A flag featuring the Burns Paiute Tribe’s logo is now being displayed alongside the American flag in the Burns High School (BHS) gym.
“This has been such an awesome project,” BHS Native American Club Advisor Rhonda Holtby said, adding that this was the first community service project for the club, which was established last school year.
She said the project was proposed by Anthony Purcella (who served as the club’s vice president last year) and his foster father, Scott Shaw, after they read an Oregonian article regarding the tribal flag for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde being displayed in the gym at Willamina High School.
Holtby was further inspired when she attended her son, Dillin’s, wrestling meet at Madras High School and saw the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ flag hanging alongside the state and national flags in the gym.
She reported thinking, “Hey, we need to do this too.”
The local flag project gained momentum when Holtby posted a picture of the flags at Madras High School to Facebook.
Kathy Wassom, who was a teacher at BHS, saw the post and suggested that the Native American Club work with Ty Wayne Reid who was raising
funds to purchase and install a motorized American flag for his senior project.
“He welcomed us,” Holtby said regarding Reid, adding that he and Wassom were instrumental in propelling the project forward.
After receiving approval from the Harney County School District (HCSD) No. 3 board of directors, the club proceeded to raise funds for the flag.
“We had so much support from the Burns Paiute Tribe,” Holtby said, explaining that several of the tribe’s programs pitched in toward a $4,000 contribution.
“It was amazing,” she said. “They didn’t hold back.”
She added that, “The tribe’s focus is on helping and guiding our youth for future success.”
An additional $1,000 was collected in GoFundMe contributions. GoFundMe is a website that allows individuals or groups to raise money for personal causes and life events.
The Native American Club also raised money by selling breakfast burritos and Indian tacos.
After reaching its fundraising goal, the club worked with Elmer’s Flag & Banner to have the logo fitted to the flag. Holtby explained that the flag had to be special ordered, and she commended the employee who took on the graphic design challenge.
The club also worked with Lynn Morgan of Morgan Rolling Flags to have the flag installed on a motorized display system. The tribal flag drops down alongside the American flag, which was acquired through Reid’s fundraising efforts.
Wade Peasley, HCSD No. 3 facilities and transportation supervisor, brought in a scissor lift, and Morgan and Reid installed the flags May 18.
Holtby said the conditions were “sweltering,” and the two were sweaty when they finished the installation process.
She added that she was overcome with emotion when she saw the tribe’s flag on display in the gym.
“It’s an honor,” she said.
In addition to being the Native American Club advisor, Holtby is a 1995 BHS graduate, a member of the HCSD No. 3 board of directors, and an employee of the Burns Paiute Tribe. She is married to the BHS art teacher, and their children (who are all members of the Burns Paiute Tribe) attend school in the district.
Holtby said she and her husband, Ben, chose to raise their children in Harney County because they love the community and appreciate its support of tribal youth.
Holtby said that displaying the flag in the gym is one way for members of the Burns Paiute Tribe to demonstrate that they value education and encourage tribal youth to be successful in their academic endeavors.
“As a tribe, our focus is on the success of each and every student we have, not just Burns Paiute Tribe members, but all tribal members,” she said.
Holtby added that the flag is also intended to educate local youth about tribal history.
A banner across the top of the flag reads, “Welcome to Paiute Country.”
To Holtby, those words signify unity between the tribe and the Harney County Community as a whole.
“We are not two communities. We are one community here,” she said.
An assembly was held June 7, in the BHS gym to dedicate the tribal flag. During the assembly, former Burns Paiute Tribal Chair Charlotte Roderique shared some of the tribe’s history, and ReyAnne Hawley, Robin Holtby, Soraya Johnson, Lexi FirstRaised and Tawahno Beers sang a flag song.
Holtby said she has received a lot of compliments on the flag from parents, students, school district staff, tribal members, and other community members, and the Native American Club is looking forward to completing additional projects. For example, the club is currently working to obtain smaller tribal flags for Hines Middle School and Slater Elementary.
“We welcome any additional financial contributions to the Native American Club,” Holtby said, adding that the newly-established club has “a lot of good things planned”.
The club is also looking for new members, and membership in a federally-recognized tribe is not required.
“If you have an interest, we welcome you,” Holtby said.
For more information or to donate to the BHS Native American Club, contact Rhonda Holtby at 541-413-0448.
Fundraising efforts are currently underway to obtain an Oregon state flag to display alongside the American and tribal flags. Holtby said Kelly and Samantha Landon have donated $500 toward the state flag, and she estimates that an additional $1,000 will be needed.