What The Occupiers Of The Oregon Wildlife Refuge Don’t Understand

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What The Occupiers Of The Oregon Wildlife Refuge Don’t Understand

A story teeming with Old West danger is gripping the nation this week. You’ve probably heard about the group of militarized occupiers in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon who wish to prove a point about Federal ownership of public lands.

This group, made mostly of ranchers and led by the Bundy brothers, are tired of paying “grazing fees” on Federally owned land. Those fees, which are happily paid by thousands of rule-abiding ranchers across the country, are standard practice in many parts of the world. You pay a few dollars per month to gain access to hundreds of thousands of acres to graze your livestock. It’s a tradeoff. Just like everything else.

So what’s the point? The occupiers, who are heavily armed and militarized, have decided their platform is to put the land back in the hands of it’s rightful owners. They want the United States government to parcel up the land and dish it back out to those who owned it before it became a National Wildlife Refuge.

Here’s what they, and frankly many Americans, don’t understand. Or understand, but conveniently forget.

The land that every single one of us lives on was originally the home of indigenous peoples, often referred to as Native Americans or American Indians. Land was taken from them. They were forced to move from their precious homelands. The “Trail of Tears” isn’t just a coined term from American history class. It’s a serious reality that impacts almost every facet of Native American life today.

And Malheur National Wildlife Refuge? It happens to contain protected ancestral artifacts from the Burns Paiute tribe who originally lived in the region. Here’s what Charlotte Ridrique, a spokesperson for the Burns Paiute tribe, had to say:

“The tribe once occupied a large swath of land that includes the Malheur National Wildlife refuge — archaeological evidence dates back 6,000 years — but they were forced out in the late 1870s. Before settlers arrived, the tribe used it as a wintering ground, said Charlotte Rodrique, the tribal chair.”

So let’s do some math to get on the same page. The Burns Paiute tribe has inhabited the Malheur National Wildlife refuge region for 6,000 years. They first encountered explorers of European descent around 1820 (196 years ago).

What’s 6,000 – 196? 5,804. The Burns Paiute tribe inhabited the currently-occupied refuge area for 5,804 years before European settlers arrived.

America has only been a country for 240 years. The Burns Paiute lived in present-day Oregon for 5,804 years.

Who do you think that land should be returned to now?


Mandy Burkholder is a travel, adventure, and outdoor writer who honed her craft in the foothills of the La Plata Mountains of Southwest Colorado. After a stint in the Swiss Alps, she now resides in Tennessee. Follow her on twitter — @mandyburkhold3r

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