The armed ranchers who have been occupying Oregon's federal wildlife refuge since Saturday claim that their rights to the land date back as far as the early 1900s, when ranchers and farmers lived and worked there. But for Native Americans, a century is nothing.
Rodrique and other tribe members addressed the public during a press conference on Wednesday, where they discussed how the ranchers insulted the history of their own land struggles with the U.S. government. According to Rodrique, the tribe never surrendered their land to the Bureau of Land Management — the same federal department the armed men are organizing against — but that they continue to work with them peacefully. "This is still our land no matter who's living on it," said Tribal Council Chairperson Charlotte Rodrique.
She said, "We view them as a protector of our cultural rights in that area," noting that they have "good relations" with the refuge. Rodrique and the tribe are concerned that the ranchers will not only destroy that goodwill but also damage the archaeological sites the BLM helps them preserve.
During the conference, Burns Paiute Tribal Council member Jarvis Kennedy pointed out a double standard inherent in the way the ranchers are being treated. He said, "I wonder if it was bunch of natives that went out there and overtook that, or any federal land. Would they let us come into town and get supplies and re-up?"
Given the history of Native American genocide, the answer is probably no. In the 1800s, the federal government forcibly removed the Paiute tribe from their land. It's a hypothetical Kennedy was given the chance to answer for himself during an emotional interview with CNN.
"We'd be already shot up, blown up, in jail, handcuffed," he said. "Just being honest — they're used to killing us from way back and nothing's changed, really." When correspondent Sara Sidner asked, "Why do you think the response is different this time?" Kennedy replied, "Because they're white. That's it. That's the bluntest I can be; It's because of their skin color."
"It gets tiring," he said. "It's the same battles that my ancestors had, and now it's just a bunch of different cavalry wearing a bunch of different coats."
Said Kennedy at Wednesday's press conference, "They just need to get the hell out of here."