Here Are The Rightful Owners Of The Public Land Sieged By The Oregon Militants

"We were here first.”

As of January 7, it has been more than five days since a group of armed militants, led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, sieged the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Ore. The militia members are demanding that this federal land return to the local government because they believe that the local ranchers are the rightful property owners.

But there is another group that is technically the rightful owners of that land.

That group is the Burns Paiute Tribe.

Members of the Burns Paiute Tribe, a federally recognized tribe of Northern Paiute Native Americans in Oregon, spoke out about the siege in Oregon at a press conference on Wednesday.

"You know, who are the rightful owners?" said Charlotte Rodrique, chairwoman of the Burns Paiute Tribe. "We were here first."

She's right. In the 19th century, White settlers occupied the land that the Northern Paiute had inhabited for hundreds of years. The federal government established the Malheur Reservation for the tribe in 1872 and then closed the reservation after the Bannock War of 1878.

Some Native people returned to the reservation when it became federal land.

"What if it was a bunch of Natives who went in there and took it?" tribe member Jarvis Kennedy asked at the press conference, 

"Armed protesters don't belong here," Rodrique added, accusing the militia of "desecrating one of our sacred sites."

She joked that she was preparing an acceptance letter for when they get back the land.

"I don't feel that their method of dealing with this issue is the way things should be handled," she said. "And when they wanted us to give up the land, we never did it. We never gave up our aboriginal rights to any of the territory."

(H/T: NBC News)