Privilege of the Malheur Militants

On this past week’s Friday news round-up on Think Outloud there was a discussion about the issues brought up up by the militia in eastern Oregon, on the Malheur refuge. It was a good debate from people on the periphery of the event.

The guests essentially were saying that the militia have some valid points and there needs to be more discussion about these points, about land tenure in the west and the rights of farmers and ranchers. The host continued to delve deeply into the points, and one guest said that the discussion should not occur while there were armed militants at the refuge. Another said yes that that was not the best way to have the discussion but that they were sparking the debate about the land issues.

The discussion was amazing. When has the like ever occurred when minority peoples undertake similar actions? Native peoples have been recently in huge political discussions about the sale of the Black hills and about the LNG pipelines going across their lands. They have staged protests, marches, and sit in like demonstrations. There is right now a huge debate occurring, with the local tribes involved, about shipping coal down the Columbia Gorge. Yet none of their issues, or rarely do they, make it into the national media, and we do not hear discussions of their issues in regional media! I think Think Outloud have dealt a bit with the LNG and Coal issue but rest of the area media are rarely reporting on this looming environmental disaster.

I have to ask again, is it the privilege of these militants in eastern Oregon to have people actually listen to and respond to the political issues they raise, and have reasoned discussions in the public sphere. It seems to me it is! If Native peoples or Blacks or Latinos or any other ethnic minority were to do a similar thing would such a discussion even occur? This is yet another symptom of their privilege.

There are today huge demonstrations in Indian country against the taking over of lands, against pollution, against development of cultural sites. This has been going on sporadically for the past 30 years. The media has ignored these political issues and its been really the role of specialized academics, activists and ethnic minority media sources to bring these events to the fore.  The state of our country is such that we have a dual set of rules and laws. If minorities think something is important, they are ignored, while if white people are involved, it is suddenly important. Minority and even poor people can be ignored because they have no power to make people pay attention to their legitimate issues.

I have been watching the polluted water debate in various eastern cities. Nothing appears to be being done to help restore their water by the federal government or by their state politicians. The populations of these cities , like Flint, Michigan, are mainly black and poor, and so no one cares about these people. They are not important; they do not vote in great numbers; they are not a factor in the next political debate. On the news in just the past week, we now see white people of that community talking, now they are getting attention. The problem is not just with the politicians who are ruled by the pocketbooks, but with the national and local media who are not pursuing this and other similar issues unless white people get involved. The media is just as corrupt as the politicians.


Desicratin’ the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge


Photo Courtesy of Anna King
Photo Courtesy of, Anna King of the Northwest News Network.

There is a noted light-handed treatment of the militants on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, by local and federal law enforcement. As mentioned in innumerable articles on the Internet and in national media, they are breaking innumerable federal laws. Ironically, if ANY OTHER ETHNIC OR CULTURAL GROUP were to undertake a similar action, we all know that the minority groups would be dealt with rather harshly. Picture SWAT style forced-entry, or a line a tanks and Oregon Air National Guard deployed to “take them out” and you are in the right ball park, for ANY OTHER GROUP! Minority kids are being shot by police in inner cities for “suspicion” and walking around while being “people of color”, native people are shot and murdered in western towns for walking down the road, and native women in Canada are simply disappearing in one of the longest running gaps in effective law enforcement in recent memory. Yet a group of about 20 white men who have faked their military background, and appear to be playing the part of a home militia, are left alone, allowed to take over a federal reserve, access federal computers and databases, tear down federal property, and run their ATVs all over supposed “protected” refuge lands impacting sensitive environments and cultural resources.

Their sole consequences thus far is to have some of the services at the refuge turned off, possibly limit their access to the internet, and make them beg for snacks and the most recent consequence is to disallow them from using a county hall for a meeting.

This is simply an amazing event, pointing out forever the fact that WHITE PRIVILEGE EXISTS! The notion that there are people who do not see the irony is just mind boggling.

Lets reiterate some of the history of eastern Oregon,

In the 19th century, when Capt. Jack (Modocs) and his people chose not to live at the Klamath reservation and left, they holed up in lava caves in eastern Oregon. The Oregon militia of army volunteers could not extricate them from their fortress. So the Militia devised a trick, they lured Capt. Jack out of the fortress to hold a meeting. Once capt Jack arrived, he and his men were arrested. They were all eventually hung. The present Militia when they met the local law enforcement at a crossroads, rather than being arrested were given a photo op with the local sheriff, who shook his hand!

The Paiute people were made lots of promises to get a permanent reservation. Many signed treaties, and some of these treaties were not ratified. yet the people still moved onto the Malheur Reservation. They were tricked out of their land by the federal government. Then they were badly treated, they left and the Bannock war caused many people to die. They were moved on the trail of tears to other reservations and lost their original homelands. Even today their reservation lands are quite small. Yet our present Militants only obviously care about their people, white farmers and ranchers, and not about the reasons these farmers had their lands in the past, stolen from native peoples! Their big issue is the “leases” that are said to be too expensive, or handled illegally by the BLM. Interestingly enough the land they occupy is a wildlife refuge, not the BLM lands that are their original lands in question. Apparently, they just wanted the warm clubhouse to hole up in, as camping through the winter in the BLM land, they were not up to, them being fake military anyway.

Then we have the Wounded Knee II event from the early 1970s. Where when native people occupied this historic site, the government threw the whole book at them including military, tanks, and the FBI.  Several Natives were killed by rifle fire until they surrendered. Many were imprisoned.

Wow the difference is stark!

Then we have another developing issue, the fact that the refuge offices house thousands of artifacts which are sensitive in nature. The refuge is serving as a repository for the archaeology of the region. These cultural resources are supposed to be protected by a number of federal laws, yet they state they will leave all of these resources alone. They lied about using the computers, about their military background, about their support in the community, about lots of things, why should we believe them now? The layers of the irony onion are getting deeper and smellier!

These lands are public lands, we all own them collectively, and yet nothing is being done to protect them. The militants need to be treated like the terrorists they are and arrested and charged, even if they are white, because they are breaking the law.

Six Years After, the Impact of My Dissertation

My 2009 dissertation Termination of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde: Community, Politics, Identity was completed at the Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon after about six years of work. For the first few years I was studying tribal history and finding sources of where to find records. I was writing drafts of subjects and chapters and learning how to write a dissertation. There were umpteen drafts and a lot of mistakes on my part but I kept at in and found the energy to continue despite all of the personal issues I faced. During this time my wife and I had two kids, lost one to an ictopic pregnancy, were raising three other kids, and had innumerable health problems. I went nearly blind and could not work for at least 6 months until I had an eye removed, and my wife had several operations. The problems seemed to continue and some of them seemed insurmountable. Yet we continued and both of us graduated from UO with graduate degrees.

In the midst of research and writing, I got a job at the Grand Ronde tribe as manager of the Cultural Department. For the next five years I dealt with numerous problems as entrenched employees worked to ruin my career. There seemed to be no help for these issues and I survived, a bit jaded and traumatized, yet I continued to worked for a few hours each day to write and edit the dissertation. In late 2008 I decided to just end it. It was not complete, but at some point everyone just has to say, its done enough. One adviser, Rennard Strickland, advised me that the “dissertation is not the final product of our work, we will do so much more afterwards, just get it done, enough.”

The final draft in the final year were about 100 pages too long, so I had to drop 100 pages of repetition. The final product was over 400 pages plus extensive appendices making it about 500 pages in all.

Then my committee was in shambles. One member was gone from the university and unreachable, having health problems. Another had a stroke and was also unreachable. I had to replace two committee members. I found replacements in the History department  Jeff Ostler and from OSU, Deanna Kingston. The other members were Phil Young and Lynn Stephen was my chair (Deanna and Phil have since passed). The debate over me graduating was intense, and I think I was on the edge of not finishing but I think the importance of what I had done in the dissertation was very apparent. So I completed the defense in in March and graduated, for the final time.

Since I completed, I have been able to mine the dissertation for all manner of history of the tribe. The first product was an exhibit on tribal termination at the Lane County Historical society museum. later I used the termination pieces to fill in content for several of the tribes exhibits, which I curated. Then I was able to used many pieces for the tribe’s history documents. cribbing short paragraphs and rewriting I was able to make the tribe’s history better and more accurate than before. The histories appeared in numerous media packets, handed out throughout the United States, as well as at the tribe, in the newspaper, in innumerable tribal correspondences and statements.

Then I was able to use my research skills, acquired while doing the dissertation research, to develop the tribe’s research collections, add much more content, and provide a framework for the archives that are now a part of the museum. I trained staff and took staff to the National Archives, and helped many people who had no research background to learn the skills needed to do their jobs. They are still employed at the tribe today.

Many of my studies were about worldwide models of indigenous sovereignty. I used my experience studying these models to help develop a concept of sovereignty for the tribe which I followed. I don’t think everyone really understood this, and still don’t. But this all helped me to advise Tribal council and the legal department on various issues. I studied language acquisition models from Hawaii and New Zealand, and I was able to step right into advocacy roles for the language programs at the tribe.

In my time I was able to accomplish a lot at the tribe directly related to my dissertation studies. I might not be the culture keeper like some people at the tribe, but I found to right argument, the support, the money and the staff to complete the task. There is something very important in what I did while there. I felt a duty, a responsibility to complete the development of the culture programs. The tribe had given me a lot and I felt a need to return in kind, which I did.

Today, I am engaged in developing my professional consulting business, Ethnohistory Research, LLC. Much of this work is also built on the back of my dissertation work. I have branched out into other research areas, ethnobotany, education, curriculum, history, archives and archaeology. The content of the dissertation is still very relevant to studies of the tribe. In it I found a way to be critical of the histories written about the tribe. I found innumerable mistakes in history. I found that most of the history that we all accepted as written, is completely wrong. And this led me to look closely at these understandings and develop something better. The notion of decolonization was also very important, yet still not understood by the tribe. It may take another generation before people are ready to decolonize.  These subjects I continue to work on. In the dissertation I set a framework for understanding the concept and how tribes may begin to implement it.  The dissertation is available from Proquest. Let me know what you think.

Termination of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde: Community, Politics, Identity

Fires on the Malheur


In an earlier article, I wrote about how anthropologenic fire-setting by Native American peoples was good for the land. I suggested that even the fires set by the Hammonds on leased BLM lands which burned onto the Malheur Wildlife Refuge may be seen as positive for the land.


However, I have now read through the details of how the Hammonds went about setting their fires, the source of their court convictions, and the reason they lost their lease. This conflict has nothing to do with the cost of their lease. After reading their Grazing lease application decision (denial), the way they went about setting the fires was not in any way positive towards the land.

First they seemed to want to take no responsibility for setting the fires. They originally set the fires to eliminate juniper so more grass would grow for their cattle. In fact the BLM had set a fire for them to help with eliminating juniper. But members of the Hammonds family were setting fires repeatedly in a haphazard manner, without approval. There are other properties around the refuge, like the refuge and other distant neighbors who’s houses may have been endangered by the fire-setting. Then they avoided blame by letting other elements take the blame, like the unlikely origin in a passing jet.

And, on at least one occasion they took pot shots at herds of deer, not collecting the carcasses nor chasing down the deer to make sure they were dead, but allowing the deer to suffer being wounded. They probably died a horribly painful death. Most hunters I know have enough respect for the animals they hunt to not allow the animals to suffer.


The Hammonds appear to have only cared about maximizing the profits from their leased BLM land. They did not care about the land, the animals living there, or about the neighbors in the surrounding area. The militia, who supposedly represent the interests of the farmers and ranchers, and the Hammonds, are only telling a small portion of the story. They are only stating that the farmers and ranchers are being unfairly forced to sell their land. (this apparently happened in the 1960s) They never reveal the facts of this situation and in many cases these are details also left out of media stories about the militia and the Hammonds. (note: there are more ranchers in the area today than farmers, but historically there was a mixture.)

Native Anthropologenic fire is much different from the Hammonds’ actions. Tribes in western Oregon and California would set fires in the fall over prairies that had plant resources they wanted to revive and help restore for the next year. The fire setting would keep down the extra bramble growth of undesirable plants, create grazing for deer and elk with the regrowth of tender grasses, and help keep down pest populations. Native peoples did this over prairies that were full of oaks (oak savannahs) which helped the oaks produce more acorns in the next season. Acorns were a good source of protein. They would also fire prairies with tarweed and wild grains where they would collect the roasted grains for food. Plants like hazels are used for weaving and after burning them, they grow back straighter the next year perfect for weaving. Then roasted grasshoppers would be eaten by some tribes. Root crops would survive underground to be reborn in the next year.


In eastern Oregon, anthropologenic and natural fires would serve the same purposes. When the environment is quite different from the western inland valleys full of oak savannah and plenty of rainfall, Native people collected many root crops in the high deserts of the basin. They also utilize many plants in marshy areas for weaving materials to make amazing basketry. Some of the oldest sandals in the world, woven from marsh reeds were found at Fort Rock and Paisley Caves southwest of the Malheur area. If Tribes set fires they would be doing so to manage their land in the most effective means possible, and, they would do so at a time in the fall, after the first rains, when firestorms would not be a possibility. They would not endanger their neighbors. The Southern Paiute were are noted to have set fires to improve their seed crops and to conduct rabbit drives (Stewart, Omer Call Stewart. Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness, U. Oklahoma Press, 2002. p. 246).

Microsoft Word - Oregon Encyclopedia-Fort Rock Cave.doc
Fort Rock Sandals, Image on loan from the Oregon Encyclopedia, and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Eugene.

Because Tribal peoples set fires annually, they were reducing the duff layer of dead plant matter so the fires would not have extra fuel each year. Too much fuel causes stronger and more destructive fires. This is part of source of the fire problems that many forests are now encountering in the West, causing many forestry authorities to begin to change their policies regarding fire suppression. This past summer  (2015) may be the worst on record for fire in the West. The 2012 Forest Service reversal of the let-natural-fires-burn policy, adopted in 1995, back to full suppression, may continue to be costly if allowed to stand. Much of the policy depends on progressive administrators in the various bureaus with many local agencies really dependent on the policy set by the regional head offices. Additional factors to be considered are the hotter temperatures the West endured this past year and the multi-years droughts in the region due to lack of rainfall.

Such a fire-setting system of land management or “fuel suppression policy” can be safely implemented in many areas. Such a policy must be carefully managed and everyone needs to be on board with the arrangements. Fire-setting should not be done in a secretive manner and be safe and effective. The Hammonds were given a very light sentence from the judge they had. They should have received more charges and penalties for endangering their neighbors, being heartless and irresponsible with animals on the refuge, and lying about their actions to avoid the consequences.

Additional articles about this issue, 10,000 years of Paiute Lands, and A True History of the Malheur Region.

10,000+ Years of Paiute Homelands


The New York Times is weighing in with an editorial and they suggest that the militia is misreading history. Yet in the article there is not one mention of the fact that this is Paiute Land for over 10,000 years! 

What does it take to get the media to tell the full and accurate history of this place? The history they address is only in the past 100+ years since agriculture took over the region.

The abuse suggested by the militants  amounts to a few farmers being forced off their land. That suggests that the federal government bought the land from the farmers. But I have yet to see evidence of force except for their statements to that effect. If the farmers were forced off their land, forced to sell their land, and move elsewhere, that may be a certain level of  unfairness. Their demand is to return the land to the farmers for this past abuse.

Ok, so if that’s the case lets compare some additional abuses involving this very same land.

The Paiute people have a long and deep history  in the region. Settlers moved into the region and took land claims without paying the existing tribe for their land. The region was declared part of the new state of Oregon(1859) but under federal land laws, the native people still owned the land because of their prior occupation. So this was an illegal occupation and an illegal possession of Paiute tribal land by the United States.

The Paiutes are a number of Great basin tribes, and in Oregon sometimes also called Snakes, Bannocks, Shoshones. They lived in Oregon Idaho, Nevada and Utah. They are ethnographically divided as Northern Paiute and Southern Paiute and claimed the principle areas around the major river and marsh resources in this large region. Other locations, valleys, they would travel through and hunt, gather and fish as resources were available seasonally. The Burns area was ethnographically noted to have one of the largest populations of  Northern Paiute peoples.

The Paiute people were forced to sign treaties and agreements from 1862 to 1906 (some of which were ratified, and some remain unratified or repealed) under threat of further oppression and  wars of genocide.  The people were being killed in many ways and many murders were being committed on this people by settlers and gold miners in the region. When native people fought back they would be labelled savages and in southern Oregon any such retribution was met with whole Tribal villages wiped out by “Volunteer Militias” also called the Oregon Volunteers. These volunteers were concentrated mainly in the southwestern Oregon region and northern California, but a parallel history occurred in eastern Oregon. 


The Federal sought to solve the problem of the aggression and settled the matter with a treaty. The treaty paid the Paiutes for the land at a very low rate and they were promised a reservation where they would no longer be disturbed and be safe. If a treaty was not ratified the tribes would not known  this for months if not years (this is the case with the Burns Paiute peoples). Yet in that time they would have removed to the agreed area and honored their treaty, essentially voluntarily giving up their lands with the expectation that the government would honor the agreement. later the government may decide to create a reservation by Executive Order, in order to remove the tribes from the land and make it available for white settlement. Reservations were like prison camps, and natives were not allowed to leave.  Native people on reservations were given food and most times the food was of poor quality and payments from the federal government were always late. They were living in extreme poverty and not allowed to follow their seasonal movements to find food. Poor treatment on the reservation forced many to make a decision to leave. The Bannock war erupted over people who left the reservation and federal troops being dispatched to return them. The war cause the government to terminate the reservation and the Paiutes were scattered to other reservations (Warm Springs, Yakima) and some to prison at Fort Vancouver) to break up the leadership, to disrupt their ability to organize to defend themselves. Many people died in this second removal.

Bannock Indians-500

All through these events Paiute people died. They died in battles and skirmishes. They died during their removal to the reservation, their Trail of Tears. They died at the reservation because health care was very poor, few medicines were given them and  nutrition was poor. They died of stress and abuse of being submitted to assimilation policies and boarding schools. Through all of this period native people died and populations declined to the point that anthropologists thought they would all go extinct. By 1900 an estimated 95% of all Native people had died in Oregon from a century of colonization. 

They did not get a reservation again until 1972 and since then they have worked to develop an infrastructure for the tribal members in the poorest area of Oregon. The area is so poor they even their casino had to close.

Through all of this time the federal government promised land and resources and services that would sustain them. Those promises were never kept. They sold millions of acres for a small reservation, and today their land base is extremely small.

This foreign “militia” is taking over a refuge because of farmer abuses. In the 19th century settlers sought to killed many Paiute people and volunteer militias sought to exterminate all tribes in the region. The present “militia” apparently has no knowledge actions and abuses of a predecessor militia, of taking this land in an illegal occupation of Tribal land and committing near genocide on Tribal people.

The real victims of federal abuse are the Paiute people who truly deserve to have their land returned.

See my previous article for additional comments.

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