July 1, 2021
CONTACT: People of Red Mountain, Max Wilbert
CARSON CITY, NV — Opponents of the planned Thacker Pass lithium mine are speaking out again — this time, against the planned digging up of Native American tools, artifacts, campsites, and potentially even graves on the site of the proposed mine.
The planned $1.3 billion mine has drawn outrage from Native Americans in the region, lawsuits from environmental groups, water rights challenges from local ranchers, and a protest camp that’s been in place for nearly six months. Now, mine opponents are preparing to rally at the local offices of a company hired to dig up archeological sites.
Mining company Lithium Nevada has hired Far Western Anthropological Research Group to catalog and dig up cultural sites at Thacker Pass. But mine opponents say that this is “looting” and are planning a rally on Wednesday, July 7th outside the Far Western office in Carson City. Mining opposition groups include Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (the People of Red Mountain), a committee comprised of Fort McDermitt and Duck Valley tribal members, and Protect Thacker Pass, the campaign that started the protest camp on the proposed mine site.
“I will not let these words go unsaid,” says Gary McKinney, a Duck Valley tribal member with lineage tracing back to Fort McDermitt, who is also part of the People of Red Mountain. “The open =-pit mine will be another attempt to erase us and our cultures.
Digging at Thacker Pass could begin as soon as July 29th, when a temporary delay that was jointly negotiated between four environmental groups and the mining company expires. Protesters claim that Far Western is violating ethical behavioral standards for archeological work, and are demanding that Far Western pull out of their contract with Lithium Nevada.
According to the People of Red Mountain, the proposed mine is located on a sacred site. “Thacker Pass is a spiritually powerful place blessed by the presence of our ancestors, other spirits, and golden eagles – who we consider to be directly connected to the Creator,” they wrote in a statement in May.
The location of the proposed mine, north of Winnemucca, is part of the “Whitehorse/Double H Obsidian Procurement District,” and has been frequented by Native American groups for thousands of years. Bureau of Land Management documents claim that there are no graves in Thacker Pass, but oral histories passed down through generations on the Fort McDermitt Reservation tell of a massacre of Native people some 200 years ago on the proposed mine site. The Paiute name for Thacker Pass — “Peehee Mu’huh,” or “Rotten Moon” – derives from that history. “Paiute Shoshone Indians have ties with the location Peehee Mu’huh. Our ancestors perished in these areas,” says McKinney.
The People of Red Mountain assert that “To build a lithium mine over this massacre site in Peehee mu’huh would be like building a lithium mine over Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery. We would never desecrate these places and we ask that our sacred sites be afforded the same respect.”
The planned Thacker Pass lithium mine already faces uncertainties for an unproven chemical process to separate lithium from the clay soils. Now, the Trump Administration’s decision to “fast-track” the project — and thereby steamroll opposition — appears to have backfired.
The anti-mining campaign at Thacker Pass continues to draw national attention and gain strength. On January 15th, environmental activists determined to stop the project launched the protest camp on the proposed site of the mine. Environmental concerns hinge on drawdown of aquifers, toxification of groundwater, possible toxic waste, potential damage to a federally listed threatened species (the Lahontan cutthroat trout), an extinction risk for the King’s River pyrg, destruction of nearly 6,000 acres of increasingly rare old big sagebrush habitat, disruption of pronghorn antelope migratory routes, and harm to golden eagles and greater sage-grouse. “We want nothing to do with that technological progress,” McKinney says. “Nobody has the right to disturb Native American sites.”
The protest camp has drawn support from the local communities of Orovada and King’s River, which have expressed determined opposition to the mine in a series of hotly contested public meetings.
Hundreds of Native people and allies have gathered on the site over recent months to conduct ceremony and express opposition to the mine.