Remote, wild and arid are adjectives often used to describe Oregon’s Harney County, one of the largest counties in the United States in land mass and home to the Burns Paiute Tribe. In the sparsely populated county, fewer than 120 members of the tribe permanently reside on the 770-acre reservation near Burns.
Ancestors lived in the northern Great Basin for thousands of years, yet it was only in 1972 that the Burns Paiute were recognized as an independent Indian Tribe. “The tribe is currently working to gain a greater understanding of their culture, and preserve what knowledge they have of their past, all the while looking toward the future and developing a stronger, healthier community to pass on to the next generation,” says the Burns Paiute Tribe website.
Higher than average unemployment, poverty and obesity are just a few of the challenges facing the tribe. A 30-year collaboration between the Paiutes and Oregon State University Extension in Harney County involves improving the health and well-being of tribal members through Family and Community Health programs, and strengthening the tribal community and its traditions through 4-H Youth Development programs.
Shana Withee, an associate professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences and county leader for OSU Extension in Harney County, takes a science-based approach, but the real focus is on building relationships. Healthy food preparation classes are a favorite activity. Jam-making and testing non-sugar recipe alternatives were popular at the Community Cultural Celebration.
Family Mental Health Camp, held on tribal land in the beautiful Logan Valley, concentrated on strengthening families, culture and building a healthier community. Withee led activities to improve communication and teamwork between youth and elders. The “minute to win it” competition injected fun into the learning activities. Participants stacked dice on tongue depressors, tried their hand at stacking nuts and completed other dexterity tasks.
4-H sewing classes are keeping the pow wow tradition alive for the youngest generation by helping youth create their own colorful regalia and encouraging them to dance their way to health. Traditional dances last more than three aerobic minutes!
OSU Extension helps the Paiutes preserve their history and improve the health of each tribal member and generation. The Paiutes generously share their wisdom, trust and traditions. More often than not, it does take a village.