Steven Newcomb: Federal refuge belongs to Burns Paiute Tribe

A view of the Steens Mountains from the Buena Vista Overlook located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Photo by Jeff Sorn / Oregon Department of Transportation via Flickr

Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute argues that the land in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon still belongs to the Burns Paiute Tribe and the Northern Paiute people:
On August 14, 1848, the United States Congress passed “An Act to establish the Territorial Government of Oregon.” It did so with one major proviso: “Provided, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said Territory, so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians.”

When the United States did eventually make a treaty with the Northern Paiute, it was never ratified by the United States Senate, which means that to this day the rights of the Northern Paiute Nation “remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians” as specified by the Oregon territorial act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website says that “the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established on August 18, 1908, by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Reservation.” It says that President Roosevelt “set aside unclaimed government lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud and Harney Lakes ‘as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.”

August 18, 1908 was sixty years and four days after Congress had passed the Territorial Act of Oregon, according to the terms of which the Paiute lands in question were still “unextinguished by treaty between the United States and the” Northern Paiute Nation. Hence, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website creates a smokescreen based on a falsehood by saying that the lands designated as the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were “unclaimed government lands.” They were and still are part of the Northern Paiute Nation territory, because the Northern Paiute have never ceded or relinquished those lands by a ratified treaty with the United States.

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Steven Newcomb: Malheur Wildlife Refuge Remains Northern Paiute Nation Territory (Indian Country Today 1/28)

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