The leaders of the Burns Paiute tribe have a message for the men and women who have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Oregon: “Go home. We don’t want you here.”
The message came from several tribe members whose ancestors fought and died over portions of that land long before the ranchers and farmers had it, long before the federal government even existed.
The tribe is still fighting over land use but now works with the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management to save its archaeological sites.
“We have good relations with the refuge. They protect our cultural rights there,” said tribal council Chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique.
The Bureau of Land Management is the same agency that has riled up Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy and the armed protesters who joined him from out of state. The men took over the wildlife refuge headquarters, saying they would stay until the land was returned to who they consider its owners, the 100 or so ranchers and farmers who worked the land as far back as 1900.
“We are exercising our constitutional rights. We won’t leave until these lands have been turned over to the their rightful owners,” Bundy said. “More than 100 ranchers and farmers used to work this land, which was taken illegally by the federal government.”
The Paiute tribe decided it was time to speak about what’s happening at the refuge. They did so at length and with plenty of emotion.
“They just need to get the hell out of here,” tribal council member Jarvis Kennedy told a crowd of reporters and local residents who showed up to listen to what the tribe had to say on the matter.
Later he explained why he felt so angry about the takeover.
“To me they are just a bunch of bullies and little criminals coming in here and trying to push us around over here and occupy our aboriginal territories out there where our ancestors are buried,” Kennedy said.
He continued to tell the history of his tribe’s fight over land. Members of the tribe are descendants of the Wadatika band of northern Paiutes. Their history in the area dates back 9,000 years ago, the tribe says. The ancestors of the Burns Paiutes lived in caves near the shores of lakes in the Northern Great Basin. When the lakes began drying up the tribe had to migrate.
The tribe said it has never ceded its right to the land but received federal recognition in 1868 and signed a treaty with the federal government that requires it to protect the safety of the natives and promised to prosecute any crime or injury perpetrated by any white man upon them.
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SOURCE: CNN, Sara Sidner