FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Reno-Sparks Indian Colony to Host Press Conference on Thacker Pass Mine Controversy


  • Bethany Sam, RSIC Media Relations
  • Will Falk, Attorney for RSIC and SLPT
  • Max Wilbert, Protect Thacker Pass

RENO, NV — On Tuesday, December 5th, from 1 pm to 2:30 pm, following a federal judge’s dismissal of their latest lawsuit, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC) will hold a press conference on their court cases against the Thacker Pass lithium mine.

Members of the media are invited to attend the press conference, which will be held at RSIC’s Multipurpose Room, 34 Reservation Road, Building A, Reno, NV. The press conference will also be available by zoom and will be live streaming on the RSIC Facebook page.

Speakers will include Chairman Arlan Melendez, who has led the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony for 32 years and is poised to retire at the end of this year; Michon Eben, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for RSIC; and Will Falk, one of the attorneys who has represented the tribe in the Thacker Pass court cases.

“We invite you to join us, as we continue our efforts to protect our sacred and culturally important site; considering it’s being destroyed right now,” said Chairman Melendez. Melendez is a nationally-respected Tribal leader and Vietnam war veteran who guided the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony through previous mining controversies, advocated for Tribal land protection and consultation rights, and helped coordinate the Tribe’s Thacker Pass strategy.

For two and a half years, Native American Tribes including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony have been speaking out about the cultural importance of Thacker Pass, a remote mountainside in northern Nevada which Lithium Nevada Corporation plans to turn into a massive open-pit lithium mine to supply batteries for General Motors’ electric vehicles.

Thacker Pass is known as “Peehee Mu’huh” in the Paiute language, and is home to sacred sites, harvesting and hunting grounds, ceremonial areas, and the locations of two massacres of Paiute children, women and men.

On November 9th, Northern District of Nevada Chief Judge Miranda Du dismissed a second lawsuit filed in February of this year by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for allowing the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine to destroy sacred sites in Thacker Pass without concluding tribal consultation. The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony was joined by the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe , and Burns Paiute Tribe in the suit.

“We are very disappointed that the court is allowing Lithium Nevada to destroy the site of an 1865 massacre of Paiute peoples and a whole Traditional Cultural District before the Bureau of Land Management finished consulting with tribes about ways to avoid or mitigate harm to these sites,” says Will Falk. “While climate change is a very real, existential threat, if government agencies are allowed to rush through permitting processes to fast-track destructing mining projects like the one at Thacker Pass, more of the natural world and more Native American culture will be destroyed. Despite this project being billed as ‘green,’ it perpetrates the same harm to Native peoples that mines always have.”

Thacker Pass is located in northern Nevada near the Oregon border, where Lithium Nevada Corporation is in the first phase of building a $2 billion open-pit lithium mine which would be the largest of its kind in North America. The lithium is mainly destined for General Motors Corporation’s electric car batteries, which the corporation claims is “green.” Mine opponents call this greenwashing and have stated that “it’s not green to blow up a mountain.”

Lithium Nevada claims that its lithium mine will be essential to producing batteries for combating global warming. The Biden administration has previously indicated some support for Thacker Pass as part of the president’s climate policy.

Opponents of the project have called this “greenwashing,” arguing that the project would harm important wildlife habitat and create significant pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. They say that electric cars are harmful to the planet and a different approach is needed to address the climate crisis.

The lithium produced at Thacker Pass would end up in electric vehicles produced by General Motors including the electric version of the Hummer, a $110,000, >9,000 pound behemoth that produces more carbon dioxide pollution than an average gasoline-fueled sedan.

“Global warming is a serious problem and we cannot continue burning fossil fuels, but destroying mountains for lithium is just as bad as destroying mountains for coal,” says Max Wilbert, co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass and author of the book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. “You can’t blow up a mountain and call it green.”

To request the zoom link or to learn more about the RSIC community, culture, departments, economic developments, business opportunities and services, contact Bethany Sam, Public Relations Officer.


Thacker Pass Timeline

Image by Max Wilbert of the landscape at Thacker Pass before mining construction began.

There is no “better” place to mine lithium

At Protect Thacker Pass, we’ve heard from people who think that companies should mine lithium in Imperial Valley (“Lithium Valley”) at the Salton Sea because it would be “better” than mining lithium at Thacker Pass.

To be clear up front: Protect Thacker Pass opposes all lithium mining, no matter where it is happening. All lithium extraction is harmful for the environment and unsustainable in the long term (lithium is a nonrenewable material). There is no “better” place to mine lithium.

Earthworks has published a new report that shows the devastating impacts from mining lithium from brine using direct lithium extraction with geothermal power plants. As the report states, there are currently three companies developing this technology.

Their report shows that direct lithium extraction in the Imperial Valley at the Salton Sea will have devastating impacts on the environment, beyond those already created by geothermal energy extraction. These include air pollution, consuming vast quantities of freshwater, degrading the already imperiled Salton Sea ecosystem, hazardous waste, and the potential for earthquakes to cause industrial disasters in the area.

We’ve included the two pages from the summary report as images in this post. The full Earthworks Report is worth reading if you’re interested in learning more about how geothermal power plants work and how direct lithium extraction works in conjunction with geothermal. However, we disagree with some of the conclusions in their report. 

Like most large environmental groups, Earthworks believes that mining lithium is important to address the climate crisis, and their conclusions reflect this. They state that the mining should proceed as long as full, prior informed consent of regional tribes is obtained; if hazardous wastes and air pollution are dealt with properly; if companies and local communities “carefully consider” trade-offs with freshwater use; and if the mining companies design power plants with “high standards for seismic safety.” 

What they seem not to recognize is that there is no safe way to extract non-renewable materials like lithium from the environment without significant impacts to ecosystems. Ensuring that this extraction is safer doesn’t mean it’s safe. The report also ignores the many other impacts of building technologies like batteries that rely on lithium, or the harms these technologies themselves do to the environment. Lithium extraction is just the first step in a long list of harms on the way to a final product.

Again: we oppose all lithium mining, and indeed, all extraction, for luxury goods that humans can live without. Our priority is the health of the natural world, without which no human or any other living being on Earth can survive.

How much land must be sacrificed to feed our addiction to energy?

Mountaintop removal for lithium to go into electric vehicle batteries is ecocide, just like mountaintop removal for coal mining is.

Earlier this week, I visited the site of yet another planned open pit lithium mine that is threatening the Great Basin — this time, in the state of Oregon. This site, about 15 miles north of Thacker Pass, is vital habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, sage grouse, and countless other species — and it would be completely destroyed if the mine is built.

Yes, global warming is a crisis, and yes, we must stop burning fossil fuels. But this is not the way forward. This is an addict seeking another hit. The “green” energy economy destroys the planet, same as the old fossil fuel energy economy. This project is another greenwashing lie, just as we wrote about in “Bright Green Lies.” If you want a primer, read that book and watch the film version of “Bright Green Lies” and Jeff Gibb’s “Planet of the Humans.”

In honor of the late Utah Phillips, I’ve listed the names and addresses of the people who run Jindalee Corporation on a previous Substack article.

To stay up to date and get involved, please visit Protect Thacker Pass and signup for our email updates.

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So we’re here at the site of the proposed HiTech Minerals / Jindalee Corporation lithium mine. This is the next lithium project coming to the McDermitt Caldera. We’re sitting here at the north end of the Caldera, so this big rim of mountains all the way around us, this is surrounding what is now a basin at the north end of the Caldera which collapsed; like Crater Lake is the Caldera of what was once Mount Mazama that then collapsed. Similarly, here we have this lowered down Caldera and in here is the lithium, all through the soils of this region. The mining company has already been doing some test drilling up in the hills up here, checking out how much lithium there is in the soil and gathering the data that they need to figure out if it’s economically feasible to do their project. Unfortunately I think it likely will be, although we’ll see. This project is likely at least several years behind the Thacker Pass lithium mine in terms of progress, probably more like three or four years behind, but it’s coming, and right now there’s a permitting process that they’re engaged in with the BLM office based in Vale, Oregon to try to get a permit for additional test drilling out here. They want to do test drilling for four or five years, I believe six or seven months out of the year, 24/7. And so they would stop in the winter time and in the early spring but other than that they would be drilling 24 hours a day, seven days a week out here with multiple drilling rigs operating at a time.

Right now, this area is not pristine as you can see right behind me. We’re on a road right now. This area has been grazed. There is some impact to this area, but this is still intact land. And what I was thinking of before I decided to pull out the camera and record this video is how the dominant culture has this sort of progressive escalation of exploitation. So first they’ll come into an area, and if it’s a forest they’ll cut down the trees and they’ll exploit that for what wealth they can generate; then they’ll convert it to agriculture and exploit the soil for what wealth it can generate; then if there’s greater wealth available by developing it for housing or building a town or something like that, they’ll do that. And so that’s what we’re seeing here. This area has been used for cattle grazing for many years. And now the next level of exploitation is pending as we speak.

The area that they’re surveying is about six miles east to west and about four miles north to south. It’s a very significant area out here. There’s also two other lithium companies that are prospecting for lithium in the same basin within just a few miles of where we sit, further east on the east side of the Jindalee project. So there could be three separate lithium mines operating in this location in the future. Over the last couple days we drove over the top of the Montana Mountains south from here to the top of Thacker Pass, overlooking Thacker Pass, and that whole way there’s lithium claims – mining companies have staked lithium claims for lithium up there, including Lithium Americas Corporation. So there is a very real possibility that over the coming decades this entire landscape could become an industrialized sacrifice zone, and we’re talking about an area that’s something like 25 miles north to south and 10 miles wide – a huge region.

This is incredibly important habitat. We were just down at McDermitt Creek which is vital habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a threatened fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act. This is vital habitat for Sage-Grouse. We’ve seen about eight female Sage-Grouse on the trip so far. They use this area – there are “leks” in this area where they do their breeding. Those will be abandoned if there’s too much disturbance in this area. There’s pronghorn antelope out here, mule deer, all kinds of wildlife. And up in these mountains all around us are wilderness areas. There’s something like one, two, three, four, five separate wilderness areas surrounding us right now in a big arc on the west side, the south-west, and up here to the north. Those wilderness areas have some protection, which is excellent, but that protection doesn’t mean that much if all the connectivity corridors between them, all the lands around them are industrialized, if you have all this air pollution being generated right below them that’s going directly onto the waterways and the forests that hang on to the slopes of these high mountains up here.

And of course, this is also a very culturally important area, traditionally. We’re only a few miles from the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone reservation. But, you know, the reservation system was created after colonization and prior to that there was no such thing as the Fort McDermitt tribe. There were these different bands of the local indigenous nations and those bands have been scattered and they have interrelationships. So the people whose ancestors spent time and lived on this terrain are at Burns Paiute Tribe, they’re at Fort McDermitt, they’re at Reno Sparks, they’re at the Pyramid Lake Tribe, they’re in Duck Valley. They’re all over these different reservations, these different tribes, modern tribes that we have now. And so this is a culturally very important place.

And what I’m hoping we’ll see here, what we didn’t see at Thacker Pass, is a growing resistance to this project starting early. Thacker Pass was snuck through by the Trump administration during the height of Covid. They expedited the permitting to try to avoid democracy basically, to try to avoid input from the people. And so we have a chance now with this project being more in the early stages to have more input and to have a chance to stop this thing before it even starts. They’ve already done some damage with the drilling and they can’t put that right. They’re supposed to “remediate” it. Basically their remediation consists of heaping some soil across the road and a few rocks so that hopefully nobody drives on the road that they created, and throwing out some seeds and hoping that they germinate. It’s basically a joke. So that damage has been done. There’s more drilling probably coming up soon, but I want folks to stay tuned, you know? We’ve been working to protect Thacker Pass and us and many other groups and individuals are going to be working to protect the Mcdermitt Caldera as a whole. And we’re going to need your help.

“The purpose of regulatory permitting is to organize and legalize the destruction of the planet.”

As readers are aware, I’ve been embroiled in fighting the Thacker Pass lithium mine for the last three years. What you may not know is that the entire region around Thacker Pass, which is known as the McDermitt Caldera, was formed by the Yellowstone Hot Spot 16 million years ago and is rich in lithium because of this geology.

With lithium demand skyrocketing, this entire area — much of it wilderness-quality habitat for rare and threatened wildlife — is is threatened by a “new gold rush.” Many more mines are coming.

First among those is a project in initial stages of “exploration” proposed by the Australian mining corporation Jindalee (operating through a U.S. subsidiary, HiTech Minerals Incorporated) located in Malheur County, Oregon, about 20 miles north of Thacker Pass.

The following is a public comment I submitted to the Bureau of Land Management yesterday, which was the deadline for public input on what is called the “scoping” stage of permitting for additional drilling on the site. But in a democracy, the public comment period never ends. If you are opposed to the HiTech Minerals project, I recommend you contact the Bureau of Land Management Office in Vale, OR and Oregon legislators to explain your concerns in detail. Please send any comments you make to Protect Thacker Pass, or contact us with more ideas or to collaborate.

Please note that my comment begins with a discussion of why BLM’s authority is illigitimate.

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Max Wilbert. I am writing because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering whether or not to authorize HiTech Minerals Incorporated to conduct up to five years of exploratory geologic drilling projects on public lands in the northern McDermitt Caldera, in Malheur County, Oregon as part of early-stage feasibility studies for a major lithium mine.

These comments are based on my review of the Exploration Plans of Operations (version 3) available on the BLM website. I am a concerned individual and for the past 20 years have worked with environmental organizations to address global warming and conserve the natural environment. I am also the author of a book called Bright Green Lies that analyzes the harms caused by mining lithium, among other metals.

Before I say anything about the exploration project in detail—rest assured, I do indeed have “substantive comments”—I must contest the notion that the Bureau of Land Management has meaningful authority to issue such a permit. (NB for BLM employees: this is not meant as a personal attack on you. It’s a historical critique of the institution).

By definition, a permit is a legal document giving permission for activities that would otherwise be prohibited. These permits protect the corporation from legal liability for destructive actions that would be punishable by law if committed without a permit. The permit in question would allow HiTech employees and contractors to drill a well and up to 267 boreholes, each with an associated drilling pad. It would also authorize the construction of 30.2 miles of access roads, and destroy up to 99.2 acres of sagebrush habitat. Doing this without a permit is illegal.

Therefore, the fundamental purpose of this permitting process is to bureaucratically organize and legalize the destruction of the planet. 

Yes, I understand that mitigation is part of this process. But fundamentally, the land, water, wildlife, air, and cultural resources will be worse off if this project is carried out than they would otherwise be, and thus the point stands.

We are living a time of ecological crisis. A paper published in the prestigious journal Science on September 13, 2023 (“Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries” by Richardson et. al.) states that humans have exceeded six of Earth’s nine planetary boundaries, “suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.” That paper states that “Earth system modeling of different levels of the transgression of the climate and land system change boundaries illustrates that these anthropogenic impacts on Earth system must be considered in a systemic context.” The 6th mass extinction is ongoing, driven entirely by human activity such as mining. We are in a climate crisis, a pollution crisis, a water crisis, and more.

The Bureau of Land Management permitting process is not the result of a meaningful democratic process held by fully informed and empowered people. It is an antiquated, anti-democratic bureaucratic maze that de facto privileges the rights of corporations and their owners to extract wealth at the expense of other people, land, non-humans, and future generations.

Consider the power of corporate lawyers and contractors to influence this process compared to poor, mostly uneducated tribal elders from the nearby reservations for whom English is a second language.

This is not your fault. There are many good people working inside Federal Agencies. Rather, it’s the result of gradual expansions in corporate power that have undermined democracy dating back well over a century, of greater corporate legal power, of the 1872 mining law, and of national policy corrupted by greed, lobbying, and revolving doors. But we should all be aware of what is happening here.

The great corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris wrote that “It is not corporations but the public that is regulated by regulatory agencies. Their main functions are now to legitimize public harm, act as energy sinks for citizen activism, and protect corporations from upset citizens.” And in fact, the first U.S. regulatory body, the Interstate Commerce Commission, was set up with assent and deep involvement of the industries it regulated.

There was once a time when people had direct recourse against corporate pirates such as HiTech, Jindalee, and the people behind them: Lindsay Dudfield, Brett Marsh,

Rebecca Ball, Darren Wates, Justin Mannolini, Paul Brown, and others.

Throughout most of human history, anyone working to poison the local water supply or destroy vast swathes of land such as these people would either be banished or otherwise severely punished. In many societies, such people would have been regarded as sociopaths. Now, the illusion of a participatory process (“you submitted your public comment, didn’t you?”) and the legal fiction called a “corporation” creates an effective buffer between angry communities and these pillagers.

As Frederic Bastiat wrote in 1848, “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

My understanding of BLM’s permitting process is that it is difficult to deny permits for this type of exploration. However, I know that it is not impossible; in July, BLMcanceled a prior approval for lithium exploration near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, citing impacts to groundwater and sensitive species. In that case, BLM’s letter stated that “Based on the information before it, BLM concludes that [the exploration project] operations will cause surface disturbance greater than casual use” on federally protected lands and water.

I posit that this exploration project will cause surface disturbance greater than casual use in the McDermitt Caldera. The harms caused by this drilling project could have ramifications for decades and even centuries. If the lithium mining project goes forward, those disturbances could extend to geologic time scales. Therefore, I urge BLM to deny this permit.

Here are my specific concerns with the EPO:

What about areas previously undisturbed? Has there been any census of how much of the project area is essentially intact, “old-growth” or mature sagebrush steppe, and how much of this land will be destroyed? Has there been any calculation of how long reclamation will take to produce a plant, fungi, and animal assemblage and function that is comparable to pre-disturbance conditions? Are we talking decades? Centuries? If this analysis has not been conducted, why not?

If Turner Creek, Payne Creek, and Mine Creek are indeed intermittent, how will underground flows into the aquifer and McDermitt Creek, and aboveground flows during the wet season, be affected by pumping in the project area? How you do you know? Is this confirmed by independent parties? What is the worst-case scenario?

On page 8, HiTech states that their water supply well “will be constructed to isolate the upper sedimentary rocks from the underlying volcanic rocks and will produce groundwater solely from the volcanic layer rocks below sedimentary rocks to protect groundwater baseflow in nearby streams. In addition, the water supply well is located at least one-quarter mile from any surface water.”

How do you know this is true? Where is the proof? Is the hydrologist working on this being paid by HiTech? If so, there is a conflict of interest here and any testimony should be discounted. How will pumping affect the hydraulic gradient? How will pumping affect radial flow throughout the project area? What is the aquifer permeability in the area? What models are used to predict streamflow reductions or lack thereof? Analytical depletion functions? Or more complex, site-specific models?

Also, where is Appendix E so we can verify this information for ourselves?

According to PSU (, “In general, larger cones of depression result from larger pumping rates, higher permeability or lower storativity, and longer elapsed time.” How will continuous pumping for 5 months of the year (the dry months, it should be noted) affect summertime and fall minimum stream flows? What is the confidence with which these projections can be made? What will occur if the downstream surface water flows decline? How will blame be apportioned? Given the lack of other pumping projects and disturbance in the area, can HiTech be halted from further drilling in this situation?

What will be the downstream effects on the Quinn River drainage as whole from this pumping? Isn’t the Quinn River aquifer already over-allocated? Why is additional pumping being allowed in a region in drought that is already overpumped? What is the hydrologic impact to the region of using 10,000 gallons per drill rig per 24-hour workday?

Any study of hydrological impacts should include cumulative impacts on this drainage basin and downstream basins, e.g. how this EPO and future mining operations could exacerbate water scarcity due to climate change, weather patterns, historical and current overpumping, etc.

As Ka’ila Ferrell Williams stated in her letter to Oregon Governor Brown:

“McDermitt Creek and its tributaries provide important habitat for the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout. For decades, state and federal agencies, local landowners and public lands users have undertaken restoration efforts to establish a metapopulation of the species in this system, which is the only location capable of supporting a resilient and diverse population in the larger management unit that spans Nevada and Oregon. In many streams, inputs of cold, clean groundwater are critical to maintaining the streamflows and cool water needed by these fish. Oregon should not authorize groundwater pumping when it lacks adequate data to understand the impacts on Lahontan cutthroat trout habitat.

Oregon is in the midst of a decades-long drought, with southeastern Oregon being particularly affected. In six of the last ten years, Oregon’s Governor has declared a drought emergency in Malheur County, underscoring the severity of water shortages in the region.

Without adequate data, it is impossible to determine whether or not HiTech’s proposed well, even temporary pumping for five years, would have no detrimental or adverse impacts to water availability or quality available in the McDermitt Creek basin.”

Additionally, roughly six miles of streams which are “special status fish habitat” run directly through the project area. What are the impacts on these streams? What monitoring will take place? How will drilling operations and overnight lighting affect invertebrates which provide food for special status fish? If these impacts have not been considered, why not?

According to Western Rivers Conservancy,

“Lahontan cutthroat—the state fish of Nevada—are a large, bright-orange species of cutthroat that were once abundant across thousands of miles of streams in the Great Basin. Today, the fish are on the brink of extinction because the pristine, cold-water habitat they depend on has been disappearing for a century, coupled with hybridization and competition from non-native fish. The primary hope for Lahontan cutthroat lies with the increasingly rare perennial streams that flow cold and clear through the dry sagebrush country of the Great Basin. Chief among these streams is McDermitt Creek, which drains the southern slopes of Oregon’s Trout Creek Mountains and crosses the state line into the Great Basin of Nevada.”

In regards to Page 23, why is the arbitrary level of “a 100-year 24-hour storm event” considered the threshold for high precipitation? Ephemeral streams may flow with far less precipitation, and operating heavy equipment could increase downstream siltation in LCT spawning areas.

The applicant plans up to 267 drill sites with depths varying between 300 and 800 feet. The applicant states that prior drill holes all encountered groundwater. How will 267 new drill holes affect groundwater and surface water flows? Will these holes cut through rock layers allow groundwater flow to drain into lower geologic layers, reducing recharge rates in McDermitt Creek and Quinn River? How will this concern be mitigated? Will these affect natural springs? How do we know?

In reference to Section 3.20, what species are being protected by the drilling timeframe? Why was this timeframe chosen? What evidence is there that this timeframe is sufficient to protect the species in question? If these species require such protection, why is this exploration project being allowed in the first place? Where do the species go during the period that drilling would take place? What evidence is there that this drilling period would protect the species in question?

On page 13, applicant states that “sumps will be fenced,” but photographic evidence from applicants previous operations (see Wildlands Defense/Katie Fite) in the project area show that fencing efforts were laughable. This corporation has shown itself not to be trustworthy. I also share Ross Taylor’s concerns about sump sizing, overflow, leaching, pollution, chemical load, impacts on fish, effects on wildlife who attempt to enter or drink, storm drainage, and so on.

On page 22, applicant states that groundwater flows for previous wells ranged from 14 gpm to 38 gpm. I share Ross Taylor’s concerns, as replicated here:

“How can groundwater be completely contained in a sump that can only handle 7,500 gallons? Do the math – if HiTech is proposing that drill sites will be operating 24/7 and the amount of groundwater encountered in previously drilled exploration holes produced 14 to 38 gallons of groundwater per minute, containment in the proposed sumps is not possible. The conservative 14 gallons/minute equates to 20,160 gallons in 24 hours and the 38 gallons/minutes equates to 54,720 gallons in 24 hours. Also, these values don’t account for the volume of drill cuttngs, return of water pumped into the bore hole, and return of drill lubrication fluid.

‘Groundwater removed from exploration boreholes during drilling is returned to a sump located on the drill pad, where water infiltrates back into the formation’. This statement suggests that returned groundwater, drill cuttings and lubrication fluid will be discharged into the surrounding environment. What are the long-term effects of this effluent on McDermit Creek, its tributaries and listed/sensitive species such as LCT? What happens to heavy metals in the effluent, like the mercury known to exist in the soils of the project area?”

Section 4.6 indicates that sumps adjacent to drilling sites are permeable and fluids contained in them will leach into groundwater. What contaminants will this fluid contain? Will these sumps be monitored by an independent third party for contaminants, spills, and overflow? What are the long term effects of this pollution?

The applicant states that drilling will continue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 months a year, for up to five years. That’s a cumulative 2 years and one month of intensive industrial activity in what has until now been a largely undisturbed area. What will be the impact of this drilling noise on greater sage grouse? Research has shown this species is highly noise sensitive, and OAR 660-023-0115 identifies land use that conflicts with sage-grouse habitat as including “noise levels of at least 70 dB for sustained periods of time.

Greater sage-grouse are also highly dependent on forb availability in the summertime when chicks hatch. Breeding impacts may be reduced by timing of this project, but what about rearing success? How will this project impact rearing habitat and summer perambulations? What about mule deer? Pronghorn? Bighorn sheep? Cougar? Columbia spotted frog? Rocky Mountain elk? Bobcat? Sandhill crane? Burrowing owls? Bobcat? Migratory bird species? Golden eagles? Rodents? Lizards? Snakes? How will bright lights associated with drilling affect insect populations in the area? What about bats?

Brad Shultz stated in a 2017 presentation that “Perennial herbaceous riparian areas adjacent to level benches with good forb/bunchgrass understory offer great potential for meeting breeding and brood rearing [needs]”. Does this describe portions of the site in question? Will these sites be impacted by the exploration? If so, where, how much area, and to what extent?

These impacts will, of course, be negative. Wildlife species need wild land, not industrialized land. Given this, why does this disturbance not count as undue and unnecessary degradation?

It appears when looking at ODFW’s Sage Grouse Development Siting Tool that ODFW has designated most of the protect area as “very high mitigation,” meaning this is very important habitat for Greater sage-grouse. Additionally, the entire site is part of ODFW’s 2023 “draft revised core habitat” for sage grouse.

Further underscoring the importance of this habitat for sage grouse, this area was designated as part of the Southeast Oregon and North-Central Nevada “Sagebrush focal area.” According to BLM documents, “After a multi-year collaboration process, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service amended 98 land use plans to provide for Greater Sage-Grouse conservation in 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied on BLM’s and the U.S. Forest Service’s 2015 planning decisions, and State-level plans, to support its finding that the Greater Sage-Grouse did not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act. The BLM and Forest Service plans included a recommendation that the Secretary of the Interior safeguard the most important habitat for the bird, Sagebrush Focal Areas (SFAs), by withdrawing them from the Mining Law of 1872, subject to valid existing rights. The SFAs cover about 10 million acres of Federal lands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.”

Is this area subject to “valid existing rights” that predate the Sagebrush Focal Area plan and are thus grandfathered in? If not, why is this project continuing? Why has this area not yet been secured for federal mineral withdrawal?

And, doesn’t BLM’s “recommendation that the Secretary of the Interior safeguard the most important habitat for the bird, Sagebrush Focal Areas (SFAs), by withdrawing them from the Mining Law of 1872” mean that the agency has already determined that this habitat is too important to be destroyed?

Sage grouse populations continue to decline, despite collaborative efforts. The first objective cited in BLM’s 2015 fact sheet on the Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Effort is to “Minimize new or additional surface disturbance.” The fact sheet notes that “The most effective way to conserve the sage-grouse is to protect existing, intact habitat.” So, why is this project being permitted in key sage grouse habitat? How can destruction of sage-grouse habitat be justified, given that the USGS has found that sage-grouse have declined by 80% since 1965 and nearly 40% since 2002, and that this decline has been particularly severe in the Great Basin? (

It appears that Oregon’s sage-grouse conservation strategy is not working, based on the USGS data. Is this correct?

Is it correct to say that current sage grouse conservation measures amount to a “managed decline towards extinction”?

If mitigation is not halting species decline, then other measures should be taken. So, this project should be rejected.

Section 4.3 as a whole is very vague and needs significant clarification. Additionally, this study should include input from biologists with a range of opinions and perspectives to qualfy as workable science. This is a basic level of peer review, essential to the scientific method, that is missing completely from the analysis. For example, in addition to biologists hired by state and federal agencies and by HiTech, biologists working for environmental organizations should also be permitted. Scientists regularly make mistakes and are prone to biases and careerism, which is why a peer review process exists. How is this concern being mitigated? How do we know the science we are being presented with is complete and correct?

Section 4.5 states that there are no wetlands in the project area. Are beaver present? Were they historically? If so, has reintroduction been considered? This would create additional wetlands and widen stream channels. Beaver have been shown to improve fish habitat, cool water temperatures, reduce fire risk, store water for drought conditions, and increase biodiversity of other organisms. If beaver were to naturally return to the area, what would their impact be on this operation?

According to project maps in this application, significant portions of the project area are designated “lands with wilderness characteristics.” Additionally, the project area is surrounded to the northeast, north, northwest, west, and southwest by designated wilderness study areas. Connectivity corridors between these landscapes are incredibly important, especially as McDermitt Creek, Payne Creek, and others represent important summer water sources. With drilling happening the entire dry season, how will this project affect wildlife who reside in wilderness study areas and lands with wilderness characteristics?

What protections exist for designated “lands with wilderness characteristics”? Why is it permissible to conduct an industrial operation of this scale on those lands, if it destroys their wilderness character?

Where are the appendices? These are not included on the BLM website as of September 14th, 2023 (today) at 1:32pm Pacific Time. Without all the documents being included, how can the public be expected to understand and comment on the project? This is a significant oversight that is not explained on the BLM ePlanning website. Please explain where these documents are and why they were not shared with the public as part of this process. If they should have been shared, please share them. If that is the case, this comment period needs to be extended significantly and parties that have commented thus far must be informed of their availability. Also, new public meetings should be held in which these documents are available in print form for review by members of the public who do not have access to the internet (which is still somewhat common among Tribal communities and elderly people in this rural region).

This project will use significant amounts of diesel fuel and gasoline for generators, worker transport vehicles, heavy equipment (D-7 class bulldozers, 325C class track-mounted excavators, etc.), and drilling rigs. Estimates posit that for every 1000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent that is emitted, one person will be killed due to global warming by 2100. What is the climate death impact of this project? The climate impacts of greenhouse gases released by burning these fuels, and due to disturbing soils, biological soil crusts, and vegetation across 99.2 acres should also be factored in. This impact assessment should also include materials used in this project, such as Portland cement, concrete, gravel, pipes, and other consumables, and amortized climate impact of producing heavy equipment, 4WD vehicles, mud tanks, water storage tanks, generators, ATVs, and other non-consumables as listed on page 14-15 of the exploration plan. Calculations should also account for traffic volume as cited on page 16. According to the applicant, vegetation may be shredded using a masticator – that’s carbon release.

How will vegetation shifts due to the project disturbance footprint change fire risks for the project area itself and for surrounding wilderness quality landscapes, due to e.g. cheatgrass proliferation?

Will welding and similar fire risk activities be allowed to continue during red flag warnings and periods of extreme fire danger?

Where is Appendix D?

Page 16 states that “Newly constructed roads will be recontoured to the original topography as practicable. Drill sites, sumps, and related disturbances will be reclaimed as soon as practicable after completion of drilling operations. Final reclamation of overland travel routes, sumps, and drill sites will consist of fully recontouring disturbances to their original grade, and re-seeding in the fall season immediately following completion of exploration activities.”

This sounds completely insufficient considering that low recruitment rates of sagebrush and other desert plants, the ease with which cheatgrass and other non-native species spread, and the impacts to biological soil crusts and soil seed banks.

What seeds will be used? Will they all be native seeds, or will some be non-native? Will the seed mix reflect exactly the plants found on the site prior to bulldozing? If not, what plants will be lost? How will the loss of certain plants effect wildlife species and people, especially indigenous people? How will the shifts in plant mixture as a result of disturbance and reseeding affect carbon storage and soil stability in the long term? Will there be followup to ensure germination and survival of seeded areas? What is the seeding is not successful?

Page 16 also states that “Natural barriers such as berms or rock may be utilized post reclamation to prevent future use of areas by the public.” Is this saying that areas will be made off limits to the public due to this project? Why is public land being privatized in this way?

Where is Appendix B? Where is Appendix E? Where is Appendix C?

In regards to section 6.10, what does a “qualitiative comparison” consist of, exactly? Given that pre-disturbance values of this landscape include but are not limited to ecological functions like water filtration, scenic values, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration, how will reclamation be determined to have been successful in regards to these functions?

This region is known to have significant amounts of mercury in the sediments. What are mercury levels inside the project area? How much mercury will be liberated by road building and drilling? Where will that mercury go? What impacts will it have on human beings, animals, plants, fungi, insects, and micro-organisms?

The same question applies to uranium, arsenic, and other hazardous subsgances that may be present in the geology.

What measures will be taken to prevent the spread of cheatgrass and other aggressive non-native species?

What consequences will HiTech incur if they are responsible for spreading cheatgrass or other aggressive invasives in the project area?

My conversations with elders from the Fort McDermitt Tribe, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, and Burns Paiute Tribe have indicated that the northern McDermitt Caldera region is exceptionally significant to Native Americans across at least those five tribes and likely at least several others as well. Given the interconnections between regional tribes which were nomadic and interrelated prior to the establishment of tribal governments, this project should not be allowed to proceed without in-depth consultation with these five tribes. This consultation should also take into account the voices of tribal elders and knowledge holders, not just tribal governments.

If this will not take place, please explain why not, justify why these tribes are not being consulted prior to any disturbance on their traditional unceded territories, and explain the legal basis of this course of action.

The cultural significance of the Project Area is reinforced by the comments submitted by Nikki Hill, who references culturally important plants and archaeological data pointing towards more than 8,000 years of human inhabitation on the project site. As Hill states in her comment, “These initial findings require the time needed to properly survey those sites and to search for other indications within the greater project area; to request input from the tribe and local experts; and to seek out ethnographic documentation of local importance and memory of this area, which is held sacred by the Paiute people of McDermitt and other tribes.”

A letter from Klamath Tribal Member Ka’ila Farrell-Smith to Senator Jeff Merkeley and Governor Brown, available online here (, states clearly that the area proposed for the HiTech Minerals Exploration Project is “sacred to the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Western Shoshone tribal peoples”.


  • Why is a Class III pedestrian survey considered adequate at this stage of EPO permitting?
  • Why is there no mention of culturally important sites in the EPO?
  • Why has there been no consultation with interested tribes?
  • How will interested tribes be determined? In your response, please incorporate how you will improve on the flawed approach to tribal consultation undertaken at Thacker Pass that led to multiple tribes filing lawsuits against the BLM.
  • Why has there been no consultation with traditional elders?
  • What qualifies BLM and HiTech to determine and mitigate adverse effects?
  • How will the BLM respond if different tribes hold different views on the cultural importance of the area?

The EPO states that “HiTech will be responsible for ensuring that employees, contractors, or any others associated with the Project do not damage, destroy, or vandalize archaeological or historical sites.” But what if the entire project itself is damaging, destroying, or vandalizing archeological or historical sites?

BLM is already aware, to some extent, of the cultural significance of the Disaster Peak area and McDermitt Caldera. For example, on Page 382 of Thierry “A Historical Ethnography of the Fort McDermitt Paiute,” an 1867 letter from Maj. Sherburne stationed at Camp McDermitt is quoted referring to “Disaster Peak, a place that has always been noted for the haunt of Indians”.

Further, BLM is also in possession of the document “Thacker Pass/Peehee mu’huh:

A Living Monument to Numu History and Culture,” which was submitted to the agency in early 2023 by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe. This document describes how a survivor of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre fled to the environs of Disaster Peak.

The region of Disaster Peak, McDermitt Creek, and the northern Caldera contains numerous historical sites of significance. These include the site where Col. McDermit was ambushed and killed, the site where a party of prospectors were attacked by Native Americans in March 1864, the site where party of prospectors were attacked by Native Americans in May 1865, and the sites where multiple skirmishes between settler-militia calling themselves the “Humboldt Rangers” and Native Americans took place sometime after the May 1865 attack and before June 4, 1864 (see “Origin of Place Names Nevada”1941; page 169 in Myron Angel’s “History of Nevada”; and Page 63 and 79 of Michno’s “The Deadliest Indian War in the West” for incomplete details of these last three events. Note that Michno’s details may be incorrect.), prehistoric village sites, areas of culturally important plant abundance that could indicate “gardening,” possible burial sites, travel routes, and the possibility of sacred sites relating to cultural activities in the area.

Note that Page 79 of Michno’s book indicates that multiple skirmishes and massacres in the vicinity of Disaster Peak “resulting in Captain Almond Well’s summer campaign” and contributed to the entire course of the Snake War, the deadliest Indian War west of the Mississippi. These are not minor events in American history and therefore extensive research, oral histories, and surveys must be conducted in this region before a permit to destroy and disturb the area should even be considered.

I must insist that this project complete a full EIS due to the fact that the cumulative disturbance being considered here might well compromise the cultural and ecological resources present on the site. There is an agency assumption here which is based on little to no evidence; the idea that cultural sites and biological integrity will not be unduly and unnecessarily compromised by the exploration. What evidence is there to support this thesis? What expertise is being applied to make this determination? Have the proper parties been consulted with? And, will the BLM complete a full EIS for this project? Why, or why not?

In regards to page 24: will revegetation mean that road and drill pad scars are invisible after reclamation is completed? Will plant assemblages and ages be comparable to non-disturbed areas? If not, this is not proper mitigation. Scenic values will be harmed by this project. Given that this area is surrounded by WSA’s and high ridges, this is a significant concern. How will this be dealt with?

In regards to cumulative impacts, I request that the impacts of this project be considered in ecological and cultural context at the regional, national, and global scales. The aforementioned article in Science, “Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries,” states that “Currently, anthropogenic perturbations of the global environment are primarily addressed as if they were separate issues, e.g., climate change, biodiversity loss, or pollution. This approach, however, ignores these perturbations’ nonlinear interactions and resulting aggregate effects on the overall state of Earth system. Planetary boundaries bring a scientific understanding of anthropogenic global environmental impacts into a framework that calls for considering the state of Earth system as a whole.”

Non-linear interactions and resulting aggregate effects from mining exploration must be considered when considering whether or not to permit this project given that the planetary boundaries which are already transgressed include:

  1. Biosphere integrity (which is relevant due to the habitat destruction, degradation, and the displacement and destruction of wildlife which would be caused by this project);
  2. Land system change (which is relevant due to the conversion of 99.2 acres of biodiverse sagebrush steppe habitat into roads and drilling pads);
  3. Freshwater change (which is relevant due to water use for this project);
  4. Novel entities (various chemicals which may be present in drilling fluids, heavy machinery, plastics used on-site, herbicide sprays, etc.).
  5. Climate change, especially CO2 concentration, is also relevant to this project due to fuel use and disruption of natural carbon sequestration processes.

Further, the cumulative effects of allowing exploration must be considered given that permitting exploration greatly increases the future risks of commercial-scale mining operations in the area. The public needs to be informed about the risks posed by “going down the path” towards mine development, not just the discrete technical impacts posed by bulldozing 99.2 acres of land at this time. Exploration is a “gateway drug,” not an independent process.

If you will not include discussion, scientific modeling, and independent assessments of non-linear interactions and aggregate effects related to permitting this project, why not? How do you justify not providing the public with a complete picture of the risks involved in this project?

The proximity of the HiTech EPO, coupled with its projected size and contemporary existence to the Thacker Pass lithium mine, added to the recent announcement that the McDermitt caldera may be the most lithium-rich in the world and the fact that addition mining corporations have staked claims and are considering mining elsewhere in the caldera, requires a cumulative effects analysis of the much larger region that is encompassed by the caldera.

With more and more lithium mining coming to this region, it’s highly conceivable that a gigantic, mosaiced “national sacrifice zone” is the inevitable result, atomizing habitat, and potentially trashing regional aquifers on an obscene scale. And with the huge undifferentiated rubble piles that will lay permanent in the wake of these mines, there will mineral runoff and pollution for eons. Not to mention the cumulative air quality effects from dust, sulfuric acid plants, and so on.

Because of the potentially significant impacts of these projects across the region and the potentially significant impacts at each mine site, NEPA requires either a programmatic or generic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS or GEIS) on the McDermitt Caldera lithium mining district, and site specific EIS’s at each site that applies. A PEIS is a tiered document. NEPA’s CEQ implementing regulations recognize that in addition to site-specific projects, the types of “major Federal action” subject to NEPA analysis requirements include “Adoption of formal plans, such as official documents prepared or approved by federal agencies which guide or prescribe alternative uses of federal resources, upon which future agency actions will be based . . . and adoption of programs, such as a group of concerted actions to implement a specific policy or plan; [and] systematic and connected agency decisions allocating agency resources to implement a specific statutory program or executive directive.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.18(b)(2)-(3), which provides the conceptual underpinning for the use of PEIS’s. See also 10 C.F.R. § 1502.4(b)(“Environmental impact statements may be prepared, and are sometimes required, for broad Federal actions such as the adoption of new agency programs . . .Agencies shall prepare statements on broad actions so that they are relevant to policy and are timed to coincide with meaningful points in agency planning and decision making”).

A PEIS “provides an occasion for a more exhaustive consideration of effects and alternatives than would be practicable in a statement on an individual action. It ensures consideration of cumulative impacts that might be slighted in a case-by-case analysis. And it avoids duplicative reconsideration of basic policy questions.” CEQ Memorandum to Federal Agencies on Procedures for Environmental Impact Statements. 2 ELR 46162 (May 16, 1972).

The Supreme Court has recognized the need for national programmatic environmental analysis under NEPA where a program “is a coherent plan of national scope, and its adoption surely has significant environmental consequences.” Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390, 400 (1976). Programmatic direction can often help “determine the scope of future site-specific proposals.” Laub v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, 342 F.3d 1080, 1089 (9th Cir. 2003). CEQ regulations define this practice as “tiering.” 40 C.F.R. § 1502.20 (“Whenever a broad environmental impact statement has been prepared . . . and a subsequent statement or environmental assessment is then prepared on an action included within the . . . program or policy (such as a site specific action) the subsequent statement or environmental assessment need only summarize the issues discussed in the broader statement and incorporate discussions from the broader statement by reference and shall concentrate on the issues specific to the subsequent action”).

Tiering allows an agency to meet its NEPA obligations in steps: First, the agency publishes a PEIS assessing the entire scope of a coordinated federal program. See Nevada v. Dep’t of Energy, 457 F.3d 78, 91 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The PEIS ensures that the agency assesses “the broad environmental consequences attendant upon a wide-ranging federal program.” Id. at 92. The agency later supplements that programmatic analysis with narrower EISs analyzing the incremental impacts of each specific action taken as part of a program. Id. at 91. A PEIS would examine the entire NRC policy initiative rather than performing a piecemeal analysis within the structure of a single agency action. Ass’n of Pub. Agency Customers v. Bonneville Power Administration, 126 F.3d 1158, 1184 (9th Cir.1997).

Agencies such as the NRC must “take a ‘hard look’ at their proposed actions’ environmental consequences in advance of deciding whether and how to proceed.” Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, 803 F.3d 31, 37 (D.C. Cir. 2015). There is zero evidence in the proposed rulemaking papers that any such inquiry has been performed.

Creating a programmatic EIS for lithium mining either at the level of the McDermitt Caldera, bioregionally for the Great Basin, or nationally for the western United States is the only appropriate way to assess the cumulative effects of these interrelated projects. Please implement a programmatic EIS process to analyze the cumulative effects of these projects. If you will not initiate a programmatic EIS, please explain why you will not be taking this action.

What if the company violates their word in this plan? What consequences will they face? At what point will their permits or license to do business be revoked? What monitoring will be conducted? How much impact on sage grouse is too much?

Corporations do not really exist. They are a legal fiction, an entity created for the purpose of profit, growth, and to limit liability. Businesses are made up of people, and those people are the ones making the decisions.

The great folk singer and revolutionary Utah Philips, who I had the honor of watching perform many times in my childhood, famously said: “The Earth is not dying, it’s being killed, and the people who are killing it have names and addresses.”

So, in honor of Utah Philips, I would like to go on the record about who is behind the ongoing and planned destruction of the McDermitt Caldera: These are some of the people behind this project.

Lindsay Dudfield

  • President and CEO of HiTech Minerals and Jindalee Resources
  • Level 2, 9 Havelock Street, West Perth WA, 6005, Australia
  • LinkedIn profile

Brett Marsh

  • Vice President of Exploration and Development at Jindalee Resources
  • Mr. Marsh has an extensive background with major mining corporations linked to serious environmental and human rights abuses worldwide.
  • Mesa, Arizona
  • LinkedIn Profile

Rebecca Ball

Darren Wates

  • Corporate Lawyer and Director at Jindalee Resources
  • Greater Perth area, Australia
  • LinkedIn Profile

Justin Mannolini

  • Chairman of the Board, Jindalee Resources
  • Greater Perth Area, Australia
  • LinkedIn Profile

Paul Brown

  • Director, Jindalee Resources

I would like to propose an alternative to the proposed project, which I have discussed with community members from Oregon and Nevada. We call it the Citizens Preferred Alternative, or CPA. The CPA is currently under development and we will submit it to the public and to relevant agencies including the BLM for discussion and debate in the near future. Under the CPA, this EPO would be rejected and the BLM would work with the public and the Department of the Interior to move the McDermitt Caldera toward a Federal Mineral Withdrawal to protect Sage-grouse focal areas and Lahontan Cutthroat Trout habitat. Further, much or all of the project area would be managed for wilderness characteristics.

Ultimately, these types of EA and EIS reports amount to a catalog of atrocities: “here is all the harms this project will cause, and we’ll allow it anyway.” This is just as bad as not cataloging the harms. The cataloging only matters if it actually stops projects and protects land. Therefore, I again urge the BLM to reject this exploration plan and protect this land. HiTech’s Plan of Operations would clearly cause “undue and unnecessary degradation” to public lands.

Please add me to any public notification contact lists related to the HiTech project and other lithium exploration or mining-related activities in the McDermitt Caldera and inform me when BLM has prepared a response to the questions and concerns raised in this comment. Thank you.


Max Wilbert

September 15th, 2023

ACTION ALERT! Supporters, we need your help


The Bureau of Land Management plans to begin destroying the sacred land and critical wildlife habitat of Thacker Pass very soon. They are planning to send “professional archeologists” into Thacker Pass very soon to conduct government-sanctioned looting.

Indigenous peoples including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, and Atsa Koodakuh why Nuwu / People of Red Mountain are against this. The National Congress of American Indians has spoken out, as has the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada and the Nevada Statewide Native American Caucus. 

To save Thacker Pass (known as Peehee Mu’huh in the Paiute language) from desecration, we need the Bureau of Land Management to cancel their planned archeological dig, promise to engage in real consultation with affected tribes under NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and ultimately cancel the project permits. This is a step on the road to protecting Thacker Pass.

There are voices on the wind at Peehee Mu’huh; the voices of the ancestors who were killed here, telling old truths so that we, the living, can save this remarkable place. This is how we honor their lives: by protecting the land on which they lived and died, by uncovering stories that must not be buried in the rubble of open-pit mines.

CALL AND WRITE to everyone below to let them know our demands. Your efforts do make a difference!


  • Consultation with tribes was “fast-tracked” during the worst days of the pandemic.
  • Because of this, BLM failed to find easily available documentation that there was a massacre in Thacker Pass. None of the government documents (EIS, Cultural Resource Inventory, HPTP, etc.) produced by BLM and Lithium Nevada have addressed the September 12, 1865 massacre, which is important part of U.S. American History that qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places. This is blatant negligence. 
  • This massacre is like a Paiute “Pearl Harbor.” It was a surprise attack on peaceful Paiutes and at least 31 were murdered.
  • Now that BLM has been presented with the proof of this massacre and proof that there are likely human remains in the project area, BLM is trying to sweep this under the rug and won’t consult with the lineal descendants of those massacred.
  • The Biden Administration and the BLM have a legal and moral obligation to halt the Thacker Pass mine and conduct proper consultation under the Native American Graves Protect and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).


If you represent an organization, Tribal Government, or are otherwise influential, please use that leverage to pressure these agencies by sharing this message on your platforms, sending official letters, requesting meetings, and coordinating with us.

PHONE NUMBERS – leave a message if you don’t get through

  1. Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior —  202-208-3100, x3 for Sec Haaland (leave a message or talk to her assistant).
  2. Nada Wolff Culver, Acting BLM Director — 202-208-3801 (main office in Grand Junction)
  3. Jon Raby, BLM Nevada State Director — 775-861-6400 (ask to be connected or leave message with assistant)
  4. U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation — 202-517-0209 (contact for Nevada: Bill Marzella)
  5. U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs — 202-208-5116 (x5 for directors office)
  6. Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribal Council — 702-532-8259
  7. U.S. Senator Jackie Rosen — 202-224-6244
  8. Kathleen Rehberg, BLM Field Manager, Humboldt River Field Office — 775-623-1739
  9. Mark Hall, BLM Archeologist for the Thacker Pass lithium mine — 775-623-1500 (ask to speak to Mark Hall)
  10. Ken Loda, BLM Project Lead for the Thacker Pass lithium mine — 775-623-1500 (ask to speak to Ken Loda)
  11. Ester McCullough, BLM Winnemucca District Manager — 775-623-1500 (ask to speak to Ester McCullough).


@BLMNV, @BLMnational, @SecDebHaaland, @Interior, @AmbassadorRice, @SenJackyRosen

ambsusanrice, secdebhaaland, blm_nevada, #bureauofindianaffairs, senjackyrosen

Stop The Dig

What we mean when we say “massacre”

What we mean when we say “massacre”
(Reflecting on the September 12, 1865 Thacker Pass Massacre)

Words can, of course, be dangerous. That’s why we keep some words tightly wrapped and shoved into the darkest, coldest corners of our minds. We stuff the realest meanings of other words into the tightly-packed, contained, superficial space created by their letters. Then, we do our best to forget words are so much more than the sum of their letters.

Other words we simply cannot face. So, when we sense them pushing their way through our consciousness, we turn to whatever mindless entertainment, chemical, or other distraction we can find to fling that word, and what it really means, as far from our conscious mind as we can.

Massacre is a word I was running from.

I ran from it as part of my legal work for Thacker Pass. Don’t get me wrong, I used the word over and over again. I used it to try to convince the judge that digging up a massacre site would harm the descendants of those who were massacred. I used it to show the historical and cultural significance of Thacker Pass. I used it to try to protect Thacker Pass.

But, legal words are abstract. Lawyers don’t ask a judge to stop a corporation from digging up someone’s ancestors, they “move the court for a preliminary injunction.” Lawyers don’t call bullshit, they “object to counsel’s characterization of the facts in the case.” Lawyers don’t say it’s simply wrong for rich people to destroy a beautiful mountain pass for more money, they “contend that the defendants’ failure to observe the procedure specified in the National Historic Preservation Act is grounds for revocation of the Record of Decision.”

Despite practicing law for nine years, I never truly understood why legal language is so abstract. Then, the word “massacre” caught me in the middle of the night. The realest meaning of the word massacre ripped through the eight letters confining it, stripped off the layers of denial I had wrapped her in, and forced me to gaze at her full meaning.

Earlier that day, I was working on legal writing describing evidence of the September 12, 1865 Thacker Pass massacre. The last few paragraphs I wrote were:

“The new evidence of the September 12, 1865 Thacker Pass massacre makes it virtually certain that Paiutes were murdered on the east edge of the project area. Lithium Nevada’s proffered map places the remains of the Indian camp just outside the east boundary of the project area. The Sackett account and the Owyhee Avalanche article describe soldiers attacking the Paiute camp from the east, making it most likely that Paiutes fled west towards the project area. The Owyhee Avalanche article describes soldiers chasing Paiutes “over several miles of ground for three hours.” Ox Sam’s account also suggests that Paiutes fled towards the project area. He said he rode to Disaster Peak which is west and north of Thacker Pass. Riding to Disaster Peak would have most likely taken Ox Sam through the whole project area. If the Paiutes ran away from the soldiers over several miles of ground, towards Disaster Peak, as the evidence indicates, then slain Paiutes were most likely scattered across the project area.

The Owhywee Avalanche article also says that soldiers searched amongst the sage and found thirty-one dead. The writer of the article stated: “More must have been killed and died from their wounds, as a strict search was not made, and the extent of the battlefield so great.” Deputy US Surveyor Palmer, three years after the massacre, wrote that, “There are many Indian skulls and other remains to be found scattered over this portion of the Township.”

If “a strict search was not made” for slain and wounded Paiutes, then it seems unlikely that the soldiers buried those they killed. And, if the soldiers did not bury those they killed, then the bones from the Paiute bodies scattered across the project area were almost certainly scattered even farther across the project area by animal scavengers and natural forces like wind, rain, and snow.”

I mistook the antsy anxiety I felt while writing those last few lines about Paiute bodies being scattered across the project area as simply an indication that I had been working for too long and it was time to take a break. With the slight nausea in my gut and the restlessness in my muscles that always accompanies anxiety for me, I saved the document on my computer, shut my it, and moved on to dinner, my evening walk, and bed.


Sometime in the very early morning, thundering hoofbeats stirred me. I felt the chilly September air on my face and tried to pull my rabbit blanket over my head. But, the hoofbeats hadn’t stopped. Men began yelling in a strange language. Then, the criss-crossing willow branches I had used to construct the frame of my house began snapping. My eyes flicked open. As my eyes tried to focus on the moonlight pouring through the broken branches, I heard the crack of cavalry carbines and screams over the sound of cracking wood.

The baby! I thought. I turned to where my wife was cradling her. She sleeps heavy, but how does she sleep through this? My hands came back covered in blood. The wall on her side was completely mangled from gunfire.
The baby was wailing. I cradled her in my arms, doing my best to shield her. More branches snapped and pain exploded in my ribs and spine.

Then, I truly woke. My mind pulled me from the nightmare into present reality. I laid there for a long time wondering what it would be like to go from falling asleep at a camp with my family and friends to waking up to the sounds of them being murdered all around me to my own death in a matter of seconds.

If this ever happens to me, I prayed, spare me the waking.


The next morning, I opened my laptop back up to begin another day of legal writing. For several hours, I struggled to describe, in legal language, why mechanically digging long trenches through the massacre site would cause my clients “sufficiently specific irreparable harm.” This required me to convince the judge that there are human remains in Thacker Pass. So, I tried to explain, based on the contemporary accounts of the massacre, why the massacre probably extended into the mine project area. I attempted to line up the Bureau of Land Management’s GIS data with a map of the areas they planned to dig up first.

But, I couldn’t find the words. Not after I had been given a glimpse of what the word massacre truly means.

I was stuck. The judge had already ruled that she didn’t think the archaeological digs would harm my clients and that she didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to conclude that there are human remains in Thacker Pass. How could I get her to reconsider? How could I convince the judge to let my client’s ancestors who were brutally massacred in Thacker Pass rest in peace?

A braid of sweetgrass I had absent-mindedly left on a table in the room I was working in caught my attention. Then, I remembered the People of Red Mountain grandmothers telling me to burn sweetgrass when I was feeling anxious or not sure what to do.

So, I did. And, this was the writing that came to me:

“Adult human skeletons are typically composed of 206 bones. Bullets, rifle butts, and knives shatter bones. So, consider an adult Paiute woman waking up in the middle of the night to hear galloping hooves and cracking rifles. Bullets tear through the willow branches she built her wikiup with. Her baby is screaming. She picks him up and flees west away from the soldiers (and into what 160 years later will be the Thacker Pass lithium mine project area.) She sees her brother – the man she would never live to see white people name “Ox Sam” – jump on a horse and gallop towards Disaster Peak.

Through sheer panic and adrenaline, she sprints faster and farther than she ever has before, but she does not sprint fast or far enough. After a few hundred yards, a bullet strikes her baby’s head held against her chest, shattering her baby’s skull before shattering her clavicle and showering the ground with bone shards. So begins only one of dozens of instances of bones being scattered throughout Thacker Pass on September 12, 1865.

The bullet’s impact knocks the dead infant from her arms. Dazed and moaning with pain, she stumbles on for another hundred yards before her moaning attracts the attention of a soldier. She collapses. The soldier approaches her with his revolver and pukes at the sight of her mangled shoulder. Then, he puts his gun to her forehead, pulls the trigger, and the woman’s skull explodes into pieces sprayed across the sage.

A few hours after the shooting stops, the scent of so much spilled blood attracts coyotes. A mother coyote finds the baby’s remains, recognizes that this human baby will be easier for her young to eat than the adult humans, and drags the baby off to her young. Other coyotes pull apart the baby’s mother as they feed. Many of her bones, after being picked clean, are left in Thacker Pass. Over the years, rain and snow create mud in Thacker Pass and gravity drives the bones into the earth until they are no longer observable to a simple surface inspection.”


Now, I’m not sure if this writing will make the final draft of the motion I’m still working on. But, I learned why legal language is so abstract. Law is written and controlled by the rich and powerful. In today’s dominant culture, the rich get rich and the powerful get powerful by exploiting the land and colonized peoples. So, today, law protects the exploitation of the land and enables colonization.

The rich and powerful know words can be dangerous. They know that making legal language abstract makes it more difficult for non-lawyers to understand law and therefore makes it more difficult for non-lawyers to understand how the rich get rich and the powerful, powerful. They’d prefer if we never recalled the atrocities they’ve committed – atrocities like massacres. But, if we do recall massacres, they definitely do not want us to consider what a massacre truly is or truly felt like. Because if we do, and we open ourselves to ponder the horrors the rich and powerful have perpetrated, we might find the motivation to stop them.

#ProtectPeeheeMuhuh #ProtectThackerPass

Art by Trav London.