As reported on CNN, the leaders of the Burns Paiute tribe have sent a message to the ranchers and sympathizers who have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Oregon: “Go home. We don’t want you here.”
Tribal members assert that their ancestors fought and died on the lands within the refuge long before the ranchers and farmers began using it – dating back before the U.S. 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 people who took over the wildlife refuge headquarters have said they would stay until the land was given to the ranchers and farmers who they consider its owners, who have worked the land as far back as 1900. After hearing many statemetns from the ranchers, the Paiute tribe decided it was time to speak about what’s happening at the refuge.
“They just need to get the hell out of here,” tribal council member Jarvis Kennedy told a crowd of reporters and local residents. “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.
Members of the tribe are descendants of the Wadatika band of northern Paiutes, whose 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.