Ammon Bundy, a leader in the group of Oregon “militiamen” who have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, didn’t always hate the federal government. According to Russ Choma at Mother Jones, Bundy’s business, Valet Fleet Services LLC, borrowed $530,000 through a federal loan guarantee program for small businesses.

Choma writes that Bundy’s Phoenix-based company specializes in “repairing and maintaining fleets of semitrucks throughout Arizona” and that the government subsidy had an estimated cost of $22,419 at taxpayers’ expense.

But that’s not the only way that Bundy and his fellow militiamen benefit from the federal government. A closer look at the very land that’s under dispute reveals a not-too-distant past where the United States didn’t possess the land at all.

The federal government seized this land from the Northern Paiute tribe, whose federal trust land has shrunk over time to a mere 760 acres in Burns, Oregon, where the militiamen’s occupation began.

According to Steve Russell at Indian Country Today Media Network, President Grant established the Malheur Indian Reservation in 1872, and it wasn’t until the Bannock War of 1878 that the Bannocks and the Paiute were removed from the reservation. Since then, the wildlife refuge has existed as an alternative use of federal land. 

In other words, the only reason the militiamen feel they have a leg to stand on when it comes sovereignty over this land is because of the federal government they are attacking.

When you consider the plight of the Paiute, it makes Ammon Bundy’s Facebook post on December 30th — in which he complained about the federal government stealing land — look deeply ironic:

“Simply put, the federal government has adversely stolen the lands and resources from the people, destroyed thousands of jobs, and the economy of an entire county. Now anyone who has enough guts to stand against them, they annihilate through their own court systems…”

Like Bundy, Native Americans have also occupied federal government buildings as a means of protest. Notably, their occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., in 1972. The discrepancy in treatment, however, was glaring. Twenty-four of the protestors were arrested for trespassing. The Ogala Lakota also famously occupied the town of Wounded Knee in 1973. The very first day of the occupation, the U.S. government called in armed reinforcements, including FBI agents.

Native Americans are still battling for the return of their stolen lands today. The San Carlos Apache tribe, for example, is fighting in Arizona to save Oak Flat, which includes Apache Leap, a sacred site, from being mined after a land swap was slipped into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act.

It’s probably safe to assume that the plight of the Paiute and the history of the land now called the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge isn’t on Ammon Bundy’s mind. The militiamen probably don’t see the irony in claiming that the feds stole their land.

Even if the land “belonged” entirely to them, it would still be stolen.

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