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Oregon Native Americans Say Armed Militia Is "Desecrating" Land

"We have no sympathy for those who are trying to take the land from its rightful owners."

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Days after a group of armed anti-government protesters took over a federal building in Oregon — demanding the land be returned to ranchers — the nearby Paiute Tribe called for an end to the occupation of what they said was their "ancestral territory."

The Burns Paiute Tribe, who live on a reservation near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that Ammon Bundy and his fellow armed protestors are occupying, held a press conference Wednesday morning to call for an end to the protest.

"Armed protestors don't belong here," Burns Pauite Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique was quoted in the written release given to press at the conference. "By their actions they are desecrating one of our sacred traditional cultural properties, .... endangering our children and the safety of our community."

In the conference, held in the Paiute Tribe headquarters in Burns, Oregon, Rodrique reiterated the tribe's disapproval of the armed protest.

When asked by a reporter what she thought of the militiamen claiming their protest was for the purpose of "returning the land to its rightful owners," Rodrique laughed and said, "I don't think so."

She responded to a follow up question saying she would not "dignify the protesters" by meeting with them.

Despite the tribe's request for the protestors to leave the refuge, one of groups leaders told BuzzFeed News they had no intention of leaving at the moment, though he called the tribe's role in the issue important.

"When it comes to the tribes, I actually have some native blood in me," LaVoy Finicum told BuzzFeed News. "Those claims are important, but you must make a claim, you must have continual use of the land, and you must defend it."

He said ranchers continued to have rights to the land, and that the group occupying the refuge would continue to demand them.

"If we ranchers lose our rights, we'll go the way of all Indians," he told BuzzFeed News.

The Burns Paiute Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe that spans four states, including California, Nevada, and Idaho. The Oregon reservation is home to about 200 people. The Paiute tribe "were there before the settlers," Rodrique said.

Shortly after the Paiute Tribe press conference, Ammon Bundy said from the wildlife refuge that occupiers had no immediate plans to leave.

"There is a time to go home, we recognize that," he said during a news conference. "We don't feel it's quite time yet."

Bundy again declined to offer a timeline, or specifics on what needed to occur for the group to feel they had accomplished their goal.

"When enough is enough," Bundy said when asked when the group would go home. "When there is actual action that has happened. And when things are actually transpiring."

Meanwhile, Bundy said witnesses of the 2006 fire the Hammonds were convicted of setting told him they saw federal agents set the blaze.

"We believe that we have enough of this to exonerate the Hammonds, and we're grateful of that," he said.

Bundy did not answer questions about the tribe's request for them to leave the land, however, saying only that he "would like to see them free from their government as well."

"Their control is regulated by the federal government very tightly."

The Paiute Tribe said they were given their territory – which includes the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – in a treaty with the U.S. government signed in 1868. They said they have been recognized by the government since 1968.

In the treaty, which Rodrique said was unratified but abided by Congress at that time, the federal government guaranteed it would protect the "safety and property of the Northern Paiute people" and that it would "inflict punishment for any crime or injury [that] is perpetrated by any white man upon the Indians."

Rodrique went on to say that she and other representatives for the Paiute met with local organizations and other Indian tribes in the region to discuss actions to protect cultural sites important to the tribe, which lie in the area occupied by the militiamen.

"When [the government] wanted us to give up the land we didn't do it," Rodrique said, adding that they didn't plan to do so now.

"Mr. Bundy comes in and talks about 1890, before then it was occupied by our people," another Piaute representative named Cecil Dick told the press, after apologizing to his deceased mother for wearing his hat indoors to cover up his bad haircut.

"Our people were here [before then]," he continued. "We were removed and had no rights and no one to speak for us… Now we're just trying to get the facts straight."

When asked about the claims made by some of the occupiers of the refuge, that ranchers had claim to the land before the federal government, Rodrique said the claim to the land by her tribe predated that.

"Don't tell me any of these ranchers came across the Bering Straight," she said.

"We are hardworking people," another Paiute member, Jarvis Kennedy, said after saying passionately that the protestors need to "get the hell out of here."

Jarvis then compared the intimidation and disruption of life the militiamen are causing the Paiute to the horrors their ancestors endured in the 1800s.

"We were killed and run off our land," he said. "We marched in snow out there hundreds of miles to forts. When they finally let us go we had no place to go our land was already taken, they gave us 10 acres in the city dump."

"They are not helping us like they say," Jarvis added. "We can stand on our own feet, we have our own rights, and we don't need their help."

"The protestors have no claim to this land," Rodrique said in the conclusion of the release. "It belongs to the Native people who continue to live here. ... We have no sympathy for those who are trying to take the land from its rightful owners."

Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Salvador Hernandez at salvador.hernandez@buzzfeed.com.

Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Ema O'Connor at ema.oconnor@buzzfeed.com.

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