ELKO – After years of highlighting cowboys from other cultures, the Western Folklife Center will focus on a group of immigrants who helped form the West. In our region Basque ethnicity is associated with sheepherding, cattle ranching, running restaurant and boarding house businesses, and other forms of old-fashioned hard work.
“Most of the first people who came in were men who came as sheepherders,” said Nevada Task Force member Cyd McMullen. “So many of them saved every penny and brought others over. It’s the old story about working hard so that you can make it and make a better life for your kids, and they have been so successful.”
McMullen pointed out that many of the men came here for sheepherding not because that was their chosen profession but because it was a job they could do to survive and that there was a huge need in the West.
“Basques and buckaroos is the theme for the upcoming gathering,” said Executive Director David Roche. “It has to do with that combination. For me it revolves around the Altube brothers and people like them who came here from the Pyrenees via Argentina and Chile and created the Spanish Ranch. The Altubes knew beef and sold beef to ’49ers.”
The gathering will highlight the history of the Basque and contemporary issues here and in the Basque region of Europe. Much of this will be in conjunction with the Basque Institute at the University of Nevada, Reno and the Elko Basque Club.
“I think this is important because of immigration issues,” said Roche.
“We are working with the Basque community to see who is still doing ranching,” said artistic director Meg Glaser. We are working with Linda and Carolyn Dufurrena to connect with the Winnemucca area.”
The center plans to bring a couple of poets from the Basque region that perform bertsolari, or improvisational poetry. The Basque Studies Program at UNR is also going to organize a conference during the gathering that will bring more poets and scholars of this type of poetry.
“The poetry is a dueling process that takes two people,” said Glaser. “An outsider gives them a subject and they have to improvise on the spot. The champion in the Basque country is a woman.”
Staff at the center is currently sifting through the many possibilities of programming and classes that will be available. Basque cooking and dance workshops are a sure thing to expect.
“There will be a Basque theme throughout the workshops,” said Katie Aiken, programs and National Cowboy Poetry Gathering manager.
Local Basque musicians will perform, along with others who have settled in different areas of the West.
“We are putting up an exhibit that the Nevada Arts Council is touring,” said Glaser.
Mountain Picassos: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin explores the intersection of art, culture and nature and features 26 rubbings of tree carvings. Accompanying signage, photographs, and a streaming video add support to an exhibit specifically curated to highlight early Nevada Basque shepherd artists.
Vince Juaristi, a local Basque author and entrepreneur who currently lives on the East Coast, will return to give a presentation around the theme of the gathering.
“He will be presenting something here and at the college to be saved to the virtual humanities site,”said Glaser.
The gathering will still promote the wider range of cowboy poetry, with many favorite performers coming back.
“There will be the usual participation from all around the country,” said Glaser. “This is going to be a very good gathering.”
Ticket sales will be available in September and members will get advance notice to purchase tickets or day passes.
“We are also looking forward to our 35th gathering,” said Glaser. “Part of that is looking at the archives. We are trying to raise money to transfer older video technology to a digital format. We plan to pull out highlights that can be edited and shown at the 35th.”
Staff and members of the Nevada Task Force reflected on past gatherings and the experiences of this year’s event.
“The numbers this year reflected a very good turnout,” said Aiken. “Ticket sales were about the same as normal.”
“It’s good to expand and try new things,” said Roche.
Emily McMullen Hiles, a Nevada Task Force member, spoke about The Moth and how the community and visitors really enjoyed the storytelling event.
“The feedback was great. It was so delightful. People want to see more things of that nature.”
“The Moth people loved their experience in Elko,” said McMullen about the New York crew who brought the narrative experience.“It marks a change for bringing in a wider audience and fresh ideas while satisfying the core group.”
“Our mission is to use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world,” said Roche.