Linguistic evidence indicates that Athapascans entered California at circa 1250-1350 AD. Athpascan is a widespread family, more diversified in the north than in the south. California Athapascan languages are remarkably conservative, even though their speakers were prone to cultural borrowing. Athapascan speech was adopted as a “prestige language” by peoples who chose to speak it rather than their own former language. California Athapascan tongues are related to Navajo and Apachean of the Southwest.   (Moratto, California Archaeology *)


Native Location: Trinity River in northwestern California

Language:  Athapascan

Identified Shelters: Cedar houses built over a square earth pit

Food:  Salmon, trout, sturgeon, nuts, berries

Tribal History:

Tribal Website:  Hoopa Valley Tribe


Cahto (aka. Kato)

Native Location:  Upper south fork of the Eel River in northwestern California

Language: Wailakian

Identified Shelters: four-posted square framework inside a two (2) - foot deep, circular pit

Tribal History:



Native Location:  Smith River and Elk Valley Rancherias in Del Norte County

Language:  Tolawan (fewer than five speakers left)

Identified Shelters: Redwood plank structures, semi-subterranean, flat beachstone or wood floors, smokehole in the center of a peaked roof

Food:  Seals, sea litons, smelt, perch, cod, shellfish, salmon, eel, acorn, (deer and elk to a lesser degree)

Trade:  Smelt and tooth shells to the Karuk for soaproot and pine nut beads;  basketry to the Rogue River Athapaskans;  redwood dugouts from the Yurok

Tribal History:

Other Athapascan Tribes: 
ChilulaEel River - Lassik - Mattole - Sinkyone - Wailaki - Whilkut

* Moratto, MIchael, California Archaeology, Academic Press, Inc., 1984