Native leaders have a message for the armed White men occupying Oregon’s federal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: "get the hell out of here."
Members of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council held a press conference yesterday, January 6, in Burns, Oregon to comment on the armed protesters. The occupiers claim to be representing the rights of local ranchers and loggers against the federal government, but council members were unapologetic in their critiques that the land originally belonged to their ancestors and had it stolen from settlers and the government.
“We never gave up our aboriginal rights to the territory, so we as a tribe actually view this as our land, no matter who is living on it,” explained tribal chair Charlotte Rodrique, tribal chair, adding, “Armed protesters don’t belong here.”
Carla Teeman, a social services assistant for the tribe, echoed much of the core criticism about the occupiers when she stated, "As a Native, if we were to go out there and fight back like they are, we would have been dead by now."
Other comments during the press conference highlighted how school shutdowns during the occupation were keeping tribe members’ kids out of school, as well as how the occupiers never acknowledged the rights of the Burns Paiute Indians when taking over the land.
The council represents the Burns Paiute Indian tribe, which traces its ancestry to Native peoples occupying the land that is now the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as long as 15,000 years ago. They claim, as described by HuffPost, that tribe was exiled to Washington after the US government eliminated the Malheur Indian Reservation in 1878. The current Burns Paiute Reservation consists of about 1,000 acres, nearly 30 miles from the refuge.
When asked by a reporter about the tribe’s claims during another Wednesday press conference, occupation leader Ammon Bundy said, "I would like to see them be freed from the federal government as well." This is the extent to which he has remarked about tribal claims that have otherwise been omitted from their stance in favor of ranchers.