Jessica Carter | Yurok

Tribal Nation



Portrait of Jessica Carter

Jessica Carter descends from traditional healers from the Yurok villages of Requa, Wehlkwew, Hoppaw, Sregon, Wausec and the coastal village at Dry Lagoon.   Requa is on the north bank of the Klamath River. The river has been a source of abundance for the Yurok people from time immemorial.  It has been the source of for the fishery and providing essential food for the Yurok people.  

Salmon is an integral part of the Yurok life and Jessica Carter became professionally involved in the tribe’s relationship with salmon and tribal lands.  Her master’s thesis was “Keeping Watch, The Pohlik-lah and Their Lands” a history of the loss of Yurok tribal lands by outside influences eager to abscond with Yurok natural resources, fish, gold, timber, land, and water. 

For the past eleven years, Jessica has been working in the Yurok judicial system. When she first started with the Yurok Tribal Court, Judge Abby Abinanti presided over tribal court one day a month. Most often, the cases at hand were held in “Fish Court.”  A Dance Leader or a Cultural Leader might be called upon to settle fishing disputes.   Dams, fish kills, and climate crisis have exacted a heavy cost on salmon in the Klamath. That loss is then passed on to Yurok tribal members who depend on the salmon as their ancestors have always done.  Scarcity then necessitates regulation and intentioned mediation.

During Jessica’s early years of working in the tribal court she worked with five colleagues worked out of a single office room.   It was during this time that Judge Abby proposed to Jessica that she enroll in law school.   Jessica had recently completed her graduate program at the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) and was raising a young son.  She agreed to take on the additional commitment and began attending law school in the evenings while continuing to work in the tribal court during the day.  She graduated law school in 2019.  In January 2021, during the Covid-19 shutdown, Jessica passed the California Bar Exam on her first attempt.    Jessica attributes her commitment to tribal service to both of her parents. Her father was a US veteran, serving in Vietnam and an Indian rights activist and worked on writing the first Yurok tribal constitution.  Her mother has worked for over 45 years serving the Northern California tribal communities, bringing millions of dollars in essential services and jobs to local tribal communities.   Both parents led determined and purposeful lives.

Following her mother’s example, Jessica has overseen the expansion of a multi-million-dollar Tribal Court and Justice Center that is a national model.   Judge Abby Abinanti has been a role model and is constantly challenging her staff to increase and expand the court’s services. When there is a perceived need for increased services, Jessica is a relentless and successful grant seeker and grant manager.  As a tribal member, she is a passionate advocate to provide support one-on-one to tribal members and take on the role of an Auntie, bringing clients to cultural activities to help them reconnect to traditions that offers strength and healing. 

As Tribal Court Director, Jessica has witnessed the legacy of her people being disenfranchised from their culture through boarding schools and all forms of historical violence from genocide to mass incarceration.   Jessica believes the Yurok people deserve the chance to be well again. She is determined to be a positive influence and do her part to help this happen.

Photo of fire cooking traditional foods