I live in Oregon where, in case you haven’t heard, a group of right-wing, self-styled “vigilantes” have taken over a federal building (in the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve). As the state of Oregon has a reputation for being a bastion of liberalism, this news could be considered unusual on that count alone. First, though a geography lesson – then, my thoughts on this “event” (and how it applies to the general topic of Palestine/Israel that this blog is all about!)
The state of Oregon is quite large – about 300 miles (500 km) north-south by 550 miles (900 km) east-west. Most of the state’s four million people live in the Willamette Valley in the western part of the state – about 1.8 million in the Portland metropolitan area, and another million-plus in the area extended south through Salem (the capitol) and Eugene (home of the University of Oregon) The rest are in southern Oregon, on the coast or in central and eastern Oregon.
While residents of the Willamette Valley are justly proud to call themselves “liberal,” many of the folks in the rest of the state are equally proud of their rural, conservative roots. It’s a dichotomy that means the majority of our elected officials are liberal, and the majority of our laws could be considered “progressive.”
That brings us to Malheur, in the southeastern part of the state (nearest city is Burns, if you’re looking at the map), some 500 miles from “liberal” Portland. In fact, you will note that this part of the state borders Nevada (on the south) and Idaho (on the east), both states which have much more in common with eastern Oregon that does the Willamette Valley. In fact, most of the people currently “occupying” Malheur are residents of states other than Oregon - like Nevada and California.
|Malheur started life as a bird sanctuary (photo by Paul Nickell)
Many news stories have been reported on this incident – ranging from reports on the “lawless” occupiers of federal property to editorials that claim the property was put under federal protection (it has been a federal park since 1908) as a “land grab” to hurt local farmers and ranchers.
I’m not taking sides here – but I do want to make a couple of points. First, if there was any hint that the people involved in this “occupation” were Muslim, we’d be hearing a very different story! When home grown “terrorists” take control of a Federal building, it is newsworthy – but if Muslims (even those born in the U.S.) were to do the same thing, the news coverage (and law enforcement reaction!) would be very different.
Second, the “history” I have read about this area seems to start in the late 1800s, when westward bound pioneers first settled this land. And the current protest seems to center around Federal control of land that the area ranchers and farmers believe should be owned and controlled by them. But what these narratives all seem to overlook is the fact that Native Americans (primarily the Paiute tribe) lived on this land for many centuries before they were driven off by the white men. The modern-day Paiutes, by the way, claim that they would be “dead,” if they were to do what the militants are doing! (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tribe-member-american-indians-would-have-been-dead-by-now-if-they-protested-like-oregon-militants_568d8bc8e4b0c8beacf58547) Does this sound familiar to those of you who have been paying attention to the Palestine/Israel narrative? Sadly, some things never change!