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Warm Springs museum keeps legacy alive

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - Approaching the Museum at Warm Springs, one is struck
by its architecture, which is in keeping with its surroundings.

The native stone, brick and timbers are worked into a composite to
demonstrate and integrate such tribal symbols as the drum, bustles from
dance outfits and patterns from the region's Klickitat baskets. A quiet
pool surrounded by large basaltic boulders greets visitors and a stream
leads to the entrance; a stretched hide painted with horses sits opposite
the door. Over the entrance is carved the Warm Springs word twanat - "to
follow," as in traditions and culture.

The museum was created by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Reservation of Oregon - the Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute - to preserve
their traditions and keep their legacy alive. It was constructed to
resemble a traditional encampment amid the cottonwoods of Shitike Creek in
the canyon of the Deschutes River. The building opened to the public in
March 1993, but planning had begun many years earlier.

The idea of a museum began in the 1950s, and in the '70s a museum committee
was formed. The tribal council began appropriating money each year to
purchase artifacts from tribal members, recognizing the need to acquire
such items for future generations while they were still available. The
permanent collection now exceeds 4,200 items and upwards of $1 million has
been invested in purchasing them.

The building covers 25,000 square feet and was honored by the American
Institute of Architects with a Merit Award of Excellence for its unique
design. The architecture was inspired by the tribe and includes many
features throughout relating to it.

The roof of the changing exhibit is shaped like a tipi and another section
looks like a longhouse. Inside, one sees heavy, peeled logs for supports,
benches made of local wood in the entryway and adjacent to the gift shop,
plus slate-tiled floors. The entire museum fits into the natural
environment of this high desert region.

An eight-minute introductory video at the beginning of the tour explains
the background of the museum. A numbered tour leads through the exhibits
and allows visitors to take their own pace. Recordings tell the stories of
pictographs, petroglyphs and the 8,000-year history of the region's Native
peoples. One display, "Writing on the Rocks," discusses photo techniques
that are now being used to bring out colors not seen before while not
disturbing the paintings - "Some of the richest links we have to those who
came before," the display read. Soft lighting illuminates the well-designed
displays and photos, and soft benches provide sitting space while watching
videos.

Numerous dioramas with mannequins depict people in traditional clothing
carrying cornhusk bags and beaded items. One shows a horse pulling a
travois with parfleches attached. Yet another display shows a tule mat
lodge, a Paiute wickiup and a summer home of a Wasco family circa 1800.

Permanent collections cover about 7,500 square feet and contain such things
as beaded bags, a variety of buckskin dresses with beadwork and shell
adornment, and cornhusk items typical of this region. More than 1,000
botanical specimens native to this reservation, and more than 2,500
photographs dating from the 1850s to the present, are in the collection.
The changing exhibit gallery occupies another 2,500 square feet to allow a
variety of items to be displayed and rotated.

A nature trail leads away from the building along Shitike Creek. Fish,
river otters and beavers are occasionally seen. A variety of song birds
occupy the bushes and trees along the creek. Looking back at the museum one
sees a tower topped with a circle, one of four around the museum. The
circle represents the circle of life and how everything is connected.

Special events are scheduled throughout the year. An exhibit entitled
"Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" runs through Sept. 11 in celebration of a
treaty signing, plus an educational exhibit about rock art called "They
Still Speak to Us." A juried exhibit of tribal art will run from Sept. 29 -
Jan. 10. Add to that an annual huckleberry harvest Aug. 26 - 27, plus a
benefit golf tournament for the museum in September.

Visitors will find excellent accommodations at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort, about 12
miles from the museum, and just beyond is an 18-hole championship golf
course.