Armed men take over Malheur Wildlife refuge
A watch tower is manned by occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, OregonJim Urquhart/ Reuters

Leaders of the local Burns Paiute Indian tribe have told the armed militiamen in cowboy hats who have taken over an Oregon wildlife refuge to pack up and go home. "We don't want you here," said a statement from tribal leaders, who consider the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge part of their native lands.

"They just need to get the hell out of here," said tribal council member Jarvis Kennedy. He called the 12-man group a "bunch of bullies and little criminals coming in here and trying to push us around and occupy our aboriginal territories where our ancestors are buried." He called the armed gang a "new calvary" similar to the American military that originally forced the Paiute off their lands.

The militiamen – calling themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom – want the wildlife refuge lands and surrounding publicly owed territory, controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management, turned over for free to the ranchers who have used it as pasture land for years. Leader Ammon Bundy's father, Cliven, owes the Bureau of Land Management over $1m (£683,335) for grazing his cattle on its land in Nevada. The father and son were involved in a similar showdown with federal authorities in 2014, but Cliven Bundy was never forced to pay the money he owed.

The history of the Wadatika band of northern Paiutes dates back 9,000 years when they lived in caves and began to migrate when are lakes dried up. The tribe never ceded its right to the land but received federal recognition in 1868, and signed a treaty with the federal government that requires it to protect the natives and prosecute any crimes against them.

Kennedy said there are important papers that document his tribe's history in the headquarters the ranchers have taken over. Authorities are said to be waiting out the militants and hope to flush them out without violence by cutting power, phone service and access to roads.