By Rebecca Wildbear

The elders drummed and sang. We danced around the fire with Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribal Members who oppose the mine. Their ancestors are buried here. They know the harm that mines cause. Tribal members who worked in the McDermitt and Cordero mercury mines were later diagnosed with cancer.

“The Earth did not consent to this,” one woman said.

The lithium mine was approved without consulting the tribe or the land. Peehee mu’huh is the tribe’s name for Thacker Pass. Gathered there in late April, tribal members prayed. Some stayed up all night. It was windy and cold, but enduring hardship is part of the prayer.

I loved being with them—their gentle eyes, soft-spoken voices, deep presence. Raking the ground with two spiritual elders in preparation to construct a teepee, I wanted our time together to continue. I wanted to know them better. Some tribal members did a thirty-mile prayer run that weekend, ending at Peehee mu’huh, where the community waited with a blessing of water and smoke, followed by a feast.

Four young men sang on the last day. I wept. There are no songs like this on the radio. All humans once sang these kinds of songs, before there were cars, televisions, phones, and computers. My heart leapt with joy to hear that these songs still exist. I do not know the songs of my ancestors.

The prayers of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribal Members will continue at Peehee mu’huh. They will gather in ceremony again on May 22 and May 29.

Art by Travis London