One of hundreds of Indigenous languages once widely spoken in California, Karuk now has fewer than ten fluent first language speakers, but maintains an active group of dozens of learners. Community members and linguists debate whether the language is an isolate—unique from, and unrelated to, other languages—or a part of the diverse Hokan language family.
Traditional Karuk territory spanned a large swath of north-central California, and many tribal citizens still live nearby or attend cultural events and ceremonies along the northern Klamath River. The Karuk, whose name means “upstream people,” today continue to work to protect and restore the Klamath, especially to protect salmon populations and prevent pollution from federally permitted gold mining in upstream national parkland. Salmon figure prominently in Karuk cultural, religious, and subsistence practices
The Karuk Tribe employs language program staff to revitalize the language with the guidance and involvement of a non-profit Karuk Language Restoration Committee. Not only have Karuk language educators helped found the statewide nonprofit, the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS), but nearly twenty teams of Karuk speakers and learners have participated in the AICLS master apprentice program, with an active cohort currently working on a three-year commitment to language acquisition. Language education is available to all students at the local Hoopa Valley High School who can enroll in four years of Karuk classes.