Reservation Day Oct. 13

Posted on October 10th in Feature Story

Celebration to include medicine games

By Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

The Burns Paiute Tribe will be hosting its 40th annual Reservation Day celebration Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Burns Paiute Reservation’s Gathering Center, 40 Pa Si Go’ Street.

The celebration commemorates the 40th anniversary of the day the Burns Paiute Reservation was established.

Some may be surprised to learn that the reservation was not established until 1972, especially when considering that the ancestors of tribal members inhabited Central and Eastern Oregon’s Great Basin for thousands of years.

According to “The History of the Wadatika Band of Northern Paiute,” a pamphlet distributed by the Burns Paiute Tribe, cattle workers began settling in Harney County in 1862, taking or buying homesteads to run huge herds of livestock over the land. Soon after their arrival, the cattle workers depleted or destroyed resources that were vital to the Northern Paiutes’ survival, prompting them to raid wagon trains and camps to acquire goods needed to survive and defend themselves.

The U.S. Army responded to the conflict by establishing military outposts. Camp Alvord was set up in 1864, and Fort Harney was established in 1867. In 1866, General Cook was appointed to squash the Northern Paiute resistance and force the Paiutes onto a reservation. Cook’s devastating campaign, along with a grueling winter, resulted in the death of over half the Northern Paiute population.

On Dec. 10, 1868, Paiute chiefs signed a treaty with the U.S. government, granting them a reservation in their homeland. The U.S. Army promised to protect the Paiutes from intruding settlers, and in exchange, the Paiutes promised to cease raids and hostilities toward settlers.

But the conflict did not end there. Over the next four years, several attempts were made to move and confine the Northern Paiute tribes to reservations outside of their aboriginal territory. Finally, 1,778,560 acres, taken from the larger Eastern Oregon area that was originally allocated, were set aside to establish the Malheur Reservation. The reservation was intended for all bands of American Indians in Eastern Oregon.

Unfortunately, the availability of funds and resources did not increase with the reservation’s growing population.

Additionally, stockmen and ranchers began running their livestock and even building homes on the reservation. The lack of rations, supplies and government support caused many on the reservation to leave, while others began to revolt. Paiutes joined 46 Bannocks in a series of raids that later came to be known as the Bannock Indian War.

Shortly afterward, all American Indians in the area were rounded up and held hostage at Fort Harney. In January 1879, over 500 Paiutes were loaded into wagons or ordered to walk, under heavily armed guards, to Fort Simcoe on the Yakama Reservation and Fort Vancouver in Washington State. Men were forced to walk shackled two-by-two in knee-deep snow, while the women and children rode in wagons. Another group of women and children were taken by wagon to Fort Boise in Idaho. The fate of yet another group remains unknown.

Within a few years, the Paiutes began returning to Eastern Oregon. Those choosing to make the journey, traveled in small groups or alone. They swam the Columbia River, holding onto their horses’ tails and walked long distances through the mountains.

Charlotte Roderique, vice chairperson of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council, said Paiutes who live in Burns today are descendants of Paiutes who ran away and journeyed home. She said her great-aunt told stories of having to hold onto logs to stay afloat, as she made her way across the Columbia River. Roderique said her family traveled at night to avoid detection and survived by eating roots and berries. She said she is amazed by the desire and drive that the Paiutes had to return home.

“We come from strong people and strong-willed people,” she said. “We still have that spirit.”

When the Paiutes returned, they were not allowed back on the Malheur Reservation because they were considered outlaws. They had to live off whatever they could find from hunting and gathering, and some quietly worked for local ranchers.

In 1882, the treaty that established the Malheur Reservation was terminated. Roderique said, when it was time to ratify the treaty, cattle barons who were interested in the land sent reports back to Washington, D.C., stating that no American Indians lived on the reservation. At the time, there were no American Indians living on the reservation because they were rounded up and forced to leave.

In 1883, the Malheur Reservation was made into public domain under the Homestead Act.

Many Paiute families who returned to the area camped in tule or gunnysack “wickiups” near Burns and Drewsey.

In 1928, the local Egan Land Company gave the Paiutes 10 acres of land outside Burns. The Paiutes cleaned the land, which was the old city dump, and drilled a well to prepare for houses. The Bureau of Indian Affairs built 20 two-bedroom homes, a small school and a community center on the land. A small, Catholic church was added in 1932.

The 10 acres are now home to the Old Camp Casino, and the church, which is now known as the Church of the Living Waters, was moved to the newer reservation (after it was established).

In 1935, the tribe purchased 760 acres with a loan provided by the National Industrial Recovery Act. The tribe repaid the loan by leasing the property’s small cultivatable farmland.

The Indian Reorganization Act was passed the following year, allowing for tribal elections, but the tribe’s constitution and bylaws were not written and approved until 1968. This formalized the current tribal government and made it operational. It also allowed the tribe to receive government contracts and grants.

Roderique, who started working for the tribe around 1967, said the tribe was not federally recognized until 1969. She said, until that point, the Burns Paiutes were not eligible for a lot of services that were available to other tribes. She said tribal meetings were still being conducted in the Paiute language, and her job was to translate meeting notes into English and type them. She said most of the elders at that time did not know how to type and did not have access to a high school education.

Roderique said she is very grateful for the generosity of the tribal elders who fought to gain tribal recognition, especially considering that many of them were not afforded the same opportunities as the younger generations.

On Oct. 13, 1972, former President Richard Nixon signed paperwork establishing the 760 acres that were purchased in 1935 and the 10 that were donated in 1928 as the Burns Paiute Reservation.

Roderique said the tribe received a lot of support from individuals, families, organizations and politicians in the community when working to get the title and trust to the reservation. She said the tribe could not have gotten the reservation without this political influence and support.

Roderique said Reservation Day is a way for tribal members to celebrate not only their reservation, but their heritage.
“Reservation Day, to me, is really about honoring the foresight and the skills of those who had the determination to get home,” she said.

The Reservation Day celebration will begin with a reception at 10 a.m. at the Gathering Center. The reception will begin with a traditional prayer offered by Tribal Elder Ella Capps. Next, Tu-Wa-kii Nobi, a local youth singing group, will sing the traditional flag song. Roderique explained that the flag song is similar to a pledge of allegiance, only in musical form. Lloyd Louie, a Tribal Elder and council member, will welcome guests to the celebration. Louie is a descendant of Captain Louie, a Paiute leader during the Bannock Indian War. A historical speaker will provide background information on the meaning and purpose of Reservation Day, and Senator Ted Ferrioli will be on hand to acknowledge the tribe and speak about the celebration. The reception will conclude with an open forum, allowing individuals to come forward and share stories.

After the reception, the first session of the powwow will take place at the Harney County Fairgrounds Memorial Building. Medicine games, also known as lacrosse, will also be held at the fairgrounds.

Roderique said a representative from the Seven Nations of Canada will participate in the games. She explained that medicine games originated in northeastern America and Canada, but spread to Eastern Oregon when they became intertribal. She said the ceremonial games will be conducted in the traditional way, beginning and ending in a prayer.

A free dinner of salmon, buffalo and beef will be served at 5 p.m at Rainbow Park at the Burns Paiute Reservation.

However, if the weather does not cooperate, the dinner will be moved to the Gathering Center.

The second session of the powwow will be held back at the Memorial Building at 7 p.m.

“Everyone is welcome to attend,” Roderique said. “This is a big milestone for us. Having the reservation status changed a lot of things for us.”



One Response to “Reservation Day Oct. 13”

  1. Elane Blanchet Dickenson Says:

    Very interesting story. I was not aware of the history of the Paiute reservation when I was a reporter for a year at the Times Herald in the mid-1970s.


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