When a group of mostly-White armed militants occupied Oregon’s federally-controlled Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and demanded that it be "returned" local ranchers and loggers, local Native leaders whose tribe lay historical claim to the refuge’s land had a clear message for them: "Get the hell out of here." Last week, nearly two months after the occupation began, members of the Burns Paiute tribe were finally permitted to re-enter the refuge.
Tribe members visited the refuge last Monday (February 29). The 178,000 acre refuge was once part of the Malheur Indian Reservation, to which Northern Paiute tribes trace their roots. It also contains ancestral burial grounds and other sites relevant to the Burns Paiute. Tribal councilman Jarvis Kennedy spoke to Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) about federal efforts to repair the occupier’s damage to the land:
"I’m glad they cleaned up all those urinals they made," Burns Paiute tribal councilman Jarvis Kennedy told ICTMN. "They went in with Hazmat suits on and got all of that out of there and covered it up. When I first saw it kind of made me mad. That’s our burial ground area."
Part of the feds’ cleanup efforts involve three trenches dug by occupiers and used for trash and feces disposal. The FBI indicated that one of the trenches was near what ICTMN called the tribe’s "culturally-sensitive sites."
Kennedy and the rest of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council met with U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch and Bureau of Indian Affairs regional director Stanley Speaks in Portland, Oregon, last week. Speaks assured the council that the bureau would assist with the expenses the tribe incurred to provide 24-hour police coverage to protect their community during the occupation. According to ICTMN, armed occupiers routinely harassed and threatened Native peoples during the occupation.