The Native American Paiute tribe is furious after members of a citizen militia occupying a federal building in an Oregon wildlife refuge videotaped themselves rummaging through Indian documents and artefacts.
The three-minute video uploaded by militia member LaVoy Finicum shows men in cowboy hats going through Paiute papers and boxes of artefacts. The tribe considers the wildlife refuge area part of their ancestral homeland.
In the video, Finicum encourages tribe members to meet with the militia to reclaim items "wasting away" at the refuge, which is home to thousands of Paiute artefacts, including tools and weapons. "We are concerned about the way artefacts are stored here, the Paiute's artefacts, and so we're reaching out to the Paiute tribe to say we need to open up a communication. We want to make sure that these things are returned to their rightful owners and that they're taken care of."
But it's the militiamen that tribal leaders are worried about. In a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the tribe has asked for assistance in protecting their artefacts from the armed gang, and called for criminal prosecution of the group under the Archeological Resources Protection Act.
"They continue to desecrate one of our most important sacred sites," Burns Paiute Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique said in a news release. "They should be held accountable." She told Indian Country Media: "We are really worried about the status of the artefacts down there." The online Indian news publication headlined the story quoting Rodrique: "Oregon militia nuts hold Paiute history, artifacts hostage."
Oregon Governor Kate Brown also sent a letter on 20 January — two weeks after the militia took over the federal building — to request direct and immediate help from the White House and Department of Justice to end the militia stand-off in her state, calling the men "armed criminals."
The men have been holed up in the federal building since a protest concerning control of publicly owned pasture land. They believe the federal territory should be given to local ranchers. They are also seeking reduced prison sentences for Dwight and Steven Hammond, convicted of arson.