July 14, 2012

Burns Paiute Tribe


The Burns Paiute Tribe is a federally recognized tribe located north of Burns, Oregon in Harney County. The current tribal members are primarily the descendants of the “Wadatika” band of Northern Paiute Indians that roamed in central and southern Oregon.

Official Tribal Name: Burns Paiute Tribe

Address: 100 Pasigo St, Burns, OR 97720
Phone: (541) 573-1910
Fax: (541) 573 2012

Official Website: http://www.burnspaiute-nsn.gov/

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Paite Wadatika Ma-Ni-Pu-Neen – The Burns Paiute Tribe descended from the Wadatika band, named after the wada seeds they collected near the shores of Malheur Lake.

The Paiutes also call themselves Numu, meaning “the People” or “original people.”

Common Name: Burns Paiute

Meaning of Common Name:

Paiute is generally accepted to mean “true Ute” or “water Ute.”

Alternate names:

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Formerly known as the Burns Paiute Tribe of the Burns Paiute Indian Colony of Oregon.

Paiute peoples were also historically called Snakes and Bannocks by whites and were even confused with Northern Shoshone who shared many cultural and linguistic traits, as well as overlapping traditional territories.

Early Euro-American settlers often called Paiute people “Diggers” (presumably due to their practice of digging for roots), although that term is now considered derogatory.

Alternate spellings / Mispellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Great Basin

State(s) Today: Oregon

Traditional Territory:

The Wadatika’s territory included approximately 52,500 square miles between the Cascade Mountain Range in central Oregon and the Payette Valley north of Boise, Idaho, and from southern parts of the Blue Mountains near the headwaters of the Powder River north of John Day, to the desert south of Steens Mountain.

Nine thousand years ago the northern Great Basin, which is now semi-arid desert, was probably a series of very large lakes. The ancestors of the Burns Paiute people lived in caves near their shores.

Confederacy: Paiute


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Reservations: Burns Paiute Indian Colony and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The Burns Paiute Reservation is located north of Burns, Oregon in Harney County. It is also known as the Burns Paiute Indian Colony.
Land Area: 11,944 acres
Tribal Headquarters: Burns, Oregon
Time Zone:

Population at Contact:

First European contact with northern Paiute tribes occurred in the early 1820s but there wasn’t sustained contact until about 1840. Catherine S. Fowler and Sven Liljeblad put the total Northern Paiute population in 1859 at about 6,000.

Registered Population Today:

In 2008, 341 people were enrolled in the Burns Paiute Tribe, with about 35.5% of tribal members living on the reservation.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Must be a lineal descendant of an ancestor on the 1940 Burns Paiute Roll and have a blood quantum of at least 1/8th Paiute.
Enrollment application

Genealogy Resources:


Charter: The Constitution and Bylaws of the Burns Paiute Colony, adopted May 16, 1968, delineates the objectives, membership, powers of the General Council, and bill of rights of the Burns Paiute Tribe.
Name of Governing Body:
Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 3 plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments: The Constitution and Bylaws were revised in 1988 changing the five-member Business Council to the seven-member Tribal Council of today. This was necessary to avoid conflict between the two governing bodies, the Tribal Council and the General Council.
Number of Executive Officers: Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Sargent-at-Arms, Secretary
Elections: Each member of the Tribal Council is nominated and elected to a three-year term by the General Council. The General Council is made up of all voting members of the tribe, which is anyone 18 or older.

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Buy this Paiute Motif Car Floor MatLanguage Classification:

The three main Paiute regional groups spoke mutually unintelligible languages of the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.

Language Dialects:

Northern Paiute, also known as Numu and Paviotso or Bannock, is the dialect spoken by the Burns Paiute.

Number of fluent Speakers: The Burns Paiute tribe had around 500 fluent speakers in 1994. Ethnologue reported the number of speakers in 1999 as 1,631. This language dialect is closely related to the Mono language.



The Paiute people believe that the Paiutes have lived in this area since before the Cascade Mountain Range was formed, because they have oral stories that tell of their formation. Anthropologists think that about 1,000 years ago an influx of Paiute-speaking people came from the south and migrated throughout the Great Basin.

This is when certain types of atlatl and spear points, and brownware pottery began to appear. Pottery was not found in the Great Basin before this time. However, the people of the Burns Paiute Tribe were basket makers and did not make pottery.

According to language researchers, the language spoken here before the arrival of the Paiute people is unknown. According to Paiute oral teaching, this is because the Paiute people have been living in the Great Basin for thousands and thousands of years. Some discoveries of anthropologists have been dated to at least 10,000 years ago. (See more below).

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Relations among the Northern Paiute bands and their Shoshone neighbors were generally peaceful. In fact, there is no sharp distinction between the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone cultures, and they often intermarried.

The Northern Paiute were generally, for the most part, a peaceful people who got along with and traded with most of their neighbors.

Traditional Enemies:

Relations with the Washoe people, who were culturally and linguistically very different, were not so peaceful, and occasional skirmishes happened. However, since these were all nomadic people for most of the year, they didn’t often come in contact with other tribes.

The Pah Ute War, also known as the Paiute War, was a minor series of raids and ambushes initiated by the Paiute, which also had an adverse effect on the development of the Pony Express. The incident started when some traders at a Pony Express station captured and raped two Paiute women. A raiding party was sent to liberate them, and five whites were killed in the process. This escalated into a series of both sides seeking retaliation for acts of the other side. It took place from May through June of 1860, though sporadic violence continued for a period afterwards.

As Euro-American settlement of the area progressed, several other violent incidents occurred, including the Pyramid Lake War of 1860 and the Bannock War of 1878. These incidents took the general pattern of a settler steals from, rapes or murders a Paiute, a group of Paiutes retaliate, and a group of settlers or the US Army counter-retaliates. Many more Paiutes died from introduced diseases such as smallpox than from warfare.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Popular Paiute songs are associated with hand games, Round Dances, and doctor’s curing. Variations on the Round, or Circle Dance were traditionally the most common dance form and the oldest. The Northern Paiute Hump Dance represented one variation. In a Round Dance, the participants form a circle and dance in a clockwise direction to music made by a singer situated in the center. A Round Dance is commonly held three times a year, during the Spring fishing season, just before fall pine-nut harvest, and during the November rabbit drives. Round Dances are a social dance.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Reservation Day is a special holiday celebrated on the Burns Reservation. It originally was celebrated by the Burns Paiute Tribe every June 13 in honor of the date the tribe received reservation lands. Today the celebration is held in October and includes a pow wow with traditional dancing and drumming, dance contests, a raffle, and crafts and food booths.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

The Great Basin cultures are best known for their fine, tight basketwork. Other crafts traditional to the Burns Paiute, which are practiced in the community, include beadwork and drum-making.


Horses, camels, mammoths, bison, elk and deer roamed the Great Basin area in prehistoric times. By 7,500 years ago, large mammals such as horses, camels and mammoth were extinct and many of the lakes were drying up. People began seasonal migrations to take advantage of plants, animals, and water sources in certain areas at different times of the year.

The horse wasn’t reintroduced to the Paiutes until the very late 1800s. Even then, it’s use as a draft animal or for transportation was never widely adopted because their ecosystem did not have much resources for grazing animals that also need a lot of water.


The ancestors of the Burns Paiute Tribe used the fibers of the tule plant, willow, Indian hemp, and sagebrush bark to make woven sandals, coiled and twined baskets, and rope. They also made duck decoys, fish nets, and traps for small game with these fibrous plants.

Paiute men and women traditionally wore a skin breechcloth or double-apron of skin or vegetable fiber such as sagebrush bark or rushes. The cloth was suspended from a belt made from cliffrose bark or antelope skin. They also typically wore ankle high animal-skin moccasins or woven yucca or sagebrush bark sandals on their feet. Young children often went naked, except in winter.

In the winter, all family members used robes of rabbit fur strips or skin capes. Paiute men wore simple buckskin shirts. Throughout Paiute country men wore tanned hide hats. Members of some Paiute bands wore hats decorated with bird, often quail, feathers. The Paiute women in Oregon did not wear the basketry hats that were traditional for most other Paiute tribes. By the mid-nineteenth century men’s shirts and leggings and women’s full-length dresses were made from fringed hide, which was most likely adopted from the Ute.

Archeologists have found a beautiful soft blanket woven from the furs of rabbits and child’s sandals made from sagebrush fibers which had been preserved for close to 10,000 years in a cool, dry cave. They also found clothing made from deer and other animal and bird hides.


Face paint was used for special occasions and rituals. Both men and women pierced their ears to wear feathered quail bones. Some men and women wore tattoos on their face. Both men and women wore necklaces made of sea shells.


Except for during the winter, the Paiute did not build permanent housing structures. They sometimes built a two or three sided temporary leanto to shelter them from the prevailing winds, but these temporary structures usually did not have a roof.

During winter they lived in caves or built small conical or rounded brush structures with a willow frame covered in brush or tule rushes called wickiups. The same wicikiup was used for about three years before a new one was constructed.


The Paiute were a hunter/gatherer culture who moved with the seasonal migration of game and with the plant harvest seasons of their food substances. Their diet included a wide variety of items, such as fish (including a great deal of salmon), birds, deer, small animals, plants and seeds.

Pine nuts and acorns were the most important staple foods, which were ground into a flour or made into a mush. While pinenuts are produced every year, there is a heavy harvest available only about every six years. During those years with abundant pinenut production, many families would come together for the harvest and remain together for several weeks. This was the only time they camped in large groups for such an extended time.

Small family groups would travel separately collecting seeds, berries, and roots, and hunting small animals, deer, mountain sheep, elk and fishing. In drier areas they hunted for lizards, grubs and insects.

These smaller family groups came together several times each year to harvest seasonal food crops, join communal hunts, and to socialize and intermarry. However, these larger gatherings only lasted for a few days or at most for a couple weeks. Any longer would overtax their ecosystem resources. This is why they mostly stayed in small extended family groups.

In the Spring, the Paiute gathered roots and fished for salmon during the salmon runs. Camas roots were one of their staples during this season. Camas root is a little like a potato. They also gathered wild carrot, onions, turnips and other roots.

During the summer, berries and fruit were collected and dried for winter use. In late summer and early fall many different seeds were gathered. Rice grass was another staple gathered this time of the year. In early fall, individual family groups joined with many other bands for the communal antelope and rabbit drives.

Late fall was the time to collect plant material to make sandals, baskets, and clothing during the winter months. By November, each family gathered the cached goods they had put away during the spring and summer. Sagebrush was then gathered from the desert, or tules near lake shores, to build winter shelters near springs in which to spend the winter months.

Since they were living mostly on stored food sources in winter, if water was plentiful, a few families may have camped together for the winter, but groups were still generally small compared to the camps of many other indian tribes who lived in less harsh environments.

Economy Today:

For economic development, the Burns Paiute created the Old Camp Casino, the Sa-Wa-Be Restaurant, and an RV park in Burns. However, the Old Camp Casino has been closed.

Tribal members continue to hunt and gather traditional foods. Roots such as camas, bitterroot, and biscuitroot are dug in the spring. In late summer chokecherries and berries are gathered. Elk, deer, quail and groundhog are also still hunted. People also gather willow and tule for making baskets and cradleboards.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

According to the original ancient Paiute religion, the earth was created by the sun, “Thuwimpu Unimpugnant,” and Coyote, one of their supernatural gods, and his wife, populated the earth. All of their supernatural beings were totemic animals and natural objects.

They would pray for rain or for a good hunt and prayed daily to the Sun for a good day.

Some Paiute medicine people were thought to delve into witchcraft, which was considered bad medicine that eventually had many consequences.

Two different Paiute prophets tried to start a pan religion that came to be called the Ghost Dance Religon.

Around 1870, a northern Paiute named Tavibo had prophezied that while all whites would be swallowed up by the Earth, all dead Indians would emerge to enjoy a world free of their conquerors if they would dance a special dance that had been given to him in a dream.

He urged his followers to dance in circles, already a tradition in the Great Basin area, while singing religious songs. They were instructed to dance for five days and four nights, then go home. Tavibo’s movement spread to parts of Nevada, California, and Oregon, but did not gain many followers and eventually all but died out.

Then on January 1, 1889, his son, Wovoka, began to make similar prophecies, which he said came to him during a dream during the eclipse of the Sun on that day. Wovoka began to weave together various cultural strains into the Ghost Dance religion.

He had a rich tradition of Paiute religious mysticism upon which to draw, and also combined Christian elements into his teachings. Many of his prophesies closely follow those in the Book of Revalations in the Holy Bible, with slight changes to fit the indian understanding and perspective on life.

Wovoka’s invocation of a “Supreme Being,” immortality, pacifism and explicit mentions of Jesus (often referred to with such phrases as “the messiah who came once to live on Earth with the white man but was killed by them”) all speak of an infusion of Christian beliefs into Paiute mysticism.

Wovoka’s Ghost Dance spread throughout much of the West, especially among the more recently defeated Indians of the Great Plains. Local bands would adopt the core of the message to their own circumstances, writing their their own songs and dancing their own dances.

In 1889 the Lakota sent a delegation to visit Wovoka. This group brought the Ghost Dance back to their reservations, where believers made sacred shirts — said to be bullet-proof — especially for the Dance. As we now know from the Wounded Knee Massacre, this proved not to be true.

Wovoka gained a reputation as a powerful shaman. He was adept at magic tricks. One trick he often performed was being shot with a shotgun, which may have been similar to the bullet catch trick. Reports of this trick may have convinced the Lakota that their “ghost shirts” could stop bullets. Wovoka is also reported to have performed a levitation trick.

Burial Customs:

Generally, Northern Paiutes buried their dead with all their possessions. Usually the body was buried with the head facing west where the spirit would travel until reaching the land of the dead. Singing and dancing was thought to help the dead leave their family and friends to head to the next life.

However, if the person was suspected of witchcraft, the corpse was burned, along with their shelter and posessions, and then that location was abandoned. The Northern Paiutes believed in ghosts and feared the deceased’s ghost would haunt them if they stayed in the area where the death occurred.

Wedding Customs

Though marriage traditionally had no important associated rituals, the Paiutes did observe two related rituals. One was for young women at the time of their first menstrual period, and the other for young couples expecting their first child.

In the menarche ritual, the young woman was isolated for four days. During this time, she observed taboos against touching her face or hair with her hands, eating animal-based foods, and drinking cold liquids. She also ran east at sunrise and west at sunset, and sat with older women of the tribe to learn about her responsibilities as a woman.

After the four days of isolation, a series of rituals were performed to bring the menarche ceremony to a close. The young woman was bathed in cold water, her face was painted, the ends of her hair were singed or cut, and she had to eat animal foods and bitter herbs and to spit into a fire.

The ritual for couples expecting their first child was very similar, but traditionally lasted 30 days. The pregnant woman observed the same taboos and received advice from older women, while the expectant father ran east at sunrise and west at sunset.


Historical Leaders:

Wovoka (1856-1932), also known as Jack Wilson, was a Northern Paiute religious leader and founder of the Ghost Dance movement. Wovoka means “wood cutter” in the Northern Paiute language.
Wovoka’s Ghost Dance Vision

Paiute People of Note:

Catastrophic Events:

Epidemics of smallpox, cholera, and other diseases swept through Paiute communities in the 1830s and 1840s.

Tribe History:

In the News:

Further Reading:

Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca
Survival Arts Of The Primitive Paiutes
 Southern Paiutes: Legends, Lore, Language and Lineage
Tokens in an Indian Graveyard: Poems and Stories of Northern Paiute People

US Tribes A to B
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