PENDLETON — The sun sat high in the smoke-filled Pendleton sky early Sunday, Sept. 13, by the time participants in the Pendleton Round-Up’s Indian Village began assembling this year’s village.
Gone were the predawn lines of cars, gone were the hundreds of teepees and gone was the familiar sight of the canvas-draped structures that cover the land north of the Round-Up Arena. In their place arose a smattering of tripods, the internal structure of the teepees, raised in honor of those that have died in the past year.
Lona Pond, the whip woman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, helped to organize the people required to raise the tripods and invited the directors of both Happy Canyon and the Pendleton Round-Up to participate in the ceremony.
“Ceremonies like this are important to Happy Canyon and Round-Up,” said Happy Canyon President Tanner Hawkins. “I’ve been on the board now for 10 years and I don’t think I’ve been involved in anything quite this neat.”
Pond took the time to guide the small gathering of directors through the steps of the assembly process, from picking appropriate poles to tying and wetting knots properly.
“For us Indian people, the oral history, which was shown today, is how you learn how to do things and how you work together as a family,” said Pond. “The Indian Village, the Pendleton Round-Up and the Happy Canyon — we are a family — and this is how we work together.”
The group of directors, under the careful direction of Pond, Marie Dick, an Indian elder, and several other members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, raised three tripods in honor of those who have died in the last year and the continuing fight against COVID-19.
Pond said the first teepee was in honor of longtime Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon members who died within the last year, including former Happy Canyon “Indian bride” Verna Dee Conner and former Happy Canyon Director Fritz Hill.
“They’re not just volunteers,” said Pond. “They are participants in this Pendleton Round-Up. The Indian village is often left out, but it brings in an awareness to everyone about our Indian culture.”
The second of three teepees raised by the directors was in honor of COVID-19 victims, while the third served to honor COVID-19 survivors.
Elsewhere at the Indian Village, Curtis and Phyllis Bearchum raised a trio of tripods, dutifully tying a red ribbon to the top of each in honor of the fight against COVID-19 before joining the group for a brief ceremony.
“The setting up of the frames to memorialize the people who have gone before us — who won’t be with us this year or next year — the ones in the past who aren’t with us anymore, our family and friends,” said Curtis Bearchum.
The tripods raised by the group are traditionally put up in honor of a deceased family member within the last year, Pond said. In addition to those raised by the directors, Pond knew of several families who were coming in to raise tripods in honor of lost loved ones.
“That’s why we’re here, to perpetuate this ground,” said Bearchum. “To make it as it is, some place sacred — not only as a place of gathering for family and friends, but for the rodeo and for the Happy Canyon — for the whole community to come together and celebrate and be together.”
A quartet of tripods were also raised in the Happy Canyon Arena, and Pond said each of the four is representative of families you would traditionally find in the Indian Village and the Happy Canyon Night Show, one for the children, one for the family of the Indian bride, and two for the extended family.
Pond said she feels the Happy Canyon show and Indian Village play a vital role in keeping Indian awareness and culture alive.
“I really believe it’s important for redeveloping Indian awareness and understanding the cultures of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse,” said Pond. “This is not a powwow, we come together in kinship and in family here.”
Pond added that the generational insight of her ancestors is key in keeping the Indian Village alive. Pond was joined by her father, Dr. Ron Pond, for much of the ceremony, who spoke and sang a pair of traditional songs for the ceremony.
“I didn’t want to miss this, it’s so important to show our respects to each other — all friends and relations — many who will gather here next September,” said Dr. Ron Pond.