Museum at Warm Springs



Celebrating a Significant Accomplishment

For Debbie Stacona, it is “more than a museum.” It is a sense of pride, joy and accomplishment. It is a treasure to be shared with generations to come.

“The Museum at Warm Springs tells our story in our words,” said Stacona, a member of The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “It shows our good times and our celebrations and it shows our struggles. I see people coming out of the exhibits with tears in their eyes because something in the museum has touched them and they have learned something about our story.”

Most importantly, she said, the Museum at Warm Springs is the realization of a dream envisioned by tribal leaders of The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs more than four decades ago.

“They recognized the need for a museum and worked to follow through to create the museum and today we are living their dream,” she said.

Opened on March 13, 1993, The Museum at Warm Springs celebrates its 20th anniversary by hosting an artists’ village this year from June 27 to September 15. From now until March 3, visitors can see the 20th annual Tribal Youth Art Exhibit, featuring the art, paintings, beadwork and more from preschool to high school students.

In 1937, the Wascoes, The Warm Springs and The Paiutes organized as the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. In 1968, the Tribes conceived the idea for a museum. It took 20 years of planning and preparation before the Tribes voted to contribute $3.22 million to the museum’s construction in 1998. In addition to the contribution, the Tribes raised an additional $3.1 million from foundations, corporations and individuals for the construction, education programs and museum endowment. The total project cost $7.7 million and is the first tribal museum built in Oregon.

Construction for the 25,000 square foot building that resembles a Native American village near the Shitike Creek began in May of 1991 by SM Andersen Construction Co., Inc. of Portland. The building designer was Stastny & Burke Architecture, Inc. and the exhibits designed by Formations Inc., both of Portland.

For 11 years, Carol Leone has been the executive director of the Museum at Warm Springs. And to this day, she is still amazed by the beauty and thoughtfulness that went into designing the building and its exhibits. She is proud of how the community continues to support the museum and to plan for its future.

“It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen,” Leone said. “It looks like it belongs where it does from the circular shape driveway that resembles a tribal drum to the water running next to the museum.”

Every detail from the handles on the doors that represent feather dance bustles to the pillars in the lobby that look like the trees on the reservation were carefully planned, she said.

“Visitors to the museum comment how the space is restful and welcoming,” Leone said.

Stacona recalls how the architects set up an office in Warm Springs and encouraged tribal members to share their ideas on how the building should look and how it should represent tribal traditions. Located near the Shitike Creek and surrounded by cottonwood trees, the “Museum was designed to resemble an encampment.” The materials include timber, bricks and stone and symbols such as the longhouse, drums, dance costumes, Tipi and patterns from the Klickitat Basket are used in the building.

On the museum’s webpage, there is a quote from Chief Delvis Heath of the Warm Spring Tribe.

“Way back in the 1960s,” the Chief laments, “we could see that the old ways were disappearing, the old language disappearing and pretty soon none of our young people would know where they came from or who they were. That’s when we decided to build the museum.”

In 1968, tribal leaders and community members realized private collectors and off reservation institutions were purchasing their material culture. The Tribes allocated $50,000 a year to purchase artifacts including paintings, sculptures, masks, ceremonial clothing and beadwork from Tribal members of the Warm Springs community.

“Their efforts represents perhaps the most aggressive acquisition program ever undertaken by an American Indian group,” The Smithsonian Institute wrote.

Visitors to the museum will discover 5,000 photographs dating from the 1850s to the present.

“There are some historical photographs that are treasures to me because they are photographs of my ancestors,” Stacona said. “The pictures are really amazing and touch my heart.”

While the museum’s artifacts help to share the story of The Confederate Tribes of Warm Spring’s past, Stacona said the museum also allows visitors and tribal members to learn more about the tribe’s customs and culture.

“We have tribal craft classes to teach people how to create beads, baskets and moccasins,” Stacona said, adding there are also events throughout the year for the public to attend and learn more about the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Former Gov. Victor Atiyeh said he remembers sitting in a breakfast nook of an old house and working with other board members to plan for the Museum at Warm Springs. He is extremely proud the museum will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

“The museum is something the tribe had kept dreaming about and it was exciting to see a dream come to a reality,” he said.

Describing how atmosphere and the architecture create a wonderful feeling for the visitors to the museum, Atiyeh said it is his hope that guests hopefully learn something about the history of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

“The museum is just a great place to go and the Warm Springs tribes led the way for other Native American museums in Oregon,” he said. “I am extremely proud of what the Warm Springs leaders have done.”

An employee for 10 years and now the development officer, Stacona still visits the exhibits at the museum where she feels her spirits soar. She enjoys working at the museum because of her strong belief in the museum’s goal of preserving the Tribes’ artifacts, and teaching and educating people about the Tribes’ culture and history.

“I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to see the history, the richness of our culture, for them to be able to see and know the sacrifices and challenges, and also the joys of the successes,” Stacona said.

A beautiful story, a beautiful museum, she added.

“A living legacy that we are only the caretakers for a moment in time,” Stacona said. “Then we will pass it to the next generations.”

The Museum at Warm Springs

2189 Highway 26, Warm Springs


Fall/Winter Hours from Now to April 30

9am-5pm, Tuesday-Saturday

Closed Sundays-Mondays

Spring/Summer Hours from May 1-October 1

9am-5pm, seven days a week

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, the Museum will host

Indigenous Elements – The Life and Art of Apolonia Susana Santos

June 27-Sept. 15.

Guest will be able to explore and experience an artists’ village.


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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. •

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