Burns Paiute Tribe explores refuge

Posted on September 4th in News


by Lindy Steeves
Burns Times-Herald



Children gather cattails and tules for duck decoys. (Photo by Lindy Steeves)

Children gather cattails and tules for duck decoys. (Photo by Lindy Steeves)

Wednesday, Aug. 21, a group of local youth, leaders, and elders from the Burns Paiute Reservation met with Carla Burnside of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to tour and experience the territory of the ancient Paiute tribe.

The group first traveled to Buena Vista Station where it was shown an ancient village and rock carvings. The oldest rock carvings are dated at about 8,000 years old. Unfortunately, vandalism throughout the years has forced refuge staff to close the sites to the public.

The village site held up to 13 circular stone foundations of houses. Burnside said evidence of food preparation areas and work stations had also been found.

After viewing the areas and giving the children and elders ample opportunity to view and explore the sites created by their ancestors, the group traveled to refuge headquarters.

Upon reaching headquarters, a DVD titled, “The Earth is Our Home” was played. The DVD chronicled many of the traditions preserved by the Paiute elders and passed on to younger generations. These traditions included root digging, the building of wickiups, and tanning hides.

Wickiups, the ancient homes of many Native American tribes, were made by constructing a circular dome out of willow branches, then covering the branches with mats of tules or sagebrush, depending on the location of the village.
Several of the present tribe members recognized elders and relatives in the film.

After the DVD ended, Burnside directed the group to cut and gather tules and cattails to construct duck decoys in the same way that their ancestors had done.

In ancient times, decoys were constructed by twisting and bending tules and cattails into the rudimentary form of a duck, and stretching the leftover skin and feathers of a dead duck over the form. Members of the tribe would wait among the tules until ducks landed on the water, then they would ensnare them with nets.

After gathering the supplies to build the decoys, the children used a metate, mortar, and pestle to grind and mash potatoes, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. This was used as an example to show the difficulties of preparing and storing food.

The trip was the result of a grant obtained by Burnside called “Connecting People with Nature”. This was Burnside’s fourth time leading a tour of the refuge. The goal of the grant was to bring people, specifically children, into nature and allow them to experience the joys of being outside. The children in attendance ranged from 5-15 years old. The eldest elder was 95. The grant was acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge partnered with the Malheur Field Station and the Friends of Malheur Refuge for the grant.

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