By Monty Herron, PQ Monthly
Catchy title, albeit a sad one. But it is true. The situation happening in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, (which used to be the Malheur Indian Reservation) is a grotesque caricature of institutional racism, and how it manifests in our lives today without the public even realizing it. What continues to puzzle and astound me, is that more people aren’t raising these concerns, and using their voices to put a stop to it. For historical context, let’s just go over a few things. This area of land was originally the Paiute Indian territory and was later designated as a reservation. (The 1868 treaty with the Northern Paiutes was never ratified, making the entire original 1.78 million acres of the Malheur Indian Reservation unceded tribal lands.) Then it was taken into federal trust after the Bannock Indian War, before removing most of them to Yakima, Washington.
Those that remained now inhabit the Burns Paiute Reservation. Later the land was sold to white settlers and corporations, because of settler encroachment, with a portion designated a wildlife refuge. A compact remains in effect, stating that the land must be managed in partnership with the Paiutes to protect their sacred sites, sites they are still using to this day for religious and ceremonial purposes. For what it’s worth, the federal government is doing a good job of upholding this relationship according to the Paiute tribal council. These ‘patriotic cowboys’ are desecrating sacred lands for their own misguided and self-serving illegal purposes. This to me is a real story, but not the one you will see splashed across your television, newspaper, Twitter, and Facebook feeds. Why? Because as institutional racism and systemic oppression dictates, Native Americans don’t matter. Our rights, our feelings, our experiences; always take a backseat to white superiority.
Let’s take a closer look at Ammon Bundy and his band of “clownboy” patriots. Oregon ranchers, father and son Steven and Dwight Hammond, were convicted of arson on federal lands for fires that they set. One to conceal illegal deer poaching, the other to establish a fire line to protect their land from a lightning struck wildfire, the second one endangered the lives of volunteer firefighters battling the blaze. They plead guilty, were given lighter sentences by the judge and were freed. However, because of their egregious disregard for the land, laws, and human life; the federal government’s prosecutor did something unusual, appealing the court’s ruling, asking to have the mandatory minimum sentencing upheld. The prosecutor prevailed. Ammon and his cohorts said they are protesting these ranchers poor treatment by the government and want them and federal lands released.
Here’s the thing, the Hammonds already turned themselves in to serve the rest of their sentences. So we now have a bunch of people, who don’t even reside in Oregon (Ammon Bundy and his ilk) trying to dictate what lands the federal government will give up, and who they will release from prison. DOMESTIC TERRORISM anyone?!?!? I will guarantee you one thing, just as certainly as my fingers are shaking with anger as I type this. If these clowns were any color but white, you can bet the feds would have stormed the place and rounded every damn one of them up that were alive when the dust settled. Still not thinking racism and oppression are at play? Ok.
Let me tell you about a pair of sisters, Carrie and Mary Dann. Two elderly Shoshone women, who have refused to cede title to their lands. In much the same way as has happened with any other tribe, the Shoshone lands were part of an 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty, involving 26 million acres in 3 states, giving Cowboys access to the earth, but not the title. And in much the same way the feds handled the Paiutes, the Shoshone was told in 1970 that their land didn’t belong to them anymore because of white encroachment. Well, the Dann sisters didn’t go along with that and have maintained (Mary died on the ranch in 2005) that they never sold their land to anyone. So, how were these peaceful, non-white activists treated? The federal government made a raid with BLM agents, heavily armed, and using helicopters, to steal 232 head of cattle from the Dann ranch. The sisters had to move 400 horses in an emergency to prevent them from being stolen too. The BLM deputized local cowboys to carry out this heinous treachery, to enforce their standpoint that these animals were feeding on public lands. Carrie continues to fight for their rights despite her advanced age. The twisted cruelty? These people never ceded their land, are still occupying it despite being hassled by cowboys and the BLM always, but there is no justice for them. Everyone should know what the government has done to the Dann’s, but instead, everyone knows who Y’all Qaeda is.
Approximately 30 miles away, in Burns, Oregon, there are reports that federal officials have gathered, but have taken no action to thwart the occupation of the refuge. Bundy has been seen going through employee files, computers, using the refugees heavy equipment to destroy fences, opened confidential reports on wildlife numbers/mapping- they have ransacked an entirely underfunded site, with one Fish and Wildlife officer. All of the federal employees of the refuge have fled for safety. The number of laws these clowns have broken is unbelievable. But they have. And no one is doing a damn thing about it. Don’t tell me it has nothing to do with institutionalized racism and systemic oppression because it has everything to do with it.
Ferguson protesters labeled thugs and thieves because they were Black. Call out the National Guard! Mobilize everyone! They’re destroying property, and taking things that don’t belong to them, what disgusting, shameful behavior! Oh, these white cowboys over here?? They’re having an ‘occupation’, as militias do. National Guard? Heavily armed presence? Nah… let’s just wait till they get tired of this and want to move on. This is what should be characterized by anyone with sense as disgusting. But it won’t be, not now, maybe not ever, because after all, it’s just a bunch of white guys in Oregon. Oh, and keep sending them dildoes in the mail, they love that!
Monty Herron is a Graduate student at Portland State University, author, and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.