Steve Russell: Armed 'patriots' at odds with Burns Paiute Tribe

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Photo from Facebook

Steve Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, takes a closer look at the movement behind the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, a federal facility that was originally promised to the ancestors of the Burns Paiute Tribe:
As I write, an armed mob of “patriots” has occupied a bird sanctuary that occupies Northern Paiute land in Oregon. The Paiutes have no objection to a bird sanctuary, but the occupiers do.

If you asked the “patriots” to identify their historical forebears, they offer the Boston Tea Party, vandalism in faux Indian costumes engineered by the Sons of Liberty as they agitated their way toward the American Revolution. That’s not exactly so.

For one thing, the Sons of Liberty started out with an idea of “liberty” that came from the rights of Englishmen. They understood themselves to be Englishmen until George III trampled enough of their rights to make it clear that colonists would never have full citizenship rights.

For another, the Sons of Liberty did not start out threatening violence to fellow colonists or even to the redcoats. Even when revolution was in the air, it’s hard to picture the Sons of Liberty occupying a bird sanctuary with an implicit threat to shoot park rangers if the park rangers interfered.

No, the "patriots" have a different historical lineage in the opposition to Theodore Roosevelt’s plan to create a national park system. Indian history is joined at the hip with the national park system, since the first laws to set aside land for public use were enacted to protect the pre-history of the Americas from destruction by pothunters and grave robbers.

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