Redwoods Are a Living Part of Yurok Culture

Young woman paddling a redwood canoe on the river
Maiya Rainer paddles in a traditional Yurok redwood canoe. Photo credit: Matt Mais / Yurok Tribe and Yurok Economic Development Corporation.
Growing up on my Native Yurok land—which ranges from the Little River at Clam Beach in McKinleyville all the way up into Klamath—I knew that there are things we respect and take care of in this world. More than just other humans and animals, we also care for the trees and the rivers, and that truth holds a really big place in my heart for nature. I always feel like we’re supposed to care for and protect the lands and waters because nature is always there when we’re in need. 

As a California State Parks interpreter at Patricks Point State Park, I have the opportunity to share a little bit about my culture through our daily distance-learning programs via Facebook Live streams and PORTS. At Sumeg Village, a recreated traditional Yurok village in the park, we educate our Native youth and the public about our history and traditions. 

One thing I talk about in my program is the relationship that the Yurok have with redwood trees, which we have long used to build stools, trunks (to hold our regalia), houses, and canoes. Yurok people would never cut down a redwood; they would wait for it to fall. And we would always put organs and a heart in whatever was built out of the wood because it’s a living part of our culture.

It takes around seven years for one man to build a redwood canoe. In our tribe, there’s a balance between the roles of men and women, and the men are the canoe builders. (Some things our women are not supposed to touch at all because our elders say that women’s medicine is so strong that it wipes men’s medicine away.) A man’s well-being and mental state go into the canoe. It carries our families, so we always want good energy coming in and out of it. That’s why I think it takes many years to build one. Not everybody’s 100 percent all the time.

I feel honored that I’m doing this important work because this is the first time California State Parks has hired Native people to work as interpreters at Sumeg Village. Some people say that my fellow Native interpreters—Princess Colegrove (Yurok and Hoopa) and Skip Lowry (Yurok, Mountain Maidu, and Pit River)—and I are making waves. I’m proud to carry the message to Native people that, like the redwood trees, we are resilient, and we always find a way to make things better.

Maiya Rainer

About the author

Maiya Rainer is a member of the Yurok tribe and an interpreter at Patricks Point State Park

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