Burns Paiute Tribe: Militants need to get off ‘our land’
by Ian K. Kullgren
“They just need to get the hell out of here,” said Jarvis Kennedy, a member of the tribal council. “They didn’t ask anybody, we don’t want them here…our little kids are sitting at home when they should be in school.”
The group of 20 or so militants, led by right-wing activists Ammon Bundy and his two brothers, seized the refuge headquarters on Saturday.
The Paiute Tribe once occupied a large swath of land that includes the Malheur National Wildlife refuge — archaeological evidence dates back 6,000 years — but they were forced out in the late 1870s. Before settlers arrived, the tribe used it as a wintering ground, said Charlotte Rodrique, the tribal chair.
“We as a tribe view that this is still our land no matter who’s living on it,” Rodrique said.
In 1868, the tribe signed a treaty with the federal government that requires the government to protect natives’ safety. According to the tribe, the federal government promised to prosecute “any crime or injury perpetrated by any white man upon the Indians.”
Rodrique said the tribe never ceded its rights to the land. It works with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to preserve archaeological sites.
“We feel strongly because we have had a good working relationship with the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” she said. “We view them as a protector of our cultural rights in that area.”
About 200 people live in the Burns Paiute Reservation, located 30 miles from the refuge headquarters. The tribe owns 11,000 acres of land nationwide, Rodrique said.
The tribal council met with archaeologists at the refuge Tuesday. Tribal leaders said they’re worried the militants could damage archaeological sites.
Although the tribe says it’s pleased with the federal government’s response so far, some wondered aloud whether nonwhite militants would be given such passive treatment.
“I wonder if it was bunch of natives that went out there and overtook that, or any federal land,” Kennedy said. “Would they let us come into town and get supplies and re-up?”
— Ian K. Kullgren (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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The reservation is not far from the wildlife refuge, and the tribe has been living in the arid western Oregon mountains since long before Europeans arrived in North America.
“There was never an agreement that we were giving up this land,” Rodrique said. “We were dragged out of here.”
The tribe’s approach has typically been less provocative than the protesters who brought guns to further their anti-government cause.
“I’m, like, hold on a minute, if you want to get technical about it … the land belongs to the Paiute here,” said Selena Sam, a member of the tribe’s council who works as a waitress at a local diner.
At an emotional news conference in Burns on Wednesday, tribal leaders denounced the occupiers’ claims of wanting to help local residents, and said the protesters’ ignorance of the region’s real history was offensive.
Native Americans React To Oregon Armed Occupation: Burns Paiute Tribe Says,
‘We Were Here First’
BY MORGAN WINSOR
As armed ranchers continued to occupy federal land in eastern Oregon for a fifth consecutive day, the leader of the area’s Native American tribal council spoke out in anger and frustration. “We were here first,” Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the federal recognized Burns Paiute Tribe, said at a press conference Wednesday.
The protesters want the government to relinquish the federal land to local ranchers, loggers and miners. But the area in question, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, is actually native Paiute land that was ceded to white settlers over a hundred years ago. And while the native people can relate to the protesters’ dispute, they don’t appreciate their guns and they want to make clear whose land it really is.
“Armed protesters don’t belong here,” Rodrique said at the press conference in the sleepy town of Burns, saying they were “desecrating one of our sacred sites.”
Armed anti-government protesters took over the headquarters building at the federal wildlife preserve Saturday, accusing federal officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their property. The gun-toting protesters, led by Ammon Bundy, are also demonstrating in support of two local ranchers who were charged with arson after starting a prescribed fire on their private property that spread onto public land. The group said they have no intentions of vacating the premises, despite requests from the Burns Paiute Tribe leaders.