Oregon standoff as seen by Bundy militia, local authorities, and tribal head (EXCLUSIVE)
In a series of exclusive interviews, RT has spoken to the various sides of the conflict that has been unfolding in rural Oregon since an armed militia group headed by Ammon Bundy “fighting for Constitution” occupied a wildlife refuge at the start of the year.
The town of Burns, Oregon has been making headlines since January 2, when a group of ranchers, militia members, and supporters led by two Bundy brothers, sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, occupied the headquarters of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. They proclaimed the land, which is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to be the property of the people.
The fact that the occupiers who initiated the standoff come from outside the community “is absolutely not fair,” Burns Mayor Craig Lafollette told RT’s Simone Del Rosario.
“These folks, the Bundys, are not from this community, From the reports that I’ve got most of the folks that are out of the refuge are not even from Oregon, so it’s not fair that this wonderful peaceful community has been put in the limelight for this reason,” Lafollette said, adding that the situation has also created division within the “very close-knit resilient community.”
While some people have been bringing food “and things” to the occupiers, expressing support for the self-proclaimed militia’s cause, “the overwhelming message from the community and from the folks living here in our community, is that we don’t want them here,” the mayor said.
“They are disrupting our lives, and we are ready for them to go home and get our lives back to normal,” he said, adding that once the militia is gone, “those divisions will be healed and there may be some healthy positive discussions about some of our disagreements.”
“But at the end of the day we’ll come together as a community,” Burns’ mayor said, adding that the Bundys and their supporters “need to leave and find a different platform in which to try to communicate [their] message.”
Meanwhile, militia leader Ammon Bundy argues he and the other men are fighting for the people’s well-being and constitutional rights.
“We came down here to take a county and give it back to its constitutional premise, to work with the people so that they can begin to claim their rights themselves and so that they can begin to use them,” Bundy told RT’s Simone Del Rosario.
“We wouldn’t sacrifice our lives, we wouldn’t sacrifice being away from our children and families, being away from our businesses, if we did not feel that we are going to make a difference here. We needed a place to do it,” Bundy said. The militia and their supporters “are highly organized,” he stressed, saying that they have teams working with communities, special committees, operations in security, “vast” communication resources, as well as “some deep pockets that are willing to help fund.”
“The constitution has been violated to the point where the ranchers don’t have rights according to the federal government, that they are just renters or lessees and they don’t have any rights,” he said. “[We] basically have to lay it out that people did not give the federal government authority... to control the land and the resources, that those land and resources belong to people, that they are real property.”
Ranchers have established their right to the land “through beneficial use,” Bundy said. “Those are truly our rights established by common law, established by natural law,” he argued, referring to a philosophy introduced by John Locke that asserts that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature. The philosopher believed that when man takes land that nature has provided, and mixes it with his labor, as a consequence, he has a right to that property .
Native Americans, however, have a different perspective on the property issue.
“They say they are going to give it back to the ranchers, who are the rightful owners of this – [but] did the ranchers just drop out of the sky into virgin territory that has never been touched by anybody... and it just became theirs? No, it didn’t happen,” said Burns Paiute tribal chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique.
If not the federal government, the tribe is next in line as the rightful owners of the land in question, the current head of the people that were violently forced off it centuries ago told RT.
“[If] any section of that area could be reestablished under tribal control, we would gladly take it,” Rodrique said, warning the occupiers that they should not mess with people from their reservation.
“Native people across the nation are watching us; native people across the nation are ready. If anybody threatens, punishes or assaults [us], or something happens with the tribal people, there’s gonna be no holding people back,” the tribal chairperson said.
She also finds the government’s actions – or, so far, the lack thereof – to be “biased.”
“If we had gone down there and done something like that – we are brown-skinned, people of color – I said you would have thumped me on the forehead first, drug me off the land, thumped me again and locked me up, or shot me or whatever.”
“But because these people are not people of color, the whole approach to enforcing government laws is different. I say it’s biased,” Rodrique said, adding that the authorities should be “more aggressive.”
“I’m watching to see what the federal law enforcement does with this situation, because they have a treaty obligation to all Native Americans that when anything that has to do with native people is infringed by a white man – and it says ‘white man’ in most of the treaties – the federal government is obligated to protect the rights of native people.”