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BBQ is at the heart of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, and it has been for decades

Food is portioned in a styrofoam plate. Clockwize: BBQ shredded beef, chili, butter wrapped in foil, potato salad, macaroni salad, and a bread roll.
Gustavo Sagrero
KUNR Public Radio
Food made and served by the Walker River Paiute Tribe at their annual Pinenut Festival in Schurz, Nev. on Sept. 17, 2022. Everything is made by staff and volunteers of the Walker River Paiute Tribe.

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The Walker River Paiute Tribe held its Pinenut Festival on Sept. 15-18. The annual event was a time for horseshoe contests, kids’ games, and a pit-style barbecue.

Mike Lowery leads the construction crew for the Walker River Paiute Tribe. During the day, he and his crew make sure home maintenance on the reservation is up to date.

But during the Pinenut Festival, they stood in front of a large pit of logs engulfed in flames. They prepared the pit for 500 pounds of beef that were lowered in around midnight.

A group of six men stand in front of the pit of flames. Some are wearing sunglasses. Their faces are lit up with the light from the flames.
Gustavo Sagrero
KUNR Public Radio
From left: Bobby Sanchez, Cameron Birshun, Tony Von Jones, Mike Lowery, Francisco Meza Jr., Chales Quartz stand in front of the bbq pit for the Walker River Paiute Tribe’s Pinenut Festival in Schurz, Nev. on Sept. 16, 2022.

“When you see it feed the community, it’s awesome.” Lowery said, “Then teaching these guys how to do it all – that’s a blast, too.”

First, they threw in enough logs to create a pile of coals nearly knee-high. After that, they put the seasoned beef on a giant metal rack that’s roughly the size of a small compact truck. That was lowered into the ground and covered by a metal sheet. Then more coals were made, and then it was buried.

“Most of it is watching and making sure you don’t have logs there because if you have logs in there, it’ll burn the meat,” he said.

The tradition of pit-style BBQ runs deep for members of the Paiute Tribe, including elder Togo Victor Williams.

A man wearing a baseball cap that reads: "Native Veteran" is standing in front of the powow circle, behind him are children in jingle dresses.
Gustavo Sagrero
KUNR Public Radio
Togo Victor Williams at the Walker River Pine Nut Festival in Schurz, Nev., on Sept. 17, 2022. Behind him are his grandchildren dressed in jingle dresses.

He’s a retired veteran but at one point it was his job to get the pits ready for the festival.

Ever since it was a colony, he said, there’s always been someone cooking for guests, like his great-grandmother. She would go out with a rifle.

“She would come home with a wagon load of rabbits,” Williams said, “I’m assuming that was how the barbecue started because, you know, they had to feed a lot of people, so she had to get a lot of rabbits.”

The custom is that anytime there are visitors, you offer them food and water. The Pinenut Festival also brings in dancers, family, vendors, and plenty of visitors.

“They come from throughout Nevada, California, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, because the Paiute people, they’re pretty scattered throughout the western United States,” he said.

The festival started out small, but with more and more visitors coming each year, they never run out of food and hospitality.

Follow Gustavo on instagram @goose.chavo and twitter @goose_chavo

Gustavo Sagrero is a former bilingual reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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