Rural Gateway Case Studies

Karuk Tribe of California Rural Innovation Fund (RIF) Economic Development Project

Project Summary

  • FY 2011 Grant Award: $392,266
  • Grant Category: Indian Economic Development and Entrepreneurship
  • Applicant Type: Indian Tribe
  • Grant Activities:
    • Job training
    • Homeownership counseling
    • Financial literacy education
    • Business and entrepreneurship training
  • Projected Impact:
    • Job training participants: 90
    • On-the-job training participants: 90
    • Households participating in homeownership counseling: 20
    • Households participating in financial literacy education: 20
    • Business creation: 10
    • Business assistance: 11


Happy Camp, California map

Happy Camp, California

Key Outcomes

  • Support of three computer centers
  • Creation of learning and social hubs for Tribal and non-Tribal members


Deanna Miller, Chief Finance Officer
Chief Finance Officer
Karuk Community Development Corporation
(530) 493-1475, ext. 5100

Community Description

Members of the Karuk Tribe are considered indigenous people of California on the border with Oregon in Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties. The Karuk do not have a legally designated reservation, but have a number of small tracts of land held in trust by the U.S. government. The major population centers in which the Karuk tribal members live are Happy Camp, Yreka, and Orleans.

Happy Camp is the seat of the Karuk Tribe with a population of 1,190 and is 68 percent White and 23 percent Native American. It has a poverty rate of 24 percent and almost a 4 percent dilapidated housing rate.

Yreka is the county seat of Siskiyou County and has a population of approximately 7,700. It is predominantly White, with an almost 7 percent Native American population. The median household income is $27,398, with approximately 21.2 percent of the population living below the poverty line, and a nearly 3 percent rate of dilapidated and abandoned housing. Its history is closely tied to gold mining and its economy is focused around tourism and work generated from being the county seat.

Orleans, which is an unincorporated town, has a poverty rate of more than 31 percent and a nearly 5 percent rate of dilapidated and abandon housing.

The Organization

The Karuk Tribe is the second largest Indian Tribe in California, with 3,555 Tribal members and nearly 5,000 descendants. It has developed a myriad of health, education, housing, and human services critical to their rural region’s infrastructure. The Karuk Tribe implemented its proposed project through the Karuk Community Development Corporation (KCDC), which states its mission is “to build diversified, sustainable economies by creating new business ownership and employment opportunities within the ancestral territory of the Karuk People.” KCDC operates the Happy Camp Community Center, a Head Start program, and other programs and businesses. Some of these programs, such as the Head Start program and computer centers, are open to all residents of Happy Camp and Orleans, not just Tribal members. KCDC is governed by a seven-member Board of Directors and oversight is closely monitored with monthly reporting to the Karuk Tribal Council.

Project Overview

Through KCDC, the Karuk Tribe requested a FY 2011 RIF grant for the Karuk Community Development Project to support the short- and long-term economic self-sufficiency of low-income and unemployed Native Americans, including Karuk Tribal Housing residents. The program goals were to:

  • Increase employment and self-employment opportunities for low-income Tribal members living within the Karuk aboriginal territory. As of the project’s close, more than 90 low-income Tribal recipients will have completed vocational and job training.
  • Improve the quality of life of Tribal low-income community members for establishing good credit, homeownership, and financial security (e.g., building equity investments, retirement funds, and savings accounts to help promote economic development). Through this project, more than 60 low-income Tribal recipients will have learned how to improve their credit and improved their capacity for homeownership and financial security through equity investments, retirement funds, and savings accounts.
  • Facilitate sustainable economic development opportunities and the creation and retention of jobs for low- and very low-income and unemployed Tribal members through business ownership and entrepreneurship training and securing business contracting service opportunities. More than 60 low-income Tribal recipients will have completed entrepreneurship training, including financial planning, market/feasibility, and/or training for government contract opportunities by the project’s close. Up to 10 private enterprises will be assisted or started.
  • Provide educational skills that are crucial to securing living wage jobs. By the project’s end, at least 30 Tribal employees and/or members will have earned GEDs, paraprofessional certificates, or associate degrees from accredited community colleges via distance education programs.

Tribal Areas of California

Tribal Areas of California

The RIF grant specifically provided funding for two computer centers in Orleans and Happy Camp where KCDC provided job training, small business assistance, and financial education as well as credit and homeownership counseling, entrepreneurship training, and GED and/or distance learning for associate degrees. These computer centers are located near schools and serve as important after-school locations for local students. They serve as a social gathering place for the entire community and a place for Tribal and non-Tribal members to congregate. These centers are places with the facilities and technology available for people to both socialize and learn.

Project Resources

KCDC was able to leverage a considerable amount of in-kind resources, $590,215, through partnerships with local Tribal and community organizations. The table below shows a breakdown of some of these donations. It has had success in partnering with a variety of educational organizations, from colleges to local high schools, to provide access to volunteer labor, high-speed internet, classroom and virtual instruction, and maintenance. KCDC was also successful in securing a variety of smaller grants to augment the computer centers’ primary RIF funding. It was awarded a Library Services Technology grant from the state of California and a Native Cultures Youth Grant from the First Nations Development Institute.

Primary Project Resources

Source Amount* Details
Tribal Funds $1,300,000  
Orleans Community Computer Center $54,200 Space and equipment for the RIF programs
Happy Camp Computer Center $37,557 Volunteer and Technology Coordinator staff and space
College of the Siskiyous $22,832 Proctor, video conferencing, and equipment
Siskiyou Tech. $7,202 Network administration, computer infrastructure, etc.
Happy Camp High School $40,100 Maintenance services, utilities, equipment, T-1 line
Yreka Housing Authority $19,058 Space, maintenance and repairs, internet, and video conferencing
Karuk Community Loan Fund $9,000 Financial classes
Workforce Connection $8,000 Video conference training on work search readiness, resume building, applications, and interviewing techniques

*Some of these amounts are on an annual basis, not over the 36-month period of the RIF grant.


Happy Camp Computer Center

Happy Camp Computer Center

Program Outcomes

The computer centers provided jobs training and other related economic development activities, but, equally as important, they have become social locations as well as economic ones. The centers serve as a social hub for the towns of Happy Camp and Orleans, both of which are very small and isolated with few businesses and places for people to gather and socialize other than the local bar. The availability of these centers particularly affect for area youth. The computer centers give all the people of the community, not just Tribal members, a place to meet and socialize.

Additionally, the computer centers bring information and skills into a very isolated community. Many of KCDC’s clients take distance learning courses, use the center to complete online certifications, or to access things they would not have otherwise, such as computers and high-speed internet.

Karuk Tribe Panamnik Computer Center

Karuk Tribe Panamnik Computer Center

Challenges Faced

Capacity building is a challenge for all rural organizations, but around the time of the RIF grant, KCDC was experiencing significant turnover at the management level. However, staff seemed to subsequently stabilize, which is helpful to any multi-year grant program that relies heavily on grant management experience and lessons learned. Staff continuity in Tribal organizations seems to be particularly challenging, because staff members are often afforded opportunities elsewhere within the overall Tribal organization. In addition, it is often difficult to retain staff with financial and grant writing/management skills. Given that KCDC has a wide range of programs and activities to include a loan fund, however, this makes it a little more attractive, though skilled staff often depart for more lucrative opportunities available in healthcare and housing.

KCDC staff members are constantly looking for additional business opportunities to help provide additional income to the organization. Some of these opportunities include a commercial printing and layout service, annual “campfire” catering events, contracting with the National Forest Service for trail maintenance and related services, and ecotourism.

Karuk Community Development Corporation

Karuk Community Development Corporation