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With Militants Occupying Ancestral Land, Native Tribe Is 'Very Offended'

Burns Paiute Tribal Council Chairperson Charlotte Rodrique speaks during a press conference on Jan. 6 in Burns, Ore.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Burns Paiute Tribal Council Chairperson Charlotte Rodrique speaks during a press conference on Jan. 6 in Burns, Ore.

More than a week has passed since armed men took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The self-described militiamen are demanding that the federal government give up that land for people to use for ranching, mining and logging.

But there's another group with roots on that land: Native Americans, especially the Burns Paiute tribe. The wildlife refuge is part of the tribe's ancestral lands.

"The tribe is very offended," says Charlotte Rodrique, the chairperson of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council, in an interview with NPR's Michel Martin. "[The militants'] theme, of course, was that we're going to give it back to the original owners, which were the ranchers. Of course, that rubbed me the wrong way because that's our aboriginal territory."

And she says it's not simply the tribe's land; they harbor a long history there, too.

"We do have burial sites, we have artifacts, we have petroglyphs, we have resources there that we utilize as a tribe," she says. "We take our children out to teach them traditional lifestyle. Identifying plants and medicines that are traditional to our people. In fact, our band of Paiute people is named after that seed that grows on the shores there at the marsh."

She says over the past 25 years, the tribe has had a good working relationship with people working at the wildlife refuge.

Rodrique says she's frustrated that the federal government hasn't forced the occupiers out, and compares how law enforcement treats the anti-federalists with how the U.S. historically treated native tribes. She says the occupiers are allowed to go into town to buy groceries and gas, then return to their armed occupation.

"They did disconnect their utilities and things like that, but it's not really forcing them out," Rodrique says. "You know, in our history, that was how the military got us. They basically starved us into submission. And you could do the same thing with these occupiers."

Rodrique would like the FBI to remove the armed men, and she thinks the FBI's inaction is a double standard.

"If I, as a native person, a person of color, were to go down there and do the same thing, they would have hit me on the forehead with a baton" and dragged her out, she says. But "because they're white people, I feel that they're being treated differently."

Click the link above to hear the full interview.

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