Burns residents divided over refuge occupation verdict

Burns residents react to verdict

HARNEY COUNTY, Ore. -- The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is limping back toward normal.

Its friendly welcome is gone at the headquarters buildings, now behind closed gates with guards.

And behind the scenes, in town, there is concern about the not-guilty verdict involving the refuge takeover.

“It’s as if somebody came and painted a big red target on the back of every federal employee,” said Isabelle Fleuraud.

Her husband is a federal employee, although she declined to say which agency.

“They have won! They now know that they are allowed to do that. And to me that’s very, very scary,” she said.

Ammon Bundy, his brother and supporters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, 2016.

They carried guns, posted security details and talked about giving the land controlled by the federal government back to private citizens.

Its exactly the sort of message Chris Briels wanted to hear.

“I think that we need to get our economy back going—put the land back in to the economy. We get nothing out of the land that the feds claim that they own,” he said.

Briels is one of many in the Burns area pleased with the not guilty verdicts.

At the county courthouse, Steve Grasty, the county executive, won’t say what his reaction was when he heard the verdict.

But he said there were many lessons learned that will be applied in the future.

“They were allowed in this building to have a meeting with the sheriff with firearms. I’ll bet you next time they get arrested…who ever that might be you, me, whoever it might be. They ought to be arrested on the spot. They should have been then,” he said.

Grasty will retire at the end of the year and is asking the community to work together after the verdict.

But feelings remain tender over all that happened the last 10 months, and opinions are strong.

“The government does not own the land, the state of Oregon and the American people own the land,” said  Tom Davis.

It’s unclear if the two sides will ever find common ground.

Jarvis Kennedy is a member of the Burns Paiute tribe.

“This gives them free reign to do it again out here, or anywhere in the United States,” he said.

Kennedy feels Native Americans, who have sacred ground at the refuge, were treated poorly, again.

“Yeah we got the shaft. But you know what? We’re still here. And we’re going to progress and get over this. It's going to take a lot of years. We will never forgive them and we will never forget but we’ll move on and move forward,” he said.


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