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Harney County to Armed Militia: "Go Home to Your Families"

The Burns Paiute Tribe holds a Wednesday news conference to voice their concerns about the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Burns Paiute Tribe)
The Burns Paiute Tribe holds a Wednesday news conference to voice their concerns about the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Burns Paiute Tribe)
January 7, 2016

BURNS, Ore. - Anti-government protesters occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns may be getting the lion's share of publicity, but residents of Harney County are making some efforts to amplify their voices as well.

Petitions are circulating among the locals requesting that the armed protesters "go home to their families," and members of the Burns Paiute Tribe held a news conference to say having an out-of-state militia in the area has been disruptive for the county.

Jessica Campbell, organizing director with the Rural Organizing Project, is in Burns.

"The Paiute have land out there that they can't access for hunting and gathering medicine right now," Campbell said. "The press conference was really powerful, having folks stand up and say, 'You know, this was really our land once. You want to talk about land disputes?'"

The petitions, which say the protest action "is not welcome," were shared with the Harney County Sheriff at a late-afternoon meeting on Wednesday.

Campbell described the mood as tense. Burns area residents she has spoken with are concerned about schools being closed as a safety precaution, leaving many to pay for child care or take time off work. She said the post office is the only government building open for business.

"It feels so adversarial, considering the collaborative relationships that local ranchers have with federal agencies that manage the land out here," she said. "And Harney County is one of those counties where a huge amount of the population is actually employed by the government."

The militia members have said they want federal land in the county turned over to "ranchers, loggers and miners," and that they're researching whom that might be. The wildlife refuge land they're occupying used to be private ranch land, but was sold to the federal government in the 1930s.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR