According to representatives of the Native American Burns Paiute Tribe, members of the Northern Paiute are bewildered by claims of ranchers’ land rights being pushed by the Ammon Bundy-led armed militia group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns.
Speaking in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday at the tribe’s reservation meeting house, Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the Burns Paiute Tribe, criticized the armed militia members; and referring to ongoing dispute between the Northern Paiute tribe and the federal government over land and water resources, Rodrique commented that the armed militia members appeared to have overlooked the fact that “there was never an agreement that we [the Paiute] were giving up this land.”
“We were dragged out of here,” she said.
However, she noted that despite the fact that they had owned the land in the western Oregon mountains long before any European set foot in North America, they have preferred a “less adversarial approach” than the armed militia members on whose behalf the federal government “stole” the land after President Ulysses Grant established the Malheur Indian Reservation for the Northern Paiute in 1872.
“I just think they [the armed militia members] are a bunch of glory hounds. Look at us, look at what we’re doing. I don’t give much credence to their cause,” she said.
Rodrique lamented that the federal government continues to encroach on the land rights of the Paiute by restricting the rights of the tribe to catch trout, bass, and perch in the rivers and hunt elk and deer in the woods.
Another member of the Paiute tribe’s council, Selena Sam, said, “I’m, like, hold on a minute, if you want to get technical about it… the land belongs to the Paiute here.”
Rodrique told Reuters that after news of the Saturday, January 2, armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters by the armed militia men, leaders of the tribe held a council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
Responding to reports that the armed militia members are protesting federal control of millions of acres of lands in the West on the grounds that sovereignty belongs to the states, Steven Russell at the Indian Country Today Media Network argued that the claims are based on shocking lack of knowledge of recent history.
In the case of Oregon, Russell commented on the irony of self contradiction lost on the armed militia group. The writer noted that the Oregon land that the militia members claim was “stolen” from them by the federal authorities was actually land reserved in 1872 for the Northern Paiute by President Grant but which the federal government subsequently stole from them.
According to Russell, the Paiute tribe used to own more than 1.5 million acres of land but they have now been pushed to a reservation amounting to a paltry 750 acres in Burns, near the federal building which Bundy and his men have occupied.
Delving into history, Russell noted that the Constitution reserves the responsibility to the federal government to deal with the Native American nations. And as part of efforts to fulfill that responsibility in Oregon, “President U.S. Grant established the Malheur Indian Reservation for the Northern Paiute in 1872.”
But after the Bannock War of 1878, the federal government moved the Bannocks and the Paiute from the reservation to the Yakama Reservation in Washington Territory. Remnants of the Paiutes were scattered all over the West and the Burns Paiute Reservation is all that remains of the former Malheur Reservation.
Consequently, according to Russell, “the only reason the militiamen feel they have a leg to stand on when it comes sovereignty over this land is because of the [action of] the federal government they are attacking.”
That is, if the federal government — which the militia members now describe as “oppressive and tyrannical” — had not taken the land from the natives, the militia men would have no grounds to claim the land as rightfully theirs.
So in a sense, the militia members are biting the hand that fed them.
Based on the historical facts, John Paul Brammer, with the Blue Nation Review, marveled at the “deep irony” of Ammon Bundy’s December 30 Facebook rant in which he accused the federal government of stealing land from ranchers.
“The federal government has adversely stolen the lands and resources from the people, destroyed thousands of jobs, and the economy of an entire county. Now anyone who has enough guts to stand against them, they annihilate through their own court systems…,” he wrote on Facebook.
Writing in U.S. Uncut, Amanda Girard pointed out that Bundy’s words fitted the condition of Native Americans better. After centuries of encroachment on Native American land rights, they have now been relegated “to reservations in areas largely devoid of natural resources and infrastructure conducive to economic prosperity. As a result, these reservations are known for high unemployment rates, pervasive poverty, and lower life expectancy. The United Nations has called on the U.S. government to return stolen land to Native Americans.”
Girard concluded that if the Bundy militia members occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters were actually interested in fighting against what Jon Ritzheimer — one of the Bundy militia members — called the “oppressive tyranny” of the federal government, they would recognize that the land they are now claiming as theirs “rightfully belongs to the indigenous tribes…”
“If they really want justice, they should dedicate their cause to helping Native Americans have their stolen land returned,” Girard concluded.
Brammer also commented on the glaring discrepancy between the treatment of Bundy militia members and Native Americans who occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. in 1972 in protest of federal “oppression.”
The protesters were immediately arrested for trespassing. He also recalled how the Ogala Lakota, who occupied the town of Wounded Knee in 1973, were treated harshly by the U.S. government. On the first day of the occupation the government sent in FBI agents and troops to flush them out.
Brammer mentioned other Native American tribes in the West fighting for the return of their stolen lands. He gave the example of the San Carlos Apache tribe fighting in Arizona for their lands in Oak Flat and their struggle to prevent a sacred site called Apache Leap from being mined.
“It’s probably safe to assume that the plight of the Paiute and the history of the land now called the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge isn’t on Ammon Bundy’s mind,” Brammer wrote. “The militiamen probably don’t see the irony in claiming that the feds stole their land. Even if the land ‘belonged’ entirely to them, it would still be stolen.”
[Photo By Rick Bowmer/AP]