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    Rock Art of the Malheur Marshlands The Wada'Tika: Ancestors of Today's Burns Paiute Tribe, Oregon


    While there is relatively little direct ethnographic information about the aboriginal peoples of Southeastern Oregon's Harney Basin, at the time of historic contact in the 1830s the Wada'Tika Northern Paiute occupied the area. They continue to live there today as the Burns Paiute Tribe.

    The people followed a seasonal round of gathering plants, hunting, and fishing as foods became abundant in the rivers, lakes, marshlands, and uplands. Spring was a time for gathering roots and fish which they dried and stored away. In the summer they traveled around their territory, gathering seeds and hunting game. In autumn they harvested the tiny black seeds of waada (Sueda depressa), a plant which grows along the shores of Harney Basin lakes. The term Wada'Tika literally means "waada eaters." Fall was also a time for hunting waterfowl, jackrabbit, bighorn sheep, and antelope. During the winter they retreived their supplies of dried food and erected houses of tule (a type of bulrush) mats in the wetlands around Malheur and Harney Lakes. While the rest of their territory lay frozen, the wetlands offered fresh plants, waterfowl, and mammals to supplement their stored food.

    History of the Burns Paiute Tribe

    A succinct history of the Burns Paiute Tribe, written by a member of the Tribe, can be found in a book entitled The First Oregonians, published by the Oregon Council for the Humanities, Portland. "The End of a Way of Life: The Burns Paiute Tribe," by Minerva Soucie, chronicles Burns Paiute history from the Wada'Tikas' first contact with non-Indians up to the present. Rather than repeating or trying to paraphrase her words, a brief summary and timeline is presented below.

    •1830s - First contact between the Wada'Tika and fur trappers in the Harney Valley.

    •1860s - Increased non-indian settlement leads to negotiations between the Paiute people and the government for a place where they could maintain their old ways of hunting and gathering.

    •1872 - September 12, President Grant established a 1.8 million acre Malheur Reservation, the boundaries of which were soon reduced, first because of pressure by settlers to increase grazing lands, and then due to the discovery of gold

    •1878 - The Bannock War: Many Paiutes fell victim to the war between the government and the Bannock Tribe, despite the fact that most Paiutes did not participate. At the end of the war, the surviving Paiutes suffered their own "Trail of Tears" as they were removed from the reservation and moved to Fort Simcoe, Washington.

    •1880s - Because there were no longer any Paiutes living on the reservation, it was opened up to public use, and settlers promptly began to graze cattle and homestead within its boundaries.

    •1887 - Allotment Act: The Paiute were invited to return to the Malheur Reservation or onto tribes' reservations in Washington, Oregon, or Nevada. Those who overcame their suspicions and returned to Harney County received 160 acres of unirrigated alkali desert impossible to farm.

    •1935 - A 771-acre "New Village" was acquired for the Tribe by the federal government. Title to the land was finally received from Congress in 1972.

    •1968 - The Paiutes were finally fully recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    •Today - The Burns Paiute people are in the process of recovering their tribal identity through a tribal research project which includes conducting oral histories with tribal elders and analyzing historical photographs and records. A 1982 video entitled "The Earth is Our Home" explores ancient Paiute traditions.

Last updated: December 20, 2012

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