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Occupation of wildlife refuge has me shaking my head

A group of armed men take over a federal building in east central Oregon. Sounds like terrorism.

Photographs and cellphone texts start appearing and the dominant culture starts to relax. Oh. They’re just armed Anglo ranchers who don’t think laws and fees apply to them taking over a bird refuge. No need to panic; let them drive into town to get provisions and no need for a real showdown response. Never mind that local schools are now closed as well as the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

What are the words for people who take over a government building armed with guns and ammo?

The words we are searching for are traitor. Treason. Sedition.

How this plays out in our culture speaks volumes to both our systemic racism and to our willful ignorance of history and facts.

We know that if the traitors/seditionists had been African American or Native American they’d be dead by now in a hail of ATF bullets or taken into custody.

Since the 1980s, American history classrooms have focused far less on facts and far more on patriotism. That recipe yields an unappetizing mess of a meal palatable to hardly anyone.

It also speaks to what we mean when we say “public lands.” Who are public lands for? Why are they set aside? If “public” means all of us taxpayers then why does a handful think it’s their right to graze cattle or mine it? How do the rest of us benefit?

Laws are a response to order chaos and provide for common decency. The horrific practices and behaviors of settlers of the West in the 1800s and early 1900s gave rise to our first environmental laws and the idea that if the land were to remain for future generations it would have to be managed and protected. The old adage “you don’t send in the fox to guard the hen house” comes to mind. We manage grazing because of over grazing.

The federal government owns more than half of the land in the west, and while states and individuals often boast that they would like control of it, the truth that no other entity could afford its care is staring us Westerners in the face.

We Westerners (and when I say “westerners” I’m talking about those of us living west of the Continental Divide, including myself) often have an inflated mythical sense of self that — having chosen this terrain of rural mountains, arid deserts, and unforgiving forests — somehow makes us rugged, independent individuals who are completely self-reliant. We are not.

We forget that subsidies, loans, and grants are a form of assistance. We forget that a government lease is often a better deal than a private one would be. There’s no such thing as living here alone without help — the very nature of the land prevents that.

We forget, as the late Marc Reisner tells us in “Cadillac Desert,” that the history of the Western states and land use has everything to do with the manipulation of the land and the water.

We forget, as the Eastern Paiute are reminding us now, that the white man has no real claim to land in eastern Central Oregon if he’s basing his premise on “we were here first.”

We forget, as science can verify, that cattle ranching itself is not a sustainable venture for either the environment or our colons.

Most of the world is mocking the seditionists in Oregon and their self-induced plight; I should love to bring them history books to read.

They also remind me of my Anglo grandfather, who was a Libertarian in a household full of Democrats. He used the library more than anyone I know and never saw the irony when he complained about libraries not having enough new books.

He was so anti-government (and cheap) that when he inherited beautiful acreage in Lake Arrowhead, he refused to pay the taxes. California seized it and he was audited for years to come.

If the seditionists weren’t so dangerous, you’d just have to shake your head.

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