Buffalo Besta '06 

Originally published August 16, 2006 by John M. Ysursa. Neither NABO or the Basque Government is responsible for the following content

Since 1979, NABO has celebrated an annual Convention.  This year it was hosted by the Big Horn Basque Club of Buffalo, Wyoming.  For a weekend in July a town of 4,000 inhabitants became the home of 5,000 festival-goers who made this a festival to remember.

NABO today counts nearly three dozen Basque organizations as members.  Most NABO member organizations are Basque clubs or social organizations, while a few are educational.  Our membership ranges from east to west (New York to San Francisco) and north to south (Seattle to Chino).  Some organizations are very active while others might just have an event or two a year.  Some have larger memberships in the hundreds while some count members by the dozen.  For all this diversity, however, we all share the pursuit of a common goal:  the preservation of our Basque heritage here in America.  And that is what we all gathered to celebrate on the slopes of the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming in the town of Buffalo.  For two days in July this town of about 4,000 inhabitants became the home of 5,000 festival-goers who made this a Basque festival to remember.

Buffalo has been a home for Basques for a century.  Like many of our shared stories, most Basques found their way there as sheepherders so it was fitting that the Big Horn Basque Club choose to make this a Sheep wagon Festival.  The Saturday morning parade had three dozen sheep wagon entries.  Most all of the local Basque families had a connection to the sheep business, and while hardly any are still directly involved anymore, most have kept a sheep wagon in the family as a way to pay tribute to their ancestors.   The streets of Buffalo were lined with thousands of spectators--the whole town seemed to be there along with plenty of outsiders who heard about the Basque festival.  The parade came to an end at the city park, and that is where soon the thousands congregated.

For this visitor, and a good many others that I spoke with, the town of Buffalo has a special feel about it.  Maybe its the altitude (4,645 feet), its location at the base of the Big Horn National Forest, the wide-open spaces, the old-time downtown (image at left), the small-town ambiance, or most likely, the people we meet there.  Everyone was so friendly, and everyone seemed to be into the festival spirit.  As you went through the town there where ikurrinas or Basque flags everywhere.  The club there might be small of membership, but they sure did put on a great party!  On Saturday the city park was filled with thousands of people, and most of them weren't Basque.  The word is starting to get out--partying with the Basques is a good time!  And this is a plus.  The participation of non-Basques in our events not only helps us financially, it also lends another crucial dynamic--validation that what we're doing is worthwhile and that it's not just for a select few.  Others too are welcomed to take part and we love it. 

Whereas most Basque festivals are lucky to count one visiting Basque band, Buffalo gave us two!  We were treated to some great music with Tapia eta Leturia and their band, as well as the band Ketxo.  Other entertainers included the local "Zaherrer Segi" Basque dances, the visiting Utah-ko Triskalariak dancers, and Wyoming's own bertsolari Martin Goikoetxea.  The local theater sponsored two showings of the "Last Link" documentary that chronicles the story of sheep herding and features local Basques.  Both showings were filled, and copies of the DVD ran out with orders being taken for a hundred more!  Part of the proceeds from this film go to NABO's education fund.

It wasn't just all play as NABO delegates did find some time to get some work done.  We assembled Friday morning for one of our tri-annual NABO meetings.  A special treat was the lunch which featured talks by two long-time Buffalo Basques who told us the story of Basques in Buffalo.  We hammered out some new procedural rules to hopefully make our meetings more efficient, delegates shared the latest from their clubs, and work began on preparing for our upcoming Udazken Biltzarra (previous Astero) or Basque Forum in October.  We're trying to take a serious look ahead to develop a strategy to keep our young Basques involved.  Mary Gaztambide was once again elected as President, and all of the NABO officers and chairpersons remain the same for another year. 

I wish we could have stayed, because it sounded like Monday's mountain tour was a special treat.  Fifty five people took part in this fishing expedition into the Big Horns.  The morning's catch was then served up at a mountain cabin along with barbecued lamb and other potluck offerings.  Lunch was followed by Mus and plenty of conversations.  That's what makes Basque festivals so much fun--good food, good entertainment and good times.  Catching up with old friends--or making new ones--is what makes it a special time.  We don't remember whole years, nor whole months, nor weeks nor days.  We remember the moments.  And the festival in Buffalo gave us plenty of those.  If you went, you know what I mean.  If you missed it, you'll have another chance next year.  We're getting together in Winnemucca the first weekend of June.  So come ready for the good times!

Thanks to our friends in Buffalo--you made us feel very welcomed and you gave us an opportunity to create some special memories.  Here's hoping we'll be back there before too long, and that you'll be able to "Zaharrer Segi" ("Follow the old ways").  Mil esker (thanks)!



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