rapid economic decline. Due to the fact that current behavioral health issues did not historically exist, the Tribe has struggled to create traditional and culturally-appropriate solutions that keep pace with the profound social changes our communities are experiencing. Current issues include child and elder abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, anxiety, depression, and criminal behavior. The Karuk Tribe is working to alleviate the problems associated with the geographic isolation and poverty of residents. However, geographic remoteness and weather conditions are barriers for both residents and the TYP program. There are vast distances between Tribal Offices, Health and Human Services Clinics, and Tribal Housing Authorities. The Karuk Tribe operates elders programs, Head Start programs, health clinics, and social services programs in all three of its principal population centers, which are separated by a distance of 120 miles. Common obstacles to accessing services in the area are rock & mudslides, snow, and long distances that impede motorized travel, as well as a lack of public transportation and reliable, privately-owned vehicles. Given the distances that must be covered, staffing and transportation have also been challenging for the TYP program. The Karuk “axiichas vaa if” Youth for Change (TYP) Program has been able to actively engage youth, families, adults and staff. Over 31 activities have been offered to youth and families since the program’s inception. The Karuk Leadership Council, comprised of youth from all three tribal communities, provides the Tribe with a youth voice as they strive towards building a community of empowered tribal youth desiring to take control of their destiny, utilizing culture and traditional support systems to promote community wellness. The Tribe’s newly formed Yav Pa Anav Wellness Forum is working to reduce delinquency incidents and re-offenders among the Karuk Youth. TYP has recently partnered with the Karuk Tribal Language Department to create a mentoring program that emphasizes culture and language. Elders will be mentoring youth to facilitate dialogue in the Karuk language. The TYP program also includes mentoring activities for young men, such as talking circles, singing, and drumming. Activities for young women include talking circles, dressmaking, beading, and story telling. Young people are also engaged in Youth Leadership Conferences and give cultural presentations on social dances at the Karuk Tribal Reunion. Karuk “axiichas vaa if” is a very youth centered program, and 84% of all activities included the youth. The Karuk TYP staff is comprised of employees from Karuk Behavioral Health, Naa Vura Yee Shiip and Yav pa anav, and other Karuk Departments and agencies. These agencies are working together to provide youth services and listen to youth voices. The TYP staff is working to make sure the newly formed Karuk Youth Leadership Council is able to continue with the support of the Karuk Tribal Council and Community. Staff hope that the Karuk Health and Human Services Department and the Karuk Children & Family Court are able to continue providing culturally relevant early intervention and prevention activities.

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“Tribal Youth need to have a voice. Karuk Tribal Youth Program feels that in order to be an effective youth program, high levels of youth involvement are needed—not just as program recipients, but as valuable resources who give the program direction. The Karuk ‘axiichas vaa if’-Youth for Change (TYP) Program believes that if youth are given a chance to have a voice—a voice that is heard and acted on by adults—they will use their power to change their community for the better.” ~April E. Attebury, Associate Judge/Court Administrator and TYP Coordinator