Hupa Indians

The Hupa Indians: A Culture of Resilience and Diversity

The Hupa Indians, also known as the Hoopa Valley Tribe, are a Native American people who live in the Hoopa Valley of northwestern California. They have a rich and diverse culture that combines elements of the Pacific Northwest and California traditions, as well as influences from other Athabaskan-speaking groups. In this blog post, we will explore some of the history, language, arts, religion, and current issues of the Hupa Indians.

Hupa Indians History

The Hupa Indians are descendants of ancient Athabaskan-speaking peoples who migrated from the north into California around 1000 CE. They settled along the lower Trinity River, where they developed a complex society based on hunting, fishing, gathering, and trading. They had close relations with their neighbors, such as the Yurok, Karuk, Chilula, and Whilkut, who shared similar languages and customs.

The Hupa Indians had limited contact with non-native peoples until the 1849 Gold Rush brought an influx of miners and settlers onto their lands. They faced threats of violence, disease, and displacement from the newcomers, who exploited their resources and violated their sovereignty.

The Hupa Indians resisted these encroachments and fought to defend their homeland. In 1864, they signed a treaty with the United States government that recognized their tribal status and reserved their land as the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. This was one of the few treaties in California that was ratified by Congress and honored by the federal government.

Major Hupa Battles and Conflicts

The Hupa Indians were involved in several battles and conflicts with non-native peoples, especially during the Gold Rush era and the subsequent settlement of their lands. Here are some of the major battles that the Hupa participated in or were affected by:

The Bald Hills War (1858–1864): This was a series of skirmishes and raids between the California Militia, the U.S. Army, and the California Volunteers against various Native American groups in the Bald Hills region, including the Chilula, Lassik, Hupa, Mattole, Nongatl, Sinkyone, Tsnungwe, Wailaki, Whilkut and Wiyot peoples.

The main causes of the war were the encroachment of miners and settlers on the native lands, the depletion of natural resources, and the retaliation for previous attacks and massacres. The war ended with the establishment of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in 1864, which granted some protection to the Hupa and their allies.

The Klamath and Salmon River War (1855): This was a conflict between the U.S. Army and a coalition of Native American tribes along the Klamath and Salmon rivers, including the Karuk, Shasta, Modoc, Yurok, and Hupa peoples . The war was sparked by the murder of a settler by a Karuk man, which led to a series of retaliatory raids and killings by both sides. The war ended with a peace treaty signed in 1856, which recognized the native rights to their lands and fishing grounds.

The Redwood Creek War (1859–1860): This was a confrontation between the U.S. Army and a group of Whilkut Indians who resisted relocation to the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. The Whilkut were allies of the Hupa and had suffered from attacks by miners and settlers. The war resulted in the death or capture of most of the Whilkut population and their removal to the reservation.

The Wiyot Massacre (1860): This was a brutal attack by a group of white settlers on a Wiyot village on Indian Island near Eureka, California . The Wiyot were friends of the Hupa and had traded with them for many years.

The massacre occurred during a ceremonial dance and killed about 200 Wiyot men, women, and children. The survivors were relocated to reservations or missions.

Hupa Language

The Hupa language is a member of the Athabaskan language family, which includes languages spoken by native peoples from Alaska to Arizona. The Hupa language is closely related to other languages spoken in the region, such as Yurok, Karuk, Chilula, and Whilkut. The Hupa language has a complex grammar and phonology that reflects its northern origin. For example, it has many consonant sounds that are rare or absent in other California languages.

The Hupa language is endangered due to historical factors such as colonization, assimilation, and education policies that discouraged or prohibited its use. According to the 2010 census, only about 12% of the Hoopa Valley Tribal members spoke Hupa at home. However, there have been efforts to revitalize and promote the Hupa language in recent years. For instance, there are Hupa language classes offered at local schools and colleges, as well as online resources such as dictionaries and audio recordings. There are also community events and programs that celebrate and support the Hupa language and culture.

The Hupa Arts

The Hupa Indians are known for their excellence in basketry and elk horn carving and rock engravings. They use materials such as roots, leaves, stems, shoots, feathers, and shells.

Hupa Tribal Bands, Clans, and Family Organization

One of the fascinating aspects of the Hupa culture is their bands, clans, and family organization.

The Hupa are divided into two main bands: the Upper Hupa and the Lower Hupa. The Upper Hupa lived in the upper part of the Hoopa Valley, near the South Fork of the Trinity River. The Lower Hupa lived in the lower part of the valley, near the confluence of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

The bands are further divided into several villages, each with its own chief and council. The villages are named after the creeks or landmarks near them, such as Hostler, Tish Tang, Bald Hill, and Soctish.

The Hupa are also organized into clans, which are groups of people who share a common ancestor and a totem animal. The clans are matrilineal, meaning that they are passed down from the mother’s side. There are four main clans among the Hupa: the Deer clan, the Coyote clan, the Bear clan, and the Eagle clan.

Each clan has its own rights, responsibilities, ceremonies, and taboos. For example, members of the Deer clan are not allowed to eat deer meat or wear deer skins, while members of the Coyote clan are responsible for conducting funerals and cremations.

The Hupa family is based on kinship ties and mutual support. The family consists of the nuclear family (parents and children), the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), and the clan relatives. The family is the basic unit of social and economic life among the Hupa.

The family members lived together in a large house made of red cedar planks, called a xontah. The house had a central fireplace, a smoke hole, and several rooms for sleeping and storage. The family members share their food, resources, labor, and skills with each other. They also participate in various activities together, such as hunting, fishing, gathering, basketry, carving, dancing, and singing.

The Hupa tribes’ bands, clans, and family organization reflect their strong sense of identity and community. They also show their respect for their ancestors, their environment, and their traditions. The Hupa have maintained their culture and language despite many challenges and changes over time. They continue to celebrate and preserve their heritage through various programs and events.

Annual Hupa Ceremonies and Dances

World Renewal Ceremony: One of the most significant celebrations for the Hupa Indians is the World Renewal Ceremony, which is held every two years in late summer or early fall. This ceremony is also known as the White Deerskin Dance or the Jump Dance, depending on the type of dance performed.

The World Renewal Ceremony is a complex and elaborate ritual that lasts for 10 days and involves many participants, preparations, and activities. The main purpose of this ceremony is to restore the balance and harmony of the world, which is believed to be disrupted by human actions and natural disasters. The ceremony also serves to renew the relationship between the Hupa people and their creator, Natinookwa.

The White Deerskin Dance is one of the two types of dances performed during the World Renewal Ceremony. This dance features male dancers who wear white deerskins on poles and dance around a sacred fire. The white deerskins are rare and valuable items that symbolize the connection between the Hupa people and their animal protectors.

The dancers also wear elaborate regalia made of feathers, beads, shells, and dentalium shells. The dentalium shells are a form of currency and wealth among the Hupa people. The White Deerskin Dance is accompanied by songs, prayers, and speeches that express gratitude and respect for Natinookwa and the natural world.

The Jump Dance is the other type of dance performed during the World Renewal Ceremony. This dance features male dancers who wear wooden headdresses decorated with feathers and redwood sticks. The dancers jump up and down in a rhythmic pattern while holding the sticks in their hands. The jumping motion is meant to shake off any negative influences or energies that might harm the world or the people. The Jump Dance is also accompanied by songs, prayers, and speeches that ask for blessings and protection from Natinookwa and the natural world.

Brush Dance, Baby Dance or Doctor Dance: Another important celebration for the Hupa Indians is the Brush Dance, which is held every year in late spring or early summer. This dance is also known as the Baby Dance or the Doctor Dance, as it is performed for the health and well-being of a sick child or a newborn baby. The Brush Dance is a healing ritual that involves the participation of the child’s family, friends, and community members.

The dance takes place in a circular enclosure made of brushwood, where a fire is lit in the center. The child’s parents sit near the fire with their child, while a female shaman sings songs and performs healing actions on the child.

The male dancers wear feather headdresses and dance around the fire with rattles made of deer hooves. The female dancers wear basket hats and skirts made of shredded cedar bark and dance behind the male dancers. The Brush Dance lasts for several nights until the child recovers or receives a name.

The Hupa Indians’ annual celebrations and dances are more than just cultural expressions. They are also ways of maintaining their identity, their values, their spirituality, and their connection to their land and their history. They are also ways of sharing their culture with others, as they invite guests from other tribes or communities to join them in their festivities. By celebrating and dancing together, they strengthen their bonds and their resilience as a people.

The Hupa Indians have faced many challenges and changes in the past century, such as assimilation policies, boarding schools, termination attempts, and environmental degradation. They have also participated in various movements and initiatives to protect their rights, culture, and resources. For example, they have been involved in the talks to remove hydroelectric dams along the Klamath and Trinity rivers, which have harmed the salmon population and the ecosystem. They have also been active in preserving and revitalizing their language, arts, ceremonies, and traditions.

Further Reading:

The Hupa Tribe: The Deerskin Dancers Of Hoopa Valley 

Exploring the History and Culture of the Hupa Tribe 

Hoopa Valley Tribe | K’ima:w Medical Center

Hupa | California, Native American, Language 

Who are the Hupa Indians? (with pictures)

Hupa Tribe Family Search