The Burns Paiute Tribe on Friday asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect its important cultural resources at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and to prosecute occupiers for any damage or destruction they cause.
In a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Robyn Thorson, Tribal Chairperson Charlotte Rodrique asked for greater protection for cultural resources at the refuge, specifically asking for an inventory of archeological resources at the refuge headquarters, and for criminal prosecution for violators of the Archeological Resources Protection Act.
Rodrique expressed grave concern over news reports that armed militia have access to important cultural resources at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“Armed protestors don’t belong here,” Rodrique said in a news release. “They continue to desecrate one of our most important sacred sites,” she continued. "They should be held accountable.”
The Burns Paiute Tribe are a federally-recognized Indian tribe who inhabit southeast Oregon, southern Idaho, and Northern California and Nevada. The Burns Paiute Tribe’s reservation is headquartered in Burns, Oregon.
The Burns Paiute Tribe’s ancestral territory includes the area now managed as the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, as well as other federal lands in southeast Oregon. The Burns Paiute Tribe has not ceded any of its rights in the Tribe’s ancestral territory.
The Burns Paiute Tribe’s ancestors signed a treaty with the federal government in 1868. The 1868 treaty was not ratified by the United States Congress, but both parties acted in reliance on the treaty.
Under its terms, the Government guaranteed it would protect the safety and property of the Northern Paiute people. The Government also committed to inflict punishment for “any crime or injury [that] is perpetrated by any white man upon the Indians aforesaid … according to the Laws of the United States and the State of Oregon.”
In addition, the federal government has a Trust responsibility to the Burns Paiute Tribe to protect cultural resources on federal lands. Several federal laws protect native cultural properties.
Earlier this week, the Burns Paiute Tribal Council passed a resolution designating the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a “Traditional Cultural Property” under the National Historic Preservation Act. This is a first step towards greater cultural resources protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.