Thirty right-wing militia are battling it out with a tribe of Paiute Indians natives for control of a piece of land in Oregon.
The contested land is called the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and the group of commandos, who are in most cases not residents of Oregon, have seized the land to spite the Federal government.
The right-wing group go by the name of Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. They claim to have collected evidence that federal officials helped to start a spate of fires that were attributed to local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. Both Hammond men have been imprisoned for arson.
The government claimed that the father and son team set fires to cover up their poaching of deer.
The right-wing collective believes they have some claim on the land due to family farming roots traceable in the lineage of some members.
Cliven Bundy Jr., the leader of the group, said,
“We are exercising our constitutional rights. We won’t leave until these lands have been turned over to their rightful owners. More than 100 ranchers and farmers used to work this land, which was taken illegally by the federal government.”
Citizens for Constitutional Freedom occupied a group of buildings scattered around the land, which they believe are illegally operated by the US Fish and Game Service. They also staged a rally on behalf of the two imprisoned local ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond.
Local people reportedly have not embraced the right-wing group that claims to act on their behalf. This is despite the fact that many knew the Hammonds and were dismayed to see their jail term extended.
Many of the townspeople said they are upset about what has happened to the Hammonds, seeing them returned to prison after serving the initial sentence, but there are mixed emotions about Bundy and the other protesters, who call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.
The Guardian has dubbed the conflict “the Bundy Bunch versus a Native American tribe,” due to the presence of another party. A tribe of Native Americans, whose ancestors have lived on the land for thousands of years, have turned the protest into a standoff.
The Paiute Indians native say that, if anyone has a right to the land, it’s them — their ancestors lived for thousands of years on the land that is now called the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
The “competing visions” for the future of the federally-managed land have received press coverage around the world. What started as an attempt to assert constitutional rights with a Tea Party-style display by the right-wing group has turned into a clash of claimants, raising questions about how far such land claims can go back.
Perhaps the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom will argue that the Constitution that supports their land claim did not exist at the time when the Paiute Indians walked the land.
According to the Paiute, the tribe never ceded its right to the land. In fact, they claim to have received federal recognition of their rights in in 1868, when a treaty was signed with the federal government. The terms of the treaty required the government to protect the safety of the natives.
There was also a promised to prosecute any crime or injury perpetrated by any white man upon them.
According to CNN, the treaty was never honored. In 1879 the Paiute people were”loaded into wagons and ordered to walk under heavy guard” in knee-deep snow until they were off their land, never to return.
“They literally walked our people, children and women off our lands. They had no problem killing us,”
The natives reflected that they have been fighting for their land for so long it is getting “tiring.” Tribal council member Jarvis Kennedy said,
“It gets tiring. It’s the same battles that my ancestors had. And now it’s just a bunch of different cavalry wearing a bunch of different coats.”
“They just need to get the hell out of here,” Jarvis added angrily.
The Guardian reports that Paiute tribal chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique also spoke out against Bundy and his group, saying they were encroaching on land considered sacred by the Paiute people.
“Armed protesters don’t belong here. By their actions they are desecrating one of our sacred traditional cultural properties. They are endangering our children, and the safety of our community, and they need to leave. Armed confrontation is not the answer.”
Paiute tribal chair re Bundy "militia": "I wouldn't dignify them with a meeting." https://t.co/jSF1pav9Z4— Steve Jarzombek (@sejarzo) January 8, 2016
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)