Activities: The Museum at Warm Springs (Madras, OR)


Along HWY 26, between Timberline and Madras is a jewel in the heart of Oregon. The Museum at Warm Springs is one of the incredible oasis’s in the heart of the Warm Springs Reservation, just 9 miles from the gorgeous Kah-Nee-Ta Resort.

In 1974, with strong support from the Tribal Council of The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, the museum project was started and they were finally able to celebrate the grand opening on March 13, 1993. The total cost of the museum project was $7,628,900 and currently houses one of the largest and most complete artifact collections of any Native American museum. Collecting artifacts is something the Elders started putting great emphasis on about 45 years ago, and through the hard work of the elders and the people the museum details the culture and history of The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. There is a great pride among the people over what they have built to maintain their heritage, not only to teach their children, but also every visitor who stops in.


The Wasco, Warm Springs, and Northern Paiute tribes, 3 very distinct cultures, are represented throughout the exhibits and the architecture. Elders from each Tribe were able to give feedback into what they wanted to see most in their museum and the designers did their best to implement each suggestion. This collaboration lead not only to being awarded the American Institute of Architects Merit Award of Excellence for its design but to a stunning building that is arranged to resemble a traditional encampment among beautiful cottonwood trees along Shitike Creek using materials to reflect the surroundings and traditions of the Tribes. The Museum says “local stone, timber and brick are finely tuned to demonstrate the integration of the arts into everyday life”. The exterior uses the following traditional designs and symbols to embellished the building: a drum, dance bustle, tipi, longhouse, travois and patterns of a Klickitat huckleberry basket. The architect followed in the tradition of leaving a slight imperfection, by misplacing one brick, just the way a bead might be misplaced in a necklace or a “stitch” in weaving. The imperfection maintains humility and I challenge you to have a look and see if you can find it. We couldn’t!

We stopped at the Museum at Warm Springs. It was fantastic!

The front of The Museum has the word ‘Twanat’ across the entry, which means ‘to follow’, and The Museum invites you to follow in the foot steps of the three Tribes who call the Warm Springs Reservation and all of the lands surrounding it home and this is easily done as you enter the exhibitions hall.

The first room presents a video talking about the history of the three Tribes who make up the Confederated Tribes at Warm Springs. Our 5-year-old sat through the whole thing which at the time was difficult for him to do. It talks about the past and the present, and the values and trials the tribes have faced. It gives a good overview of the things you will see as you walk through the museum.

The 3 types of houses the 2 tribes used tradtionally

The museum covers feasts, the petroglyphs, the traditional housing styles of the 3 tribes, the ways they survived and what they ate, a Wasco Wedding and the trading that occurred, the Treaty The Wedding Trading scene. Their beadwork is stunning!of 1855, the residential boarding schools and the near eradication of their cultures by the government, and where they are now. Much of the information is fascinating, some is inspiring, parts are very sobering, yet so much is up-lifting. It is very well balanced and when you leave you want to be a better person. The following quote is on their website and I feel The Museum lives up to the Elders teachings:

“The people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are proud to welcome you to our home. Tribal elders teach that we are bound by heritage to treat visitors as friends and guests. To honor you into our home, we extend fun, friendship, courtesy, respect and a comfortable place to rest. As our friends and guests, you are special and important. If you are content and happy, we have succeeded.”

The signs along the trail

Before you leave, make sure to take a walk along the Twanat Trail at the back of The Museum. This was our son’s favorite part, and speaks to the relationship the tribes have with nature. It is a 1/4 mile paved walk through cottonwood trees along Shitike Creek, which is a tributary of the Deschutes River. You get to learn IMG_5338about the different plants and animals the tribes held dear (and often hunted or gathered). You can see leaf fossils in rocks, watch butterflies and birds, and see which flowers are blooming. Make sure to pick up a flier about the trail when you pay your entrance fee. It gives you a check list and pictures to help identify different things as you walk along. Also, try learning a few of the words for different things along the way in any of the 3 languages spoken by the Tribes of this area. There is a teepee for the kids to play in too.
And watching the dancing on the screen and trying to do it.The Museum is great for younger kids to start learning about the history of our State and the time before and after colonization happened. They might not pick up on as much as the older kids, but will enjoyed going through the 3 traditional houses and the interactive hoop dancing at the end of the main exhibit. Give it try! The video makes it look so much easier than it is! Older kids will get much more out of it and you will spend more time absorbing the exhibits. When I learned about the history of Oregon we didn’t stop to talk about the residential boarding schools the native people were forced into and how America tried to completely eradicate their language and cultures. This gutted me, but it is important for us to know all of our history. I am so glad we have this museum to visit so we can learn about their vibrant and wonderful culture and through that we can learn a bit more about ourselves.

There is no food available for purchase in the museum, but across the highway is a deli and the Indian Head Casino has a restaurant called The Cottonwood Grill that was pretty good and reasonably priced. The Museum gift shop features locally-made beadwork and arts, Pendleton products, huckleberry products, jewelry, books and traditional and contemporary Native American music.

Disclaimer: We were hosted in 2013 by The Museum at Warm Springs. The opinions expressed are always ours and we were under no obligation to give a positive review. The Museum is incredible!

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