NYT: Tradition and tension at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon

"The sign at the entrance to the rodeo’s bleachers said “Wrist Bands Required.” So Reggie Queampts dutifully wore his: “2010 Round-Up NDN Seating.”

“That’s NDN — as in ‘Indian,’ ” said Mr. Queampts, a member of the Yakama Nation. “This is where they usually put the Indians, the cheap seats.”

The Pendleton Round-Up — which celebrated its centennial last weekend — did not become one of the West’s oldest, biggest and most beloved rodeos by bucking tradition. The arena where it is held just underwent an $8.5 million renovation, but the bulls still burst out of weathered old wooden bucking shoots. The names of corporate sponsors are not splashed on the arena walls. No motorized vehicles are allowed at the “Westward Ho!” parade that coincides with the rodeo, only people and horses and wagon wheels. Even rodeo riders are impressed with the frontier authenticity of this high-desert town in eastern Oregon.

“This one is different,” said Paul Eaves, a Texan who travels the country roping steer on the rodeo circuit. “This is a cowboy town.”

And that, some Indians say, can be a problem. Some are offended by the sun-scorched bleachers where they get to sit for free (anyone can pay to sit in the shaded grandstand). Others are uncomfortable with Indians’ daily appearances in traditional dress in the rodeo arena — where they are applauded but not expected to stay long. Some say the Round-Up sends mixed signals to the Native Americans who have lived here for thousands of years: we want you, in your place.

That is an attitude with plenty of Western tradition as well.

“They did all these renovations and improvements but the Indians are still sitting out in the sun,” said Fred Hill, a board member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which includes the Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla tribes. “Everybody has taken notice of it.”

One Indian woman, gesturing toward those in the Indian section on a hot afternoon, said, “It’s a subclass.” "

Get the Story:
Old West Traditions, and Tensions, at Rodeo (The New York Times 9/24)