Members of the Native American tribal council in Burns, Oregon, where a self-styled militia is in a standoff with the federal government over land rights, are uneasy with the group’s gun-toting approach.
BURNS, OREGON, UNITED STATES (JANUARY 6, 2016) (NBC) – Members of the Native American tribe near Burns, Oregon, where an armed standoff between a self-styled militia and the federal government has been taking place, said they want the occupation of the land to end.
At an emotional news conference in Burns, Oregon on Wednesday (January 6), tribal leaders denounced the occupiers’ claims that they want to help local residents, and said the protesters’ ignorance of the region’s real history was offensive.
“We don’t got no jobs here. But we don’t need them to back us up,” said the tribal council’s sergeant at arms, Jarvis Kennedy.
“They just need to get the hell out of here, I’m sorry. Because we didn’t ask them here. We don’t want them here … This community is hard-working,” Kennedy said to loud applause.
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the small town of Burns have been thrust into the spotlight by the takeover, which began on Saturday and marked the latest protest over federal management of millions of acres (hectares) of land in the West.
The armed group’s standoff with the U.S. government over ranchers’ land rights has bewildered the tribe’s leaders. Although the federally recognized Burns Paiute Tribe have their own disputes over land and water with U.S. government agencies, they prefer a less adversarial approach.
The reservation is not far from the wildlife refuge, and the tribe has been living in the arid western Oregon mountains since long before Europeans arrived in North America.
Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the, said on Wednesday (January 6) that, among other things, the tribe was concerned about possible damage to cultural artifacts on the land and that the occupation is tantamount to the desecration of sacred land.
“They have already in their minds decided what they want to do and any rational or reasonable conversation, negotiation, whatever, I don’t think it’s going to sink in with them,” she said during a news conference.
Tribal officials said the government has become increasingly bureaucratic about allowing the tribe to catch trout, bass and perch in the rivers lacing the mountains and to hunt elk and deer in the woods.
But the tribe wants to avoid the gun-toting approach to grievances favored by the group led by Ammon Bundy, whose father, Cliven Bundy, had a similar standoff with federal agents over grazing rights in Nevada in 2012.
Ammon Bundy and his supporters arrived in Oregon after local ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, were given longer prison terms for setting fires that spread to federal land, saying the government wanted to seize ranch lands for its own use.
It was not clear how many protesters were involved in the occupation. Federal law enforcement officials have kept their distance, following guidelines instituted to prevent a repeat of standoffs that ended in bloodshed such as those in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and later in Waco, Texas, in the early 1990s.
Rodrique, the tribal chairwoman, told the news conference that the wildlife refuge was important to the tribe as a source of willows for handicrafts, as well as medicinal plants. And she said tribe members were concerned about potential damage to archeological artifacts.