STILL PLAYING COWBOYS AND INDIANS
By WILLIAM YARDLEY, New York Times
Last update: September 25, 2010 - 6:31 PM
The sign at the entrance to the rodeo’s bleachers said “Wrist Bands Required.” So Reggie Queampts dutifully wore his, which read: “2010 Round-Up NDN Seating.”
“That’s NDN — as in ‘Indian’,” said Queampts, a member of the Yakama Nation. “This is where they usually put the Indians, the cheap seats.”
The Pendleton Round-Up — which celebrated its centennial last weekend — did not become one of the West’s oldest, biggest and most beloved rodeos by bucking tradition. The arena where it is held just underwent an $8.5 million renovation, but the bulls still burst out of weathered old wooden bucking shoots. The names of corporate sponsors are not splashed on the arena walls. No motorized vehicles are allowed at the “Westward Ho!” parade that coincides with the rodeo, only people and horses and wagon wheels. Even rodeo riders are impressed with the frontier cred in this high-desert town in eastern Oregon.
“This one is different,” said Paul Eaves, a Texan who travels the country roping steer on the rodeo circuit. “This is a cowboy town.”
And that, some Indians say, can be a problem. Some are offended by the sun-scorched bleachers where they get to sit for free (anyone can pay to sit in the shaded grandstand). Others are uncomfortable with Indians’ daily appearances in traditional dress in the rodeo arena — where they are applauded but not expected to stay long. Some say the Round-Up sends mixed signals to the American Indians who have lived here for thousands of years: We want you, in your place.
That is an attitude with plenty of Western tradition as well.