Nearly 2 billion acres of land have been stolen from Native Americans within the territorial boundaries of the United States alone. The genocide, massacres, Trail of Tears, confinement to reservations, boarding schools, children separated from their families, and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is the legacy of American colonization. So what’s a few thousand acres more desecrated at Thacker Pass? That appears to be the bipartisan attitude of the United States government.
Today, America outsources its colonizing to corporations. It is couched in the more palatable terms of economic development and even renewable energy, but it is the same old same old. It is European cultural values being enforced at the end of a gun to the detriment of indigenous society and culture, and to the natural world.
As soon as June 23, Lithium Nevada Corporation (LNC) plans to begin removing cultural sites, artifacts, and possibly human remains belonging to the ancestors of the Paiute and Western Shoshone peoples for the proposed Thacker Pass open pit lithium mine.
Daranda Hinkey, Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribal member and secretary of a group formed by Fort McDermitt tribal members to stop the mine, Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) states: “From an indigenous perspective, removing burial sites or anything of that sort is bad medicine. Our tribe believes we risk sickness if we remove or take those things. We simply do not want any burial sites in Thacker Pass or anywhere in the surrounding area to be taken. The ones who passed on were prayed for and therefore should stay in their place, no matter what. We need to respect these places. The people at Lithium Nevada wouldn’t go and dig up their family gravesite because they found lithium there, so why are they trying to do that to ours?”
Protect Thacker Pass, an ally group currently working to stop the lithium project, stated that according to the Paiute, it would be like building over Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery because of its history as a massacre site.
“Thacker Pass is named Peehee mu’huh in Paiute. Peehee mu’huh means “rotten moon” in English and was named so because Paiute ancestors were massacred there while the hunters were away. When the hunters returned, they found their loved ones murdered, unburied, rotting, and with their entrails spread across the sage brush in a part of the Pass shaped like a moon.”
Lawsuit and Injunction Pending Over Thacker Pass
Four conservation and public accountability groups filed for a preliminary injunction in the Federal District Court in Reno, asking the court to prohibit construction of the Thacker Pass lithium mine.
“People in the affected communities have been calling for assurance that Thacker Pass will be protected during litigation,” said John Hadder, Executive Director of Great Basin Resource Watch. “If we do not act now, Lithium Nevada will destroy significant cultural areas and habitat before the courts will have determined whether the mine should be allowed under law.”
“The enormity of the irreversible destruction Lithium Nevada’s giant mine would cause to the region’s wildlife, water, natural values and cultural sites is hard to comprehend,” said Katie Fite, Director of Public Lands at Wildlands Defense. “BLM’s slipshod analysis only scratched the surface, and habitat for a great diversity of species is jeopardized. It also flies in the face of BLM promises to preserve sage-grouse, whose numbers have declined by 80%, with the Great Basin population particularly imperiled.”
According to Lithium Nevada Corporation’s Plans of Operation, the mine would entail:
- excavation of a large open pit roughly 2.3 miles long by about half a mile at the widest
- removal of up to 17.2 million tons of rock and ore per year
- direct surface disturbance of 5,694 acres (total project size would be 17,933 acres)
- on-site sulfuric acid plant – up to 5,800 tons of acid per day
- ultimately pumping up to 1.7 billion gallons of water per year
- estimated active surface mining for 41 years, and 5 years of reclamation
The Thacker Pass mine would be built on the traditional lands of the Paiute and Shoshone peoples, who have not given their consent to the mine.
Photo courtesy of Protect Thacker Pass.