In a video released the evening of his death, LaVoy Finicum, the man who was shot and killed on Tuesday in Harney County, addresses some concerns voiced by Natives regarding the occupation. In the video he voices his support for the establishment of independent, sovereign tribal nations. Finicum was a part of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“It is time to throw off the BIA, and become a completely sovereign independent nation without the overseer-ship of the BIA,” Finicum says. “It is time for them to stand up and throw off the federal government out of their nations.”
The occupation has been met with little local support, though a number of Harney County residents have voiced their own frustration with the federal government’s handling of land use in area. The Paiute Tribe has deeply criticized the occupation for claiming federal land that once belonged to the tribe. Quotes from Ammon Bundy are particularly ignorant. With regards to a Bundy family 2014 protest in Utah on federal land which included Native American sites he said “Native Americans had the claim to the land, but they lost that claim. There are things to learn from cultures of the past, but the current culture is the most important.” Additionally there’s this choice quote regarding the Malhuer Wildlife Refuge occupation:
“We won’t leave until these lands have been turned over to the their rightful owners, more than 100 ranchers and farmers used to work this land, which was taken illegally by the federal government.”
How do we reconcile Finicum’s message with the actions and words of the Bundy’s? Finicum’s outreach to the Paiute people is clumsy at best. Haven’t we all met non-Natives claiming Native ancestry? And Bundy’s dismissal of Native claims to the land cut deep. However, I’m hesitant to take the side of Federal government. I might even consider them potential allies. After all, calling for the establishment of “independent, sovereign nations” is my goal. How do we achieve that goal without breaking the federal government’s hold on this land?
Chase Iron Eyes said as much in a piece he wrote early into the standoff, Should Indians Support Armed Anti-Government Standoff in Oregon?
On the other hand, it is refreshing to see people committed to protecting the Constitution of the United States and expressing willingness to protect the rights of citizens of this country against the repressive state that imposes its will on Tribal Nations and citizens with its control of the departments used to expropriate & imprison the aforementioned. These people are willing to take up arms as many in the Tribal Nation community say they are willing to do.
If Native Americans and Tribal Nations look past the blatant racist double standard being applied to the armed militia and the racism of at least the Bundys of the Military (Cliven is a known racist) these are potential allies against the oppressive neo-liberal colonization machine. These armed militia-men are those who are protecting your rights as Americans, not necessarily those over-seas in U.S. Military uniform at the behest of the financial-military-industrial-complex and big oil.
Generally speaking, if we oppose rightwing protests to the oppressive system we live under, then we are allying ourselves with the left wing of the financial-military-industrial-complex known as the US government. Bundy’s occupation was a threat to the legitimacy of this system’s hold over American lands and people. His occupation came from a white, rightwing perspective, but are such people prohibited from criticizing and protesting the government in the same way that we Natives sometimes do?
While Finicum’s attempts to reach out to Native Americans were clunky and awkward, I can’t help but agree with him:
“It is time to throw off the BIA, and become a completely sovereign independent nation without the overseer-ship of the BIA. It is time for them to stand up and throw off the federal government out of their nations.”
Do we need a white guy to tell us that? No. But we do need allies where we can find them. There is a severe disconnect between the interests of the American people and the interests of the corporations, dynastic billionaires, and bureaucracies that control and use the US government to maintain their power. Should the federal government, the same that took our lands by force, count on Native support when it’s legitimacy is threatened? I hope not.