The standoff of armed ranchers occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is now over. They represent the deepest rift in humanity’s relationship with land. They argue that all lands “belong” in private ownership. On the other hand, the land is currently held in public trust; the public being all Americans including the native Paiute for whom that ground is ancient homeland, and the non-human beings under the heading “wildlife” who come for the concept “refuge.”
Ownership versus public trust makes for a mighty big split. The Paiute view of land is not as property but as identity-defining holy ground. The closest we get in modern society is an imperfect notion that this land “belongs to you and me.” What is at stake defines the politics, but more importantly it transcends politics: land as a commodity versus land as, well, sacred.