Cari Carpenter: Sarah Winnemucca sought return of Paiute land

A statue of Paiute activist Sarah Winnemucca represents Nevada in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Photo from Architect of the Capitol

Professor Cari M. Carpenter looks at the involvement of Paiute activist Sarah Winnemucca in seeking the return of land in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to her people in the late 1800s:
Sarah Winnemucca isn’t a name known by many—her surname is more likely identified as a town in Nevada than the last name of one of the nineteenth century’s most prominent American Indian writers and activists. Author of Life Among the Piutes, one of the first published narratives by a Native American, she made frequent headlines for her vocal support of indigenous rights. One of her most long-lasting campaigns was to restore her people, the Northern Paiutes, to the Malheur Reservation, which was created in 1872 by the U.S. government. In January 1879, following the Bannock War, residents of the reservation were forced to travel 350 miles to the Yakama Indian Reservation after an ill-informed decision to punish the Northern Paiutes, many of whom had supported the US against the Bannocks in the War. Even the so-called “hostiles” in the war were motivated by the usual: colonialist land encroachment and resource exploitation.

Because of our collective amnesia about both Winnemucca and Malheur, I was surprised to see the site make first-page news across the country last week, when members of a militia group took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in order to protest the US government’s possession and management of public lands in the West.

Malheur—known now mainly to birders who prize species like the Sandhill Crane—has been a contentious site before. Nineteenth-century newspaper articles that Carolyn Sorisio and I published in the collection The Newspaper Warrior: Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Campaign for American Indian Rights 1864-1891 (University of Nebraska Press 2015) indicate that the rightful owner of Malheur was a contested question long before the militia’s current occupation.

Get the Story:
Cari M. Carpenter: Oregon Militia Brings Battle Back to Malheur Reservation (Indian Country Today 1/17)

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