Monday, January 11, 2016

Martin’s Backyard — Occupation

Martin Montgomery Sr. lived in Northern California.  A Native American, he never talked much about his people.  Whether anyone knew his heritage — whether he was Northern Paiute, Washoe or from another tribe — I do not know.  I simply  remember seeing him in downtown Chico.  Chico was mostly white back in the 1970s, and seeing this sage-like man all over town somehow captured my heart.

When he moved into my apartment complex on Cherry Street we became friends.  I helped him with life sometimes.  I still remember getting angry once with a doctor when Martin stayed in Enloe, the local hospital, for an illness.  I helped Martin navigate his stay there, but for some reason the doctor thought his hernia was a hoot.  My friend was sedated, and the doctor unprofessional.  I told him I did not appreciate the attitude.  (Not that Martin would have cared much what he thought.)

Several days later, I found Martin feeling much better.  He was talking about the “power food” his friend brought him in a mason jar.  It was brown and thick and made from acorns.  It would make him well, he said.  I asked him how his friend made it, but he wasn’t sure.  Or I forgot.  All I remember is he was out of the hospital in no time, and back on his feet.

“Looks like rain,” I said one day when we were out walking near his new place.  “I should get back.”

He looked up at the sky.  “It’s not going to rain,” he said, “the clouds are too high.”  And he was right.  He had moved into an assisted living facility by then and I often walked over there.

I got to thinking about Martin the other day as I read about the Bundy family occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.  The father, Cliven, and Cliven’s Nevada protest, is shared here.  The article about Cliven, seen in full by following this link, is a never-ending story.  What would Martin think?

I still remember the day he and I were talking, or perhaps siting silently, as we often did.  He said he could not teach me all I wanted to learn — or thought I wanted to learn.  I tried to talking him out of this notion (I am sure I wasn’t happy), but he said what he said, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Days later when I visited, there was another man sitting and talking with him, a powerful man whom I felt uneasy being with.  I got the impression he was not used to people like me (or vise versa), but on reflection, I think I was probably too tired to journey anywhere.  I was unemployed, and usually hungry.  I was thinking about returning home to Iowa.

I never did learn who the stranger was, but when I said goodbye, I let Martin know how much our friendship meant to me.  There was no sorrow in our goodbye, not really, just a melancholy understanding.  It simply “was.”  I have never forgotten my friend.  For Martin held the natural world in high regard, we both did, as many do in the Great Basin.

The Great Basin, the place Bundy and his crew believe they belong.  The place where they do whatever they want.  An area that encompasses parts of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and California.  The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has a home here, in Oregon’s high desert, and was once the Northern Paiutes’ traditional wintering grounds. 

The Northern Paiute lived on the land in light green, and could travel south, past Washoe territory.  (The map is from Boise Aquatic Sciences Lab, in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 legal code.)

The Northern Paiutes are not happy.  Long before the Bundy family, and the gunmen who came with them, claimed the refuge for private citizens, the Northern Paiute lived and worshiped in the Great Basin foe millennia.  In 1996, for example, a mummified corpse nearly 10,000 years old was claimed as an ancestor. 

According to The Times, a British daily based in London, the body was found in Spirit Cave in western Nevada by Sidney and Georgia Wheeler: the dry desert climate had preserved the flesh on the upper part of the body, as well as a fur robe, moccasins, and woven reed mats. 

'''We believe this is an ancestor of the Northern Paiutes,' a spokesman for the tribe said of the Spirit Cave find...."  A calm of ownership that dates back at least 10,000 years.  

To be fair, the mummified remains were also claimed by the Fallon Piaute Shoshone tribe, but the people who represents this area is obvious. Petroglyphs have also been found, and estimated, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, dated August 15, 2013, to be 14, 800 years old. Scientists can't say for sure, of course, who carved them, but locals know.

On January 9, 2016, in response to the Burns-Paiute Tribe's news conference, and Harney County residents' public meeting, Governor Kate Brown issued a news released.

“To members of the Burns-Paiute Tribe and residents of Harney County who seek a return to normal life: I hear you,” Brown said in her news release, “and I agree that what started as a peaceful and legal protest has become unlawful.  It was instigated by outsiders whose tactics we Oregonians don't agree with. Those individuals illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge need to decamp immediately and be held accountable.”

The day before her news release, the occupiers got an earful, according to The New York Times. But even the ranchers spoke up.

How ranchers get to use their lands, and how much government should play a role in that question, was a central theme,” Kirk Johnson reported in The New York Times.

'' 'We need to get together and stand up,' said Erin Maupin, a rancher.  'I just want to let people know that no use is misuse.' ''

But there really isn’t a contest between overgrazing and what the Puiate people call "puha," or power, a traditional belief that everything in the universe has a life force. 

It is easy to see.  Yes, a man who believes acorn gruel can heal, and return a life force to him, is unique in the modern world.  But who will dispute this belief?  A medical doctor who cannot understand, or perhaps men with guns? 

The New York Times said it best, ''…saying that the protesters, in demanding that the federal property at the refuge be returned to ranchers who once owned it, were ignorant of history. If anyone should get the property back, they said, it should be them. Their ancestors were roaming the still wild and empty reaches of what is now called the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge perhaps as long as 15,000 years ago.

'' 'Don't tell me any of these ranchers came across the Bering Strait,' said the tribal chairwoman, Charlotte Rodrique. ''We were here first,'' she added in a news conference on the reservation. ''We'd like the public to acknowledge that.

“Other tribe members, in even harsher denunciation..., said the protesters were a public menace and an insult to the local people.

'''We as Harney County residents don't need some clown coming in here to stand up for us,' said another tribal council member, Jarvis Kennedy, asked about the protest group's leader, Ammon Bundy….''

Simply, he wanted them all to go home.


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