WAITSBURG - Waits- burg Mayor Walt Gobel has invited the Confeder- ated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to join in the 100th anniversary of the Days of Real Sport this spring in Waitsburg. And one idea for their participation is an Indian relay event, often described as one of the most exhilarating equine sports.
The idea drew immediate enthusiasm from a race coor- dinator for the Umatilla tribe, who said Native American relay racers from all over the west would welcome such a Waitsburg event as a season opener.
"That sounds great," said Katherine Minthorn Good Luck, who has been Indian relay races coordinator for the Pendleton Roundup for more than a dozen years. "They (racers) are starting to train now and they're follow- ing Facebook to see when the first race is on."
In a letter to Les Minthorn, the tribes' chair, Gobel said (Waitsburg) community leaders "would be thrilled to have the CTUIR tribal rep- resentatives take part (with their horses) in the parade and invite you and your horses to join us for activities and horse events at the Fair- grounds."
Gobel said the committee that is preparing for the DRS Centennial is "open to your ideas: Indian horse relay races, a dance exhibition, and/or information booth, others!"
And, noting the historical significance of the tribes' par- ticipation in the centennial, Gobel said "we invite you to be a part of a Homecoming." He wrote that a similar invitation was sent to the Nez Perce.
Officials at the Confed- erated Tribes could not be reached for comment ear- lier this week because of the Martin Luther King holiday and their presence at President Obama's inauguration. But Minthorn Good Luck said the Waitsburg centen- nial group doesn't even need official approval from the CTUIR to put on the relay races, with which she said she would be willing to help.
As long as there is purse money, prizes and coordina- tion, all the centennial group would need to do is get the word out among the regional teams and get it on their calendar. The centennial's dates, May 17-19, do not conflict with any other relay races, but the committee would have to act quickly since it takes at least 90 days for the Umatilla racers to get ready for a race.
The Indian relay races are among several equine activities being explored for the DRS centennial weekend around Waitsburg on Main Street, Preston Park and the fairgrounds. Others include cowgirl races, fair court challenge races and ranch rodeo rough stock. In addition to the Main Street parade, organizers are also pursuing Dutch-oven cook- ing demonstrations, a small tribal encampment, a street dance and a cowgirl/cowboy dance.
Although pari-mutuel horse races became the focus of the Days of Real Sport earlier in the last century, an expansion of ac- tivities is in keeping with the event's mission. The 1939 DRS articles of incorporation call for engagement in "the promotion of races and sports generally and to advance the cause of all clean sports."
Indian relay races have been a popular feature of the Pendleton Roundup, where teams from as far away as South Dakota come to race against their counterparts from other tribal communities.
Four people and three horses make up each team. One rider makes three laps around the track, switching to a new horse at the start of each lap. Two team members hold the other two horses, and a mugger, or catcher, stops the oncoming horse so the rider can get off and get on the next steed.
"The volume rises as the fans whoop and holler, urging horses and riders," according to a description of a 2010 Indian relay race at the Roundup in the East Oregonian. "And like much of rodeo, the relay race isn't just about sheer speed. Skill matters here, particularly in the transition between horses, which is a signature action of the relay."
According to American Cowboy magazine, the ex- act origins of "are blurred by time." But the practice of riding horses in relay sequence may have come about with the need to expe- dite messages of approach- ing enemies back to tribal chiefs.
Minthorn Good Luck said the Roundup purse for the Indian relays is $15,000 plus prizes such as belt buckles and jackets.
That amount would be enough to put on races in Waitsburg, which has a track twice the size of the one where racers compete every September in Pendleton. However, it's not clear at this point who would fund the race purse.
And as long as the racers are members of a federally recognized tribe, they are covered by insurance under Indian Health Services.
Minthorn Good Luck said she was approached by George Barton and Leann Literal of Dayton to explore Indian relay races at Dayton Days last year, but things didn't come together. If they did come together this year and Waitsburg held a relay event on its DRS weekend the week before, the two contests would be even more interesting to racers in the region.
"They're game for it," she said.