I want to end this series with the words of Sheriff Dave Ward. Along with the people of Burns and Harney County, he refused to be bullied by ideologues, quietly resisted violence, and insisted on open meetings where every voice could speak. If we want American heroes, he and they will do just fine.
He said to them today,
“I’m proud of this community. I’m proud of my friends and neighbors. I’m proud of the way you stood up to this stuff. It’s torn our community apart. I see it tearing our country apart. But right now we have the opportunity as people in this great nation . . . to come out and work through our differences and start getting things back together. A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Amen, Sheriff Dave!
And Hallelujah for peace and freedom in Burns and at the Refuge!
12 February 2016
It’s a good day at MFS. — Vern
Malheur Field Station
In Burns, on Sunday Jan 31, there were two conflicting demonstrations, one by anti-government agitators mostly from outside Harney County, many of them armed — and one by local citizens, none visibly armed, demanding that the outsiders go home. These photographs by Peter Walker are mostly of the local people.
“We have to rely on what’s in the hearts of others.”
That’s what Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in the midst of the armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge by a group of radical militants dressed up as cowboys. It was a remarkable thing to say, at that point.
Sheriff Ward is a remarkable man. His conduct throughout the intensely divisive, always potentially violent siege has shown steadfast compassion, courage, and loyalty to the democratic principle of free speech. The Oregonian says it well in this editorial:
The occupation of Refuge headquarters drags on, maintained by four loons with no intelligible program beyond posing, posturing, stupid defiance, and wanton destruction, while they rely on the laws and lawmen of the government they despise to keep them safe.
Until they’re cleaned out, we won’t even know the extent of the immediate damage to our property — your property and mine, federal property: this very fragile wildlife refuge, with its ongoing scientific work and its successful collaborations with local ranchers and the Wadatika Paiute people.
So what Sheriff Ward said after the FBI arrest of the ringleaders last week still stands:
“This has been tearing our community apart. It’s time for everyone in this illegal occupation to move on. It doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community. If we have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act on them in an appropriate manner. We don’t arm up and rebel.... This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America. And it can’t happen in Harney County.” — Sheriff Dave Ward
31 January 2016
Harney County High Noon Update
We can now make our own eyewitness report of what happened on the road north from Burns, thanks to this 25-minute video the FBI has released, made from their plane following the chase, roadblock, shooting, and arrests. Though the scene must have been a madhouse of bullhorns and gunshots, the film is eerily silent — as silent as the miles and miles of snowy, forested hills surrounding that stretch of road.
Mr Finicum had said clearly that he’d rather get shot than go to jail. What he did is on the video, and we can all read it as we see it. What I see is a man getting what he wanted.
Having blasted The Oregonian for an irresponsible headline and article, I’d like to thank the paper for mostly trying to give serious attention to the complex situation in Harney County, seeking real information rather than rant, and letting the local community speak for itself. This link is pretty characteristic of their coverage.
“To me, what is important is that the refuge has really listened and taken a more collaborative approach,” [Harney County rancher Fred] Otley said. “Automatically, that helps build better relations with the community.” Seattle Times, 9 January 2016
“I shouldn’t have to be scared in my own hometown,” says Burns High School Student
Nancy Langston’s story of the bloody and troubled past of this region – big-time exploiters from outside vs. small local ranchers, federal help/interference/blundering vs. local independence/obstinacy/knowledge, environmentalists not listening/not being listened to – is a terrific history of the area, and only too relevant to what the whole American West is facing now.
Finally, to remind us of what’s at stake in this and all quarrels about who owns the land and who belongs and doesn’t belong here, a poem by Bette Husted of Clearwater County, Idaho, and Pendleton, Oregon, and one by Pepper Trail of Oregon. My thanks to both poets!