Four Rivers Cultural Center hosts festival packed with culture, traditions

ONTARIO – They used to ride like the wind across the high desert in Malheur County and the northern Paiute Indians developed a unique culture.

Many of those traditions were passed down by word-of-mouth and guarded with pride. On Saturday, local residents will be able to see, hear and take part in those rituals at Four Rivers Cultural Center at the Tradition Keepers event. 

The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and showcases folk history and arts in a close-up way.

“You can experience the incredible skills of all these different community members,” said Matt Stringer, cultural center executive director.

The event spotlights art forms such as Paiute bead and cradleboard making, silversmith artistry, horsehide whip braiding, and the construction of rock jacks.

Stringer said the event has attracted 30 entries.

“Nineteen of them are what we are calling presenters. They will be sitting, doing their work,” said Stringer.

Stringer said the presenters teach interested individuals about their specific art.

“You can sit with a bead-maker, who learned this from her ancient Paiute grandmother, and she will explain how she makes them and she will help you learn how to do that,” said Stringer.

Stringer said there would be Mexican and Paiute dancers along with a performance by Japanese Taiko drummers, cowboy poets and song writers. 

“This is meticulously thought through. This is really intelligent. This isn’t just entertainment but education and preservation of traditional history,” said Stringer.

Artists include Mildred Quaempts, a member of the Umatilla Indian Trip known for her shell dresses. She started making the unique clothing when she was 9, under the guidance of her grandmother.

Nyssa resident Eva Castellanoz, a traditional healer and activist for Oregon’s Latino community, will give inspirational talks.

“She is fascinating. She is a national treasure,” said Stringer.

Native American silversmith and basket maker Dean Adams will also showcase his talents he learned from his father. 

“It is a folk festival with food and entertainment and crafts and demonstrations about every culture that exists here,” said Stringer.

Stringer said the event will be a busy one.

“You have to be organized to decide what you want to do. There is someone performing at all times,” said Stringer.

Stringer said the Tradition Keepers is also a one-of-a-kind event.

“This is a really interesting cultural entertainment education event where you can learn as much as you want and eat foods from different cultures,” said Stringer.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.