The Oregon tribe that once inhabited the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has made its stance clear on the militant group now occupying refuge headquarters: They’re not welcome.
“We as Harney County people can stand on our own feet,” said Jarvis Kennedy, a member of the Burns Paiute Tribal council. “We don’t need some clown to come in here and stand up for us.”
“They say they don’t want to bother the community,” he said. “But you know what? Our kids are sitting at home right now when they should be in school.”
The armed standoff has prompted local schools to shutter until further notice. And it’s unclear when the group of about a dozen men plan on leaving their post.
“We will be here for as long as it takes,” said Ryan Payne, a member of the group, at a January 4 press conference. “People have talked about returning land to the people for a long time. Finally, someone is making an effort in that direction.”
The tribe spent nearly 6,000 years occupying this swath of land in southeast Oregon — land now occupied by the wildlife refuge and surrounding ranches. In the late 1870s, they were forced out by settlers and, eventually, the federal government.
With this history in mind, the idea of militant ranchers coming to “take back their land” doesn’t sit well with tribal members.
“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,” said Charlotte Rodrique, the tribal chair. “Armed protesters don’t belong here.”