In Idaho, Basques and shepherding have always been intrinsically linked. Even these days, a license plate featuring a sheep wagon honors Idaho's Basque heritage.
A sheep wagon, symbol of Boise's Basque heritage. Photo: Igor Lansorena
Sheep were around when Pete Cenarrusa first thought about creating a foundation for Basque culture. It could not have happened any other way. It was shepherding that brought the first Basques to Idaho in search of opportunities. Pete's father, Jose Cenarrusa, was one of them.
Although mining was also a possibility for Basques recently arrived in Idaho, most of them did not speak English and instead took to shepherding by themselves up in the mountains. Some years on, Pete's destiny would also be linked to sheep.
It was in Ketchum, Idaho, during the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. Since Ketchum and Hailey were on the trail of the sheep ranchers, moving from high summer pasture to low winter grazing, the entire affair was turned into a festival to honor the rich heritage of sheep farming here.
Pete Cenarrusa was there, surrounded by almost 2,500 sheep, enjoying the festival, together with Boise State University professor John Bieter, who had been giving a lecture on the history of the Basques at the library of Hailey.
There, they first thought about starting an educational program on the Basques at the Boise State University. "That would be good. I will help finance it," Pete said.
Center for Basque Studies
Back in Boise, and some months later, the Cenarrusa Center for Basque Studies was founded. "The group that started include John Bieter and myself, Freda, Roy and Miren Eiguren, Miren Artiach, Joseba Chertudi, Patty Miller and Jill Aldape," Pete remembers in an exclusive interview for eitb.com.
The center's foundational goal was to preserve, educate and connect the Basque community and the world through research, projects and educational opportunities by establishing a Basque Studies program at Boise State University.
However, there were some small differences in thinking. Whereas the Center was educationally focused on Boise State, some of the members wanted to help both Boise State University and other groups as well.
"What we wanted to do with the money that we... raised was support all the other Basque organizations," Freda, Pete's wife says.
"We needed not only what was happening in Boise State University, but a foundation for Basque Culture, an outreach, not only here in Boise State, but to outreach to Homedale, to Mountain Home, to Gooding, to Ontario, to Oregon, Sun Valley and all other places that had Basque organizations," Pete adds.
As a result, the Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture was born. Since then, it has promoted Basque culture and history by providing resources for performances, presentations and programs to organizations throughout Idaho and Oregon. Apart from money raised through donations, the foundation organizes 'Pete and Freda's Barbecue' every year, a fundraiser in which the recipients of that year's grants explain their projects.
This is not the only way to raise funds. A license plate that honors Idaho's Basque heritage - featuring a Basque sheep wagon - is another of the main fundraisers; the foundation receives $25 for each new plate and $15 from annual renewals.
Julia Bengoechea, daughter of a Basque sheepherder, had the idea of the license plate, drew up the design and took it to the Transportation Department. However, the new plate had to get approved by the Idaho legislators and did not receive their support as they claimed there were too many special plates.
Then, she talked to Pete. Although he was no longer Secretary of State, he still had good friends among the legislators. "When it came to a vote, most of those guys said: If you think for a while that I am going to vote against what Pete wants, you are crazy," Pete explains.
"Because it was so decisive the fact that Pete helped to get it done, (Julia) said that whatever money was from it, it would go to our foundation," Freda recounts.
There are no longer Basque shepherds in Idaho but the Basque presence is still a very vibrant reality. Pete and Freda help to keep it that way through the foundation
The future is full of new challenges. "We want to go ahead and keep the Basque culture going and our Basque identity going. We need more involvement of the Basque centers, an outreach program," he says. Knowing Pete, it's a certainty.