A video uploaded to Facebook on Wednesday appears to show the armed militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge rummaging through a storage area, accusing the Bureau of Land Management of improperly storing artifacts belonging to the local, native Paiute tribe. “SHARE!” the video is captioned. “BREAKING UPDATE BURNS OREGON BLM LEFT NATIVE ARTIFACTS TO ROT IN MICE DROPPINGS!”
Earlier this week, Burns Paiute tribal chairperson Charlotte Roderique expressed concern over how the militia was handling the tribe’s history. “We are really worried about the status of the artifacts down there,” Roderique told the Indian Country Today Media Network. (Gawker could not reach Roderique for comment.)
“I understand they took a bulldozer and built a line around the refuge headquarters,” Roderique told Indian Country Today. “You can’t go and bulldoze things. I don’t know what these people are doing if they are doing things to just get a rise or to be martyr—all they are doing is making enemies out of the people they professed to support.”
Last week, the tribe delivered a letter to the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service demanding the militants’ prosecution “if the occupiers disturb, damage, remove, alter, or deface any archaeological resource on the refuge property.” From Indian Country Today:
There are approximately 4,000 artifacts belonging to the tribe in the buildings the militants are holding. The occupation is entering its third week.
The tribe is demanding federal action under both the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and a “protection against bad men” provision in the treaty the tribe signed with the United States in 1868.
Under ARPA, a federal law authorizing law enforcement and penalties in the defense of archeological sites on public land, removing artifacts is a felony offense. First time offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. Second time offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to 5 years.
Incidentally, in 2014, members of the Bundy clan driving ATVs through the Recapture Canyon, in southern Utah, to protest its closure to motorized vehicles, ended up trampling Ancestral Puebloan artifacts and dwellings.
“Damage to archaeological sites is permanent and the information about our collective past is then lost forever,” Jerry Spangler, director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, told the Salt Lake Tribune at the time. “It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor. It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”
Any posture towards historical stewardship the Bundys and their friends might take is completely disingenuous. “We also recognize that the Native Americans had the claim to the land, but they lost that claim,” Ammon Bundy’s brother, Ryan, said recently. “There are things to learn from cultures of the past, but the current culture is the most important.”
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