Who Owns Oregon? Some Historical Context on the so-called Militia Occupation of Public Lands

Good morning, Hank. It’s Tuesday. So until a few days ago the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in [southeastern] Oregon was mostly known for its high quality springtime bird watching. But then some people with guns decided to take over the refuge’s headquarters. Which is both a big deal, like armed civillians are in control of a federal building, and not that big of a deal. Like it’s not like the building in question is the US capital. Regardless, it gives us occasion to consider some complicated history and how ideas about public and private property have shaped the United States. So these days Oregon is often seen as one of the most progressive states in the US. I mean, I judge a city primarily by the quality of its soccer support and its public transportation, by which measures Portland, [not] Oregon’s capital, might be America’s greatest city. But as is often true with American history, the deeper you dig, the more troubling it gets. Okay, so around a thousand years ago the northern Paiute tribe’s Wadatika band, moved into what is now the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The first Europeans didn’t show up until the 1820s and their arrival, of course, was catastrophic. Like most American Indian groups the Wadatika were devastated by smallpox and other European diseases. As many as 90% of them died from disease within 30 years of the first European contact. So by the 1840s, thousands of white settlers had made their way west to Oregon via the Oregon trail. This 2200 mile long wagon route, that today is primarily famous as a video game, in which you almost always die of dysentery. The settlers encroached on the northern Paiute lands and there were some conflicts but things didn’t really pick up untill 1850, when the US passed the Donation Land Claim Act. That law granted 320 acres of land to any white man who settled and cultivated the land for at least 4 years. And married couples could get 640 acres of land. There were a bunch of laws like this. White settlement in Oregon increased dramatically and by 1859 it became a state. Quick side note: Oregon’s first state constitution contained some of the most shameful language in American history. For example, it outlawed black Americans even visiting Oregon. It was technically illegal for African Americans to move to Oregon until 1926. But right. So by 1859 there were all these new white settlers in Oregon thanks to the federal government’s land grants. And not to state the obvious or anything, but inherent to the idea that the US federal government could give land to these white settlers, was the idea that the land in question was the US government’s to give. The idea of federally owned territory is established in the consitution and even today a lot of the United States is owned by the federal government. Speaking of which, in 1872 the northern Paiute tribe signed the treaty with the United States government establishing a 1.8 million acre reservation called – get this – the Malheur Reservation. The US government abided by this treaty for all of 0 minutes with settlers immediately encroaching upon the reservation. And then, after an 1878 war won by the US army the remaining nothern Paiutes were taken off their land and forcibly moved to Washington state About 100 northern Paiute families were allowed to return to southwestern Oregon at the end of the 19th century but today their reservation is less than 1% of its original size and their tribe has just 349 living members. So in summary: for 800-ish years what is now the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was northern Paiute land. First, because they were the only people living there and then because they negotiated control over the land in a treaty with US government. The US government then won a war, deported the remaining native Americans and took control of the land, which it held untill 1908 when president Teddy Roosevelt declared it to be a refuge for birds. That Teddy Roosevelt. He loved birds. Especially hunting them. So that was the history of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge until a few days ago, when it became the de facto headquarters of a militia claiming that the US government has no right to own federal land. Hank, there are many compelling arguments to be had about government infringing upon the rights of citizens, but this is not one of them. So this militia argues that there is something tyrannical about a representative government telling the people it supposedly represents to do or not do things on certain land. Like if the government is of the people and by the people, then how can the government prevent me, a person, from doing whatever I want on federal land? The answer, of course, is that the land doesn’t just belong to you, it belongs to all of us and collectively we’ve decided what to do with it. This is in accordance with the US constitution, which states pretty explicitly that the US congress shall have the power to – and I quote – “dispose and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States”. And throughout the US history the Supreme Court has consistenly upheld the idea of federally owned and managed land. The counterargument I’ve seen most often is that land should belong to the people who use it. Not to the government. Which isn’t so different from the way the northern Paiutes treated land for most of Oregon’s human history. However, the people using the land in question would still be the northern Paiutes if the US army hadn’t intervened on behalf of white settlers in the 19th century. In American history, there is no escaping that fundamental fact – our government took this land from sea to shining sea. Whether through purchase or war, or forced deportations, or dishonest treaties and then it apportioned some of that land off as private property. If the federal government has no rights to federal land and it never did, then they never had the right to give away millions of acres to white settlers in the 19th century. This would render much of American private property illegitimate. Including, by the way, probably my house. Hank, it seems to me that if the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge’s headquarters building doesn’t belong to the federal government, that built and paid for it, than that building and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in fact much of southwestern Oregon belongs not to a militia but to the 349 surviving members of the tribe that has lived on that land for most of its history. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.

Comments 100

  • If we accept the existence of a native american tribal state then we must accept that the native american state was destroyed and conquered forfeiting it as a state of any value other than historical. Thus this dispute has no basis in the Native Americans. This argument whether actually true is between the federal government who conquered the land and the private citizens it represents.

  • Holy shit. I absolutely LOVED that rant at the end about who really owns the land.

  • Oregon's capitol is Salem Portland is our largest city.

  • I live in Oregon. I am also a Native. the feds were wrong in this case….on many levels. especially murdering a man who had his hands raised and grabbing his side after being shot in the back twice by feds.
    this whole situation has brought so much attention to our state. I am hoping that the rest of the world discovers that we, as a state, are ashamed of Portland, we as a state, are nothing like Portland and much of this state is farm land.

    farm land, OWNED by ranchers and farmers who have a right to keep their land. which in most cases have been handed down over many generations. land that the government of the US wants for its location and its mineral content.

  • At least your're pronouncing Oregon correctly

  • as a person that lived in Portland I can tell you that the Democrats have turned it into a racist cesspool.

  • Check your facts…."armed citizens" did not cause the problem. The ones who started the violence were the feds!The ones who murdered in cold blood were the FEDS!!! The US government has NO right to public lands!! The Paiute argument is bull! The Russians, French and Spanish were exploiting the indians long before the the territory was American. Another fact..The Indians were always warring to take territory from other tribes. Fact…the indians kicked the US armies ass over and over. They were well versed in military tactics. The indians were defeated by lies and empty promises! Hmmm…sounds a lot like what's going on these days…"You can keep your doctor". Remember the "speaks with forked tongue" statement? Not much has changed really…

  • This standoff was more about the Bureau of Land Management's abuse and harassment of the Hammond family. See Stefan Molyneux's video "The truth about the Oregon standoff" It's not some far out there video, just from the other viewpoint.

  • at least if we had native americans take care of the land localy we wont have all of these invasive species and junipers that destroy the land. It would be like warm springs… only, more south.

  • Where were your Natives in the 1970's – Maine's natives had to sign off on every piece of Maine Real Estate hich they got paid in Cash and Land – but they are still F'ed over, told how to live fish and eat – No casino's for our Natives, Bingo, Casino's are for the white man which i am one. Tell them to get a Maine Lawyer

  • this guy is already dead, someone need to tell him. yea, whatever they say is right, right? for this guy and many like him it is always the easiest path and that path leads nowhere, so please don't follow him, read first sentence…

  • Well, let's see, hmm… considering that the Government was the one who wanted to take their land (the land they had lived on for several generations and owned fairly) in order to try to expand the wildlife refuge, then who wouldn't be angry?

    This is where someone, who doesn't own any large tracks of land, would not understand. The Government likes to bully people out of their land for their projects. Heck, my family has had to deal with this issue when they plopped down a two lane avenue right through the middle of our land just to see it not be used… at all… it makes people angry, especially when the government cuts up their land for whatever projects they have.

    In other words, all of these people are people tired of a government that has continually bullied them and slandered them to no end. They aren't terrorists. They're angry citizens tired of being treated like trash by a government that doesn't care about them.

  • Oh Boohoo. You got land taken from you. Welcome to the human race. You adapt or you die. Survival of the fittest. The U.S. is one of the only countries ever to reserve land for a people we just conquered.


  • You guys are always fun to watch. Keep on schooling people!!

  • Nice video.

  • Okay for one it looks like none of the people in this comments section even knows about the situation at the federal building or why they did it, they just call it terrorism and you people lap it up, and for people who pride themselves on being cool independent thinkers it's pathetic, and it even looks like John didn't bother to research the why of the situation. I hope you get harassed by federal agency's for years, battle them in court repeatedly even when the Federal Government doesn't have a case that will stand, and the only reason they repeatedly send you to court knowing they will loose is to intentionally waist the time and money of yours until you are either in crippling debt or so beaten down you bow to whatever they want, and then even when you give them ground hopping they will back off they come after you again and again, then they decide to come in and take you livelihood, (for them it was their cows) but how would you like it if you were unfairly convicted and fined a ludicrous amount of money John? Lets just say this was a few years ago, before Any of your books where published, And the FBI came in to "evaluate the worth of your books" so they could asses your ability to pay off the debt. And with out your permission they wiped your computer took your back ups, and burned any and all notes and versions of the work you made? How would you feel? What if you come close to the point were you can't feed your family? And then to top it all off they force you to give up all your land to this "reservation" if at any point you want to sell it. You can't sell it to your friend the guy down the street, the mayor, or even a rich millionaire willing to give you a killer deal on it. You must sell it to the government at a price they choose. Does that sound fair to you John? Oh of course it does because I forgot to mention in this case your painted to be a radical, gun wielding maniac and terrorist who can't be trusted and is evil and backwards and probibly racist, and to you and the people in the comments section that makes it all okay to steal and bully and intimidate, and even, I don't know lie calling a truce to discuss peaceful resolution ambush him on the way to said meeting and shoot him repeatedly while his hands are in the air and shoot at the car with men and women inside, and leave them to bleed to death on a cold barren road, and they don't even bother to call paramedics, I mean why would they you'll just say they were a terrorist and people will believe what ever you say, they won't even bother to figure out the truth. Oh and these terrorists didn't even damage the building nor kill any of the agents. If they were as crazy as you claim why is it then they didn't do more damage. You people who are complacent with the government and media lying to you are the real reason America is falling apart. And I'm ashamed of this country, and of this generation who doesn't give a dam when peoples rights are being violated, except when it's someone you I identified with or agrees with you. But I guess you people are happy to know that those people you call terrorists are all being rounded up, not just the people that took control of the building but the people who were being sympathetic to their cause, locked away in solitary confinement, without bail while their family businesses is destroyed and they will be FORCED to give their land to the BLM, but you idiots care more about a few animals that can now live on that land then the lives of these people don't you, I mean politically speaking they're more likely to be republican anyway so better off if the government cracks down on the rights and livelihoods of people you don't agree with. So hey call me a nut, insult me for being conservative, or believe people have a right to defend themselves or their land, whatever, I can't figure you out anyway, so what does it matter, but know this if the government is given the power to be above the law and is never held accountable for what it does, they will seek to take everything they can from you and all you have to do to avoid their rath is to shut up, and agree with everything they tell you to, while they burn down the world around you.

  • I like watching most the videos you guys put out but I think this video is very one sided and does not take much of the circumstances into account. Nor does it refute what's happening with facts it just takes a complex situation over simplifies it casts it in a light that best suits your opinion and then spoon feeds it to your largely adolescent viewer base. You should really be fair and give an objective explanation of both sides and then your own opinion or don't give it at all.

  • we collectively Didnt decided anything

  • First off, you cherry picked info, giving us a lot of info on how the land was taken off of the natives and none about the actual incident that sparked the take over. In fact the other side may have over-reacted, but I've heard both sides of the story and they have evidence that the government would take their land or sections off spots of their property within these new boundaries, forced them to pay fees to let their cattle cross the federal land to graze, then eventually barred them out of that deal. Almost ironically, they made deals to give the land to these "white devils" as you probably call them, then went back on their word. So they did the same legal BS to both indians and citizens.
    But let me ask you something else: If you honestly have an issue with government taking land off natives and handing it to members of their own country, does that mean you also find issue with that in North Africa and the Middle East? Those were predominantly white Christian areas invaded by arabs and turks. I mean, the muslims performed a mass genocide but that never comes up in your videos on the middle east particularly in land grab discussions.
    The issue is, breaking a treaty with your "enemy" (or at least any non-affiliated with your group) is one thing, breaking it with your own citizens IS tyrannical, or at least abusive. If the government came to your house one day and said "You can't use your kitchen, it's on our land now" but you negotiated that you could still use it if you paid $10 per year "service fees" and then one johnny law comes over (while still charging you) and physically bars you from the room and threatens lawsuit for trespassing, you'd be pissed too. However, that land was grazing lands, meaning the government hand an active role in threatening the family's livelihood.

  • Life long Portlander here!!!!!!

  • Let's follow that logic even further. Not only do white people have no real legitimate claim to the land but neither does anyone else from anywhere else in the world who has immigrated to the USA since its founding as all those people are also not indigenous to America and also purchased land that was taken illegally from the Native Americans. So yeah, these white people are wrong to claim the land for themselves, but then again everyone else who is a descendant of an immigrant from somewhere else on earth is also equally wrong in believing they have a right to be here. That includes everyone from Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America. Black people are the exception to the rule but only if they are descendants of slaves (who were brought to America against their will). African immigrants who are not descendants of slaves however are not exceptions to this rule and again, are just as guilty as any immigrant who accepts the right to come to America from the federal government that originally stole all this land from the Native Americans. People who are born in this country are actually less guilty however, since no one gets to choose where he is born but an immigrant makes a very conscious choice to move to and settle in another country.

  • this is so cluttered by the gun issue and the race issue that i cant find any information on Bundy's motives for the arson… well put john, and well put commenters pointing out the racial hippocracy in american crimminal justice system, but can we stop calling these guys savages for 5 minutes and look at their motives? these protestors whent wrong when they armmed themselves and forcefully took the property, but why did they feel they had the right to it in the first place? why did they feel they had been wronged? were these people acctulay mistreated? im stuggling to find any "non partisan" (that is the right word correct?) or unbaised information on this.

  • Who owns Oregon? Stan Pines, duh!

  • "The counterargument I've seen most often is that land should belong to the people who use it, not to the government–which isn't so different from the way the northern Paiutes treated land for most of Oregon's human history." That's wonderful.

  • John,

    Native Southern Oregonian here. (By that I mean I was born here, not that I am a member of any Native American Tribe. Racially/ethnically/socially I'm a white man…)

    One small comment that sort of parallels the initial mistake of calling Portland the Oregon State Capital. You caught that one, good on you. Several times, though, you stated that the Malhuer Refuge is in Southwestern Oregon. Not so, the Malhuer Refuge is in EASTERN Oregon (ref: the pop-up map at 2:30).

    Otherwise, as with most of your and Hank's posts, it was good.

  • I love this video, John, but as an Oregon native, I'm just going to put it out there that Salem is actually the capital, not Portland. #dftba

  • Finally… My state is getting recognized… Oregon for the win

  • boo fucking hoo

  • Maybe point out that malheur is French for misfortune. Sadly appropriate.

  • I'm in portland the best city ever!

  • its ok man

  • Who da fuck is Hank?

  • how you going to give a history lesson on oregon if you don't know the capital is.. you not from Oregon I'm sick of people from cailfornia thinking they know more about oregon then the people who are from here

  • Way to miss all of the real points. People who owned land had their land threatened by federal mismanagement. Fires spreading across federal lands threatened private lands regularly, and any management practices engaged by private citizens was outlawed. Hank. I will be honest you have lost nearly all credibility when you talk about politics. You decided the context was about history from the 18's and not about people trying to do the best they can with what they have now.

  • South…. Eastern Oregon?

  • alot of "white" havent heard "reds" or "browns", heard "european" maybe once? lol

  • I agree with most of your points, but don't you think that there is way to much land owned by the govt in the West?

  • Growing up in Portland., I always thought that Portland should have been the capital

  • The creator of Cards Against Humanity sent the Oregon militia a 55 gallon drum of lube. He said afterwards that he was afraid that someone would come to his house and kill him and that his obituary would be "he finally went too far". Bless that man

  • YAY GO PORTALND… not the capital though

  • Does John Green know about soccer hooliganism? If not, let the poor deluded wretch live on in his bubble of ignorance a bit longer.

  • you forgot to mention that this whole protest started because the federal government took land from a family and then imprisoned them far longer than was even necessary. don't miss certain facts that are absolutely important

  • Salem is Oregon's capital

  • so were you sick, or had you lost a bet for which the penalty was finishing every sentence in this show as Christian Bale's Batman?

  • In regards to 0:30 :

    Under that criteria, you would be very pleased with Atlanta's recent events. We have a top 10 mass transit system (in terms of ridership), plus we just passed a tax to further expand MARTA with another 2.5 billion dollars. For soccer, we just started the Atlanta United team, a big reason we built a new football stadium (or rather, a football/soccer stadium).

  • Still resonates today. As well as in other British Colonised countries ?

  • Wow, I just noticed that he has the gun sword from Paper Towns.

  • This remains my favorite vlogbrothers video of all time.

  • Portland isn't the capital that would be Salem. Although Portland is the most popular city

  • word soccer should be outlawed

  • Portland isn't the capital of Oregon is salem. Portland is the largest city in Oregon.

  • And it is the property of the Northern Paiute. End of story.

  • I know I'm a little late on the draw here, and this comment is somewhat tangential, but on the subject of the settlement of Oregon, I was wondering if you were familiar with the Sinclair Expedition.

    This expedition saw James Sinclair lead a group of Metis from the Red River Valley in what is now Manitoba to settle in Oregon. Given the ways in which African Americans and Paiutes were treated, I couldn't help but wonder what sort of treatment Metis settlers were afforded. I'm also curious what your thoughts are on where Metis fit into the Indigenous-white binary you establish in this video. Not to say I disagree with your portrayal. I just find it to be interesting food for thought.

  • my home sweet home <3

  • If you can't defend it, you have no right to it

  • Clearly biased commentary.

  • I beat Oregon trail on my first time ever

  • Armed civilians, huh? From one weapon's owner to others–they were terrorist.

  • Long Live Oregon!!

  • white conservatives can legit take over parts of a state by force and don't go to jail smh

  • boots up the Oregon Trail
    Plays for 4 minutes

    DAMN YOU DYSENTERY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • That definition of "land belonging to the people who use it" is really quite problematic. When did they start using it, can anyone just start using it and if so at what point does it become theirs? Not to mention that a lot of labourers use certain terrain to fulfill their occupation and didn't pay for it, is that land theirs now?

  • I love vlogbrothers and all but being an Oregonian and being around this exact area many times I found this video really misleading about these people

  • Even growing up in Portland, Oregon, we all thought that Portland was Oregon's capital too; no worries, John. <3

  • Hi john,, what country owns most gold today?

  • Isn't all land in the Americas stolen?

  • Hey I live in Oregon

  • though the native americans took it from another specie related to humans and made them go extinct

  • Who knew America was feudal granting fiefs and such?
    Anyway, maybe that would be a good way for the gov't to raise money, by selling the lands it owns?

  • Salem is Oregons capital. We used to be super racist, but we're better (?) now. Hopefully. The Portland Thorns are objectively better than the Timbers. Portland is cool.

  • i have noticed blinking

  • They were acquitted ?

  • You are an idiot. You obviusly have no idea what you are talking about…f.y.i. I live in burns oregon and the bundys were fighting a good cause….r.i.p. Levoy

  • You'll die of dysentery, dysentery vi-rus

    Sorry I had to. I didn't see any starkid comments.

  • Portland is not our capital, John haha. But good try!

  • If you want a better perspective on this topic you should watch Stefan Molyneux

    I love watching Crash Course with John but his opinion on this matter is dumb. It's essentially the Fed helped white people in the 19th century infringe on the property rights of the Paiutes, therefore 21st century people fighting for property rights are wrong?

  • The utterly corrupt Anglo-American political establishment approves this video.

  • Add 1,000 solar panels to each schools, so the schools have money from the sun
    to educate all kids and teachers.
    Build 4-plex , 100 solar panel homes.
    Youtube: paul8kangas

  • Dude you are stupid plain and simple you take yourself off YouTube

  • It was the US government's to give we came in we conquered a nation you don't like it so what get over it scumbag

  • Something else the Federal government hasn't done anything since the states got their borders all and has gone to the states

  • And what do you know about the Oregon Constitution probably nothing I'm talking about the original Constitution go in they voted on it Dustin Bowerman search into that you'll find out the state government is corrupt don't have nothing to do with white people

  • You know that doesn't really bother me because the reservations are the biggest ghettos in the United States. The worst thing we ever done was put Indians on reservations would have been better just to kill it kill us all yeah I'm a native

  • Sadly the Native people didn't show up to the "refuge" which is what was requested in several videos if you watched them they said much of what you did & that they should come there while there is real visibility, now that we are living in a climate where it's more difficult for the government employees to get away with what they have in the past but the Native peoples leadership instead complained that it's the governments land instead of showing up & saying that this is there land & that it should be returned to them. Problem is as you've stated the government employees don't really care about laws they see themselves as the law & change it at will to serve their own personal interests(because psst. this is an oligarchy POSING as a Constitutional Republic"representative democracy") which is why the protest happened. Follow the subsequent court case it shows vividly how the government employees behave as a criminal organization.

  • The Spanish were in California since:1697. Which means that the Spaniards were the first

  • There's a little more to the story than just "Militia taking over Federal owned Wildlife Refuge". Basically, from what I gathered together, The Ranchers are being squeezed to sell their land. By whom you ask? BLM! No, not Black Lives Matter, but the Bureau of Land Management. It seems it's gone so far as BLM setting controlled fires but actually set the fires and LEFT!! Ranchers have been video taping it. Losing cattle (yep, burned alive) and even their homes! Hmmm. WTF would YOU DO? Now, why would the Federal Gov't want this land so badly for!?! Any takers on that? Maybe it's not for what's on top but underneath. Tyranny at its finest. Wake TF up America!

  • I gotta correct one thing: Portland has a terrible bus system. Maybe I am just spoiled, but Seattle (and surrounding counties) has a WAY better one. Their's spans several counties. If you have an ORCA card you can pay one fare for Metro, Sound, the light rail, etc. Portland just recently got a similar card system and as of last Christmas had not fully implemented it. Portland also has fewer late night buses and very few buses or trains that run every 15 minutes. During peak hours, the light rail in Seattle runs every 5 minutes. Okay, I'm done. Hahaha. 🙂

  • Bunch of fucking liberals. Can I block the channel?

  • You are loonier than a fruit fly. How do you take land when you pay for it? The government paid 15 million to Mexico to "compensate" them for the war. So technically Mexico sold California to the Americans. And in Texas, they no longer wanted to be part of Mexico. so they had a little fight and they won and in 1836 Texas proclaimed its independence from Mexico. Then we had a little thing called the Mexican-American war. The Mexican-American war is how we got Texas. So we stole that from them too? Both those States? can you send me a list of what states you think the USA has got through ill means.? You are ridiculous and only give parts of the story that pertain to your beliefs. If you're going to do a video try to at least tell the facts.

  • And for your information, which is very biased, I will no longer watch you.

  • This is like that one time I thought about the militia movement (the "Patriot Movement") bombing innocents in my own state, and was mature enough to think about my State (State within the United States) being a site of domestic terrorism.

  • You dillweed, Portland isn't the capital.

  • BAHAHAHAHAHAHA, listening to a moron who thinks Portland is the capital.

  • "Our government took this land" No, the government didn't YOU did John. You and everyone else in the US along with your ancestors took that land. You can't deny responsibility by saying "It was the government". It is you the people who elected them. when are you gonna realise that fact?

  • I wish no evil on the native people of our great nation of this nation but now we have once again being taken over by the government killing men who stand up for rights that they need to live! You who where here before us white people must stand for these who stand for the same rights you fought for . The freedom of the people are being infringed upon once again Stand up there are those who still stand behind you

  • It's southeastern Oregon, not southwestern.

  • Um…Portland is not the capital of Oregon…get your facts straight

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