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Tribal Leaders Visit Malheur Refuge Site

<p>Public access to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remains cut off, more than thirty days after an armed militant group took over the headquarters.</p>

Rob Manning


Public access to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remains cut off, more than thirty days after an armed militant group took over the headquarters.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters remains closed to the public, but Burns Paiute tribal leaders were allowed in Monday to survey the damage from the 41-day occupation. The visit was the first time tribal leaders were on site of the armed occupation since the final militants surrendered.

Jarvis Kennedy is a Burns Paiute Tribal Council member. He and the other leaders saw three trenches dug by the occupiers, as well as a newly built road.

"They disposed of their garbage in there," said Jarvis. "It looked like they used a backhoe to dig a hole and they threw their garbage in." The garbage had been removed when tribal leaders arrived, said Jarvis. According to court documents filed by prosecutors in the case against the militants, some of those trenches also contained human feces.

"Man, what can you do? It’s already done and dug," said Jarvis, about the trenches. "Now we just have to figure out what’s inside that soil. See if there are any artifacts remaining."

Historically, the refuge was a vital wintering ground for the tribe. Much of the area is now a protected archaeological site. The refuge houses more than 4,000 tribal artifacts, as well as other cultural resources important to Burns Paiute tribal members.

Archaeologists at the refuge have discovered former village sites on the now-federally owned lands. They’ve also uncovered disposal pits filled with fish bones and seeds. Perhaps most sacred of all, the refuge is home to human remains. The potential damage to artifacts and sacred sites is not yet known.

"That whole area is a big site," said Jarvis. "We don’t exactly know where all the burial sites are."

Jarvis said he was especially upset to see a newly constructed gravel road. The occupiers built a short access road to connect a residential area with another road.

"It's overwhelming. It kind of got me mad. And of course after anger you get sad. Then you’ve just got to realize that it’s over and done with. Now we deal with the aftermath and move forward from there."

Jarvis said the tribal council worries about people attempting to loot the site for artifacts.

The tribe hopes to hold a private cleansing ceremony at the refuge this spring. Earlier this month, tribal chair Charlotte Roderique told OPB she hopes to involve other tribes across the nation in a prayer ceremony to cleanse the land.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amanda Peacher