RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Bernstein writes: "To Morningstar and the people she stands for, Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan are not heroes. They have zero claim to the land and present 'a direct threat' to the local Native American community. She herself has often felt directly threatened while walking in isolated parts of the countryside."

Ammon Bundy, right, shakes hand with a federal agent guarding the gate at the Burns Municipal Airport in Oregon on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (photo: Keith Ridler/AP)
Ammon Bundy, right, shakes hands with a federal agent guarding the gate at the Burns Municipal Airport in Oregon on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (photo: Keith Ridler/AP)

Malheur Wildlife Refuge Takeover Is No Wounded Knee

By Dennis J. Bernstein, Reader Supported News

24 January 16


or forty years now, Leonard Peltier, leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has been imprisoned as a result of the armed raid by the federal government on Indian land at the historic Wounded Knee in 1973. Bill Means, veteran of the Vietnam War and the standoff at Wounded Knee, said, “The Feds didn’t serve us coffee and pizzas. They came heavily armed, ready to do battle, and opened fire before they asked the first question.” Means is a co-founder, along with Leonard Peltier, of AIM, and is now on the board of the International Indian Treaty Council.

“The laws are recast and enforced in order to suppress any type of minority movement,” said Means, “to shift all the power of recognition to the white community. So that when the posse comitatus or bunch of racist ranchers take over a piece of land, they do it in the name of their country, and they become immune to the criminal laws of the United States.”

Means reflected on how this scenario might have played out quite differently, if it had been AIM that decided to lead an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. “We know exactly what they’d do. We experienced that back in 1973,” Means told me in a January radio interview. “We were immediately surrounded by over 7 or 8 federal jurisdictions: FBI, U.S. marshals, U.S. Border Patrol, BIA police. I’m missing a few, but you can understand the type of response we get as Indian people.”

Ammon Bundy, right, shakes hands with a federal agent guarding the gate at the Burns Municipal Airport in Oregon on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (photo: Keith Ridler/AP)

Far from the history of his ancestors, who walked across the Bering Straits many thousands of years ago to discover North America, these descendants of white culture are “violent newcomers,” Means said. “These are modern-day colonizers. I mean, we already went through this era of homesteading which was, you know, back in the days of 1887 or so. So this is a scary type of uplift in the posse comitatus-type people. I experienced this, as well, back in Wisconsin.”

“It was 1987 when I moved here to the Twin Cities,” said the Native American leader. “There was a struggle for fishing rights going on. And that’s where we were surrounded, again, by law enforcement and vigilantes who were trying to stop our people from fishing, which is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. They actually made a social event out of it, where they would go every weekend, get drunk, and harass the Indian fishermen and women. That was just back in the 80s. And, of course, Wounded Knee in the 70s. Now what’s going on over there is being condoned and almost celebrated, and these people are being portrayed as heroes for standing up to the federal government. But, in fact, when we try to defend our land, and our fishing rights, hunting rights, what do we get? We get the opposite. We get the rednecks, we get the racists, we get the crooked politicians, who are all stepping forward to be a part of this action against Indian people. So we have a complete, shall we say, contradiction from the response of law enforcement. When they’re white, they are alright. If they’re Indian, if they’re Black Lives Matter, then it’s a whole other process.”

Confederate Flags Over Indian Land

Morningstar is a Native American activist and a member of the International Indian Treaty Council. She is also a member of the Pit River Tribe in Southern Oregon. Her tribe shares a boundary with the Paiute, whose land has been “occupied again by armed white people,” this time white ranchers and cattlemen, she says, claiming “sovereignty” over land that has been inhabited by these tribes for thousands of years.

“It’s really laughable that these armed militia have come in and are claiming that they’re the original caretakers of the land,” she said in an interview on January 20th. “We see it so much within these rural communities. They’ve really appropriated the language of sovereignty and caretaking. I live in a very rural community where there are a number of cattle ranchers. And they have stated, ‘We’re the caretakers here. It’s our sovereign right to be here. This is our land.’”

To Morningstar and the people she stands for, Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan are not heroes. They have zero claim to the land and present “a direct threat” to the local Native American community. She herself has often felt directly threatened while walking in isolated parts of the countryside.

“It’s not a very welcoming atmosphere,” said Morningstar, “as I do wear my sweatshirt that says ‘Got Land?’ on the front, and ‘I’m thinking Indian’ on the back. And I don’t get a very warm response. Confederate flags are very common, the state of Jefferson flags. But these are tribal lands. We’ve been here since time immemorial. And so when the lands were homesteaded, when they were opened up for cattle ranchers, and for farmers, that wasn’t the beginning of U.S. history. We’ve existed for many thousands of years and so it’s very much a concern with the Bundy group and their supporters as well.”

Morningstar is deeply troubled by the takeover of the Malheur Refuge area, which she said contains sacred burial grounds of their ancient ancestors, and extensive personal records about the community and its people. She bristles at the claim by the Bundy brothers that they are acting on behalf of everyone in the area, including the Native American tribes. “They are absolutely not acting on behalf of the local tribes within the area,” she said unequivocally. “The Paiute have 420 members enrolled, half of whom live on and near the reservation. And so they have essentially taken over the bird refuge. The main concern right now is that there are over 4,000 artifacts. There are maps within the BLM offices. These are maps that are not disclosed to the public, and so we’re hearing stories now of the militia members, Bundy’s faction, you know, going through personnel files of the staff members there, many of which include tribal members. They have access to this classified material, and to the 4,000 artifacts.”

Morningstar added that her concern is not only with the potential damage the armed ranchers might do inside the formal structures of the refuge, but with what they have already done as a result of their driving large herds of cattle over sacred Indian land. “When it comes to sacred place protection, it’s definitely an issue, because the cattle are consistently stepping over sacred sites and burials,” she said. “They are contaminating our springs, our waterways, our creeks. They’re inside the rivers and stream ways. We’re having to do a lot of restoration work along the creek ways because we have cattle that are just pushing the soil and dirt into the water.”

The affected tribes have reached out directly to law enforcement and to the Feds, but unlike Wounded Knee in 1973, said Morningstar, when the government responded with massive firepower on the same day as the takeover, here the Feds have been slow to act. “The tribe is working directly with BLM and with law enforcement on it,” she said, “but they are very slow to respond, and there’s irony, of course. When the Wounded Knee takeover took place in 1973, the very same day there was response. There was paramilitary response from the U.S. government. We all know that there were tankers that were brought in. There were air bombings that occurred. And the fact that this takeover has been going on for over three weeks now, and the Feds are taking this ‘let’s sit back and wait’ approach, is very concerning.”

The Danns and the Bundys: The Racist Double Standard at Ruby Valley

In the mid-nineties, there was a similar standoff between Native Americans and federal authorities over grazing rights in Nevada. But as Bill Means is quick to point out, in rural Nevada where this played out, the Native Americans were on solid legal grounds and took the Feds to court. “They stood behind the rule of law, as Indian people, when they took action,” said Means. “Indian people stood behind the rule of law, and they were violently attacked.”

“What we’re talking about in Nevada came under what they call the Western Shoshone Tribe, and it involved a treaty called the Treaty of Ruby Valley,” said Means, an expert on broken treaties between the US and Indian nations. “And the local people said ‘Look, we have a right to our land, rather than to be mined, rather than to be exploited and appropriated by the federal government through their various federal agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other bureaus. The Danns were acting legally under a treaty, but they were harassed, beaten, fined, and arrested for protesting the illegal government policies,” he said. “All of a sudden now [in Oregon] we have sort of the same thing going on, only the Bundy clan is being made out to be heroes.”

Morningstar also raised the issue of the double standard in the case of the Danns. “Carrie and Mary Dann were fighting for their grazing rights under the Treaty of Ruby Valley,” she explained, “and the Treaty of Ruby Valley was a peace treaty that provided passage [for grazing], and they asserted their rights, and very much said that, you know, ‘We’re here, we’ve been here. We’re not paying additional fees.’ But the U.S. government came in during the middle of winter and started running [the Danns’] cattle and horses, by helicopter, and they were corralling them. Many of their livestock died. And these are not millionaire ranchers, these are two elderly Shoshone women. And so it’s, again, very concerning and just outright horrendous, in terms of the way that the native people who are the true caretakers of the land are treated, compared to these millionaire ranchers who are provided with tax subsidies,” said Morningstar.

In an act of desperation, and in the face of extreme brutality, the older brother of the Dann sisters actually set himself ablaze in front of a police roadblock, as captured in the documentary film “American Outrage.” The website for the film describes Carrie and Mary Dann as two “feisty Western Shoshone sisters who have endured five terrifying livestock roundups by armed federal marshals in which more than a thousand of their horses and cattle were confiscated – for grazing their livestock on the open range outside their private ranch.”

The elder Dann’s action, according to Morningstar, was indeed an act of extreme frustration, stemming from the fear of the loss of his very way of life. “There was at one point excessive force used by the BLM federal officers, and so they had ... they were twisting the arms, they were forcefully grabbing these elders, and it turned into a standoff at one point, where the elder [Dann] did say, ‘This is my livelihood. This is all that I have.’ And he ended up essentially lighting himself on fire at the time,” said Morningstar. “The fire was put out, he was hospitalized, and then he was charged a fine on top of it, by the BLM, for emergency response to come out.”

Leonard Peltier and the Bundys

“This February it will be 40 years of Leonard Peltier’s imprisonment,” lamented Morningstar. “He has ongoing serious health issues taking place right now. And we see just the gross mistreatment and dual standard when Indians stand up for their rights, and then to see the fact now that the Bundy occupiers are being called activists. They’re being called protestors. They’ve even used the hashtag occupymalheurofthebirdrefuge. And so they’re considering themselves to be now part of the Occupy movement,” she said. “And they’re able to come and go freely. They’re seen in town and they’re staying in motels. They are shopping at the local stores and eating at the local restaurants. They’re very much able to come and go as they please. And yet we know that there’s sensitive, classified material within the BLM office.”

The local tribes have expressed their deep concerns to law enforcement, and repeatedly asked the Feds to take action, Morningstar said, but their requests have fallen on deaf ears. “The tribe has asked outright to cut off their power, cut off their electricity, so that they’re not allowed to continue with this indiscretion. But the FBI’s stance has very much been that they’ve been on standby.”

“It’s more than a little disturbing,” said Bill Means, “this kind of condoning of the vigilantes. They actually believe that this is divine intervention, or manifest destiny. They actually believe it is their God-given right to take Indian land. And that’s really what’s going on. It’s not about the Feds versus the state, states rights. It’s about stealing Indian land.”

Dennis J. Bernstein is the executive producer of Flashpoints, syndicated on Pacifica Radio, and is the recipient of a 2015 Pillar Award for his work as a journalist whistleblower. He is most recently the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.