Breaking News: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is fining Max and Will $49,890.13

After we sued the Bureau of Land Management for failing to consult with Native tribes before permitting the destruction of sacred Peehee mu’huh (Thacker Pass), BLM has found Max Wilbert and I in trespass for bathrooms that were constructed in Peehee mu’huh so that Native elders and people with disabilities could use the bathroom while praying and engaging in ceremony.

BLM is fining Max Wilbert and I $49,890.13. We need to ask whether our government takes better care of corporations or human beings and the natural world. Of course, when Lithium Nevada Corporation is permitted to destroy nearly 6000 acres in Peehee mu’huh, including digging an 1100 acre open pit, 400 feet deep, all while making millions of dollars, but Native people and their supporters can’t build an outhouse in the same exact location without being fined nearly $50,000, we must conclude that our government takes better care of corporations.

Please donate if you can: Max and Will are going to need a lot of legal help to fight this fine. Thank you!!

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Art by Travis London, Deep Green Arts.

International Lithium Group Stands in Solidarity with Peehee mu’huh / Thacker Pass Communities

For Immediate Release
September 8, 2021

Contacts:
John Hadder, Great Basin Resource Watch
Mirko Nikolić, YLNM-Lithium Group / Postdoc Linköping University
Hannibal Rhoades, YLNM-Lithium Group / The Gaia Foundation

Today, an international working group of individuals from around the world who are directly facing the effects of lithium extraction or are a part of organizations working alongside these frontline communities, have released a statement in support of the directly affected communities of the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine. They are demanding that all ground-breaking at the Thacker Pass mine site be halted and that the affected communities be treated with full right to withhold consent for the mine.

The international YLNM lithium group is composed of people from places in Chile, Serbia, Portugal, Nevada, California, Australia, Spain, and the UK who are facing the negative repercussions of existing lithium mining or who are fighting proposed lithium mines threatening to devastate their communities, cultural resources, and ecosystems. It is from this place of first hand experience of the harms associated with lithium mining that they internationally demand for ground-breaking operations to be halted at Thacker Pass and for the affected communities to be treated with complete right to withhold consent for the mine.

Ramón M. Balcázar is one of the members of the YLNM network, who works at the Plurinational Observatory of Salares Andinos in protecting Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia’s salt flats from lithium extraction: “​​As we can see in Nevada, the expansion of lithium mining reproduces colonialism not only in Latin America but also in stolen lands in so-called developed countries. If this is the cost of having electric cars for the most polluting countries of the world, maybe we need to find other ways for clean and just mobility, and those ways are probably beyond green capitalism.”

Prior to and after the Record of Decision on the Thacker Pass mine by the Bureau of Land Management in January 2021, large numbers of individuals from the various affected communities–such as the People of Red Mountain, the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the Burns Paiute Tribe, and the agricultural communities within Orovada and Kings River Valley–have been loudly voicing opposition. Members from these multiple frontline communities that will be directly and significantly harmed by the Thacker Pass Lithium mine have been fighting to prevent its construction through various peaceful avenues.

One of these forces of community resistance is the Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu, or the People of Red Mountain, which is a group of Fort McDermitt tribal descendants who formed specifically to oppose the Thacker Pass mine and other lithium projects threatening their homelands. As Deland Hinkey from the group states, “Peehee Mu’huh is sacred land and we must protect sacred land. It is not too late for change. We all need to realize that we only have one Earth and she must be protected. Stop corporations like Lithium Nevada, who want to destroy Mother Earth for profit…Let’s Protect Peehee Mu’huh.”

Folks from the agricultural communities next to the mine have also been clear in voicing the harms the mine will cause them. As one of these community members, Jean Williams, in Orovada, NV states, “this mine at Thacker Pass is not being permitted for the well being of our farming community. The process they wish to use is questionable. The amount of sulfur to be brought in for processing has the potential for permanent harm to crops and cattle production. Our water may disappear with no guarantee from the mine to make it right.”

Despite their and other community members’ efforts, and the clear community un-consent for the mine, it was permitted by the Bureau of Land Management in a fast-tracked manner that neglected proper Tribal consultation and public process. The mine is currently on the brink of construction, with many members from affected communities actively still resisting it, as well as active litigation in opposition to the mine’s permitting from a local rancher, conservation groups, two federally recognized Tribes, and the Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu. It is still undetermined precisely when the mining company, Lithium Nevada, will be breaking ground, but they have stated intent to do so in the near future.

The international working group’s statement of solidarity and demand for the rights of the communities affected by the Thacker Pass mine was echoed by over a dozen other international organizations and individuals who also signed on to the demands in the statement. The sentiment of solidarity with those on Thacker Pass’s frontlines is global beyond the YLNM network.

In a time where proponents of the mine largely center their arguments around domestic production of lithium and preventing “outsourcing” of the harms of mining it onto other nations, the statement coming directly from those affected by lithium mining in these other nations speaks volumes in pushing back this narrative. It states loud and clear that communities, no matter where they are located, should hold complete right to withhold consent for mines that directly affect them, their cultural resources, sacred sites, water, land, and air. The YLNM lithium network and the greater global voices’ sweeping support and solidarity for those harmed by the Thacker Pass mine sends the message that a win for the community members fighting the Thacker Pass mine is a win for communities directly affected by lithium mining everywhere.

“Our planet is home to an astonishing multitude of plant, animal, human communities and living environments. Toxic and exploitative extractivist system keeps trying to separate us from our communities and Nature, and plunges us deeper into climate and socio-ecological chaos that it caused in the first place. A true and just transformation will be led by communities and imbued by our knowledge to meet the specific needs and realities of the places we inhabit and care for. Through this work in our respective places, we will be able to join paths towards regenerating the Earth community of justice and solidarity,” Mirko Nikolić from the YLNM-Lithium Group.

Open Letter to Secretary Haaland

Dear Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland,

My name is Daranda Hinkey and I am a part of the People of Red Mountain, a group of fourteen Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribal descendants who are against the Lithium Americas/Lithium Nevada’s Thacker Pass Lithium Mine.

People of Red Mountain would like to invite Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland to a Remembrance event on Sunday, September 12th, 2021. This event will take place north of Winnemucca, NV on our traditional land which is threatened by this mine. We will start at 11 am near Nipple Rock (near mile marker 14 on Hwy 293) and then move to the Peehee Mu’huh camp around noon. I will include an event flyer in this letter.

People of Red Mountain’s ancestors fought in countless battles; one battle was dated September 12th, 1865 in which at least 31 Natives were brutally massacred by the U.S. Cavalry near Peehee Mu’huh. 156 years later, Paiute and Shoshone people will honor their ancestors in a good way. We feel it’s our responsibility to protect these burial grounds and Sacred places. We will be wearing teal for our Peehee Mu’huh Remembrance event. We will also sing honor songs, host drum groups, discuss the history of Peehee Mu’huh, the 1865 Massacre, and much more.

Our Paiute and Shoshone people talk about two massacres at Peehee Mu’huh or also known as Thacker Pass of Humboldt County, NV. Neither of these massacres are being taken seriously by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Federal Court system. The remains of the Paiute and Shoshone people are soon to be disturbed, desecrated, and stolen from the Indiginous people due to Judge Miranda Du’s decision to deny the People of Red Mountain’s, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, and Burns Paiute Tribe’s preliminary injunction to stop the excavation of 55 cultural sites.

The name Peehee Mu’huh (Rotten Moon) was given due to a massacre of a band of Paiute and Shoshone people where women, children, and elders were killed and their intestines were draped across the sagebrush. There is not a date of this massacre, but many elders have been told this story through oral history. Another massacre of the Paiute and Shoshone people was carried out on September 12th, 1865 by the U.S. Calvary. In this massacre, the people were viciously killed around daybreak. Three boys were able to escape this attack, one by fleeing towards the Oregon border and two others were adopted by a Humboldt County Sheriff, Charley Thacker.

People of Red Mountain, allies, and many Indigenous people around the country are standing against the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine. Many people are beginning to rethink the ‘clean energy’ proposal that the United States blindly believes will save the planet. It is not too late for you to make a statement on the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine.

I know one of your main missions as Secretary of the Interior is “Preserving our historic sites and lands for future generations,” and I know that you have said you, “remain committed to centering the voices and history, and stories of those who have been unrepresented and underrepresented” (Twitter Account @SecretaryDebHaaland). People of Red Mountain and others know you have the voice and power to help us in making a stand against the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine. Now is the time to come out to Peehee Mu’huh and honor the ancestors with the Remembrance event and hear out Tribal voices. You have mentioned on your Twitter account that you “will honor the sovereignty of tribal nations and recognize their part in America’s story” and “will be a fierce advocate for public lands.” People of Red Mountain know that Peehee Mu’huh is the right place and now is the right time to exercise your commitment and promises.

As you may know already, Lithium Americas/Lithium Nevada have promised to bring clean energy that will mitigate climate change and save the planet. This lithium will be used for lithium powered batteries used for electric vehicles, solar panels, rechargeable electronics, and more. But in return, the land, water, and air quality will be contaminated. The land will never look the same, the animals will never return, and the Indigneous first foods will never grow here again. The mine will deplete groundwater levels and aquifers for thousands to millions of years. The air quality will be polluted with hazardous contaminants that the animals and humans will be forced to breathe. The aboriginal people of this area, ranchers, and other community members will face a lifetime of countless environmental impacts which will endanger cultural resources and people’s way of life. The inevitable effects of this mine will be irreversible for hundreds of years to come. I do not believe this is what the U.S. the Secretary of the Interior wishes for America’s public lands and ancestral homelands of the Paiute and Shoshone people.

Our people have been overlooked and taken advantage of for too long. We need your help to turn this around. Please join us on September 12th and speak up about this issue.

Sincerely,

Daranda Hinkey
Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribal Member
Secretary of Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu / People of Red Mountain

Attention Supporters: We need your help this week!

We need your help this week to put pressure on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, asking her to at the very least delay digging at Thacker Pass so consultation can be done properly. Native people of this region have been disregarded and disrespected by the Bureau of Land Management, and now digging threatens sacred sites and massacre sites very soon. This is urgent! 

Please reach out to Secretary Deb Haaland today!

TWITTER:
@SecDebHaaland — Lithium Nevada Corp is poised to bulldoze a known massacre site and sacred site of the Paiute Shoshone people. We need your help! Please read this letter; help us take action to #ProtectPeeheeMuhuh! @Interior @BLMnational https://www.protectthackerpass.org/open-letter-to-secretary-haaland/

EMAIL:
exsec_exsec@ios.doi.gov, feedback@ios.doi.gov, nculver@blm.gov, BLM_Press@blm.gov

PHONE:
202-208-3100
And keep calling, and please let your friends and family know, so they can call! We would like to keep calling as long as possible.

PHONE SCRIPT:
Hello, my name is ________ .

(If you’re a tribal member, state: I’m a member of the _______Tribe).

The Bureau of Land Management is about to bulldoze and dig up sacred sites and known massacre sites in Thacker Pass, Nevada. I am calling to request that the Department of the Interior rescind the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project Record of Decision and Plan of Operations.

I also request that the Department of the Interior order the Bureau of Land Management to stop any disturbance of cultural sites in Thacker Pass so that meaningful, government-to-government consultation can happen with local tribes.

Finally, I request that Secretary Haaland personally meet with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, and People of Red Mountain to hear their concerns about the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project.

Legal update and hearing this week

Media coverage regarding the July 21st Thacker Pass mine-related injunction hearing seems to misunderstand the current status and implications of the ongoing legal battles over Thacker Pass, or “Peehee Mu’huh.”

Contrary to these media misrepresentations, Thacker Pass’ fate has not yet been decided – far from it. Lithium Nevada still has formidable legal obstacles to overcome – including the recent addition of Paiute-Shoshone plaintiffs bearing new, stronger arguments against the excavation of cultural sites at Thacker Pass.

It’s true that on July 23rd, Nevada Federal District Court Judge Miranda Du refused to grant an injunction that would have prohibited, on environmental grounds, the archaeological excavation of cultural sites at Thacker Pass. The judge rejected claims that the preliminary archaeological digging (of numerous hand-dug holes and seven 40-meter trenches) would cause irreparable environmental harm to the area.

However, some of the recent media coverage fails to clarify two crucial points. First, the July 23rd decision pertains only to the request for a preliminary injunction, rather than to the underlying legal case itself. Second, and even more importantly, on July 19th new plaintiffs moved to intervene in the legal case.

What is a Preliminary Injunction?

A preliminary injunction is a court order that preserves the status quo between relevant parties while the judge makes larger decisions about the underlying case. Since American law assumes that money can repair all harm, the legal system often allows companies to continue their projects even during an active lawsuit. If the judge rules that the company (or the BLM) violated the law, these defendants can compensate the harmed party with money. However, many judges recognize that money is not always an adequate reparation for harm to the environment or to cultural resources. Therefore, in such cases, judges often entertain a preliminary injunction motion.

Why did Judge Du reject the first preliminary injunction request?

In considering the environmental groups’ motion for a preliminary injunction, Judge Du acknowledged the possibility that the initial, archaeological excavations mentioned above could cause irreparable environmental harm. Although the judge ultimately decided that the smaller archaeological excavations would not cause that level of disturbance, she has not yet ruled on the environmental threat posed by the entire project.

What comes next for the environmental lawsuit?

The underlying legal case (filed back in February by Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Defense, Great Basin Resource Watch, and Basin and Range Watch), challenges the Bureau of Land Management’s Record of Decision, which permitted the corporation’s proposed lithium mine on public land. If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs and against the BLM, the Record of Decision will be suspended or vacated entirely. The judge’s final decision on that case is slated for January 2022 and will assess and respond to the environmental harm of the entire proposed mining project, which includes chemical processing facilities and a 400-foot deep open pit that would destroy miles of surface area in Thacker Pass.

Lithium Nevada investors are foolish to overlook the fact that the primary legal decision on the Thacker Pass project still remains to be made. Even more significantly, Judge Du recently accepted the addition of local tribal groups to the case. The judge acknowledged that these new plaintiffs make stronger arguments – on cultural grounds – against both the archaeological digging and the entire project.

Why and how are Native Tribes and organizations getting involved?

The night before the July 21st hearing, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the People of Red Mountain (a committee of land protectors from the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone reservation) made a formal motion to intervene in the case. Conceding that the lawsuit filed by Western Watersheds, etc., did not adequately represent tribal concerns, Judge Du admitted these two groups as plaintiffs to the case. The Burns Paiute Tribe, making similar arguments, has since joined the case as well. In July 2021, the judge decided to consolidate the lawsuits by adding these three indigenous groups’ lawsuit, as well as the lawsuit filed by local rancher Edward Bartell, to the original case filed by the environmental groups.

On July 27th, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the People of Red Mountain moved for their own preliminary injunction, on the grounds that digging up cultural sites — including burial sites and a massacre site — would do irreparable spiritual and cultural harm to them as indigenous people whose ancestors lived in and around Peehee Mu’huh.

The indigenous groups also argue that the BLM failed to adequately consult with all relevant tribes before issuing the Record of Decision.

What will happen if Judge Du grants the Preliminary Injunction request?

If the judge supports the tribes by granting this preliminary injunction after the hearing scheduled for August 27th, the corporation and the contracted archaeological group cannot disturb Thacker Pass until the end of January at the earliest. Receiving this injunction would mean that if the BLM issues an Archaeological Resources Protection Action (ARPA) permit to Far Western Anthropological Group, allowing archaeologists to begin trenching and digging at Thacker Pass, the BLM would be doing so illegally. Granting the preliminary injunction on August 27th would likely protect Thacker Pass until at least spring of 2022, since Lithium Nevada has stated they would have to wait for winter snows to melt before digging.

What if Judge Du refuses to grant the injunction?

Even if the judge refuses to grant the injunction in August 2021, both the BLM and Lithium Nevada still face many legal hurdles. The BLM must contend with a separate lawsuit filed by local rancher Ed Bartell and not yet heard in court. This lawsuit raises environmental concerns, including threats of further depletion of the already over-allocated aquifer and harm to Lahontan cutthroat trout, a Federally-listed threatened species. Bartell and another local rancher have also challenged water rights transfers which the corporation needs for the mine.

When will the preliminary injunctions be over, and the full lawsuit be heard?

Judge Du has stated that she intends to decide on this case by early 2022.

If the judge rules in favor of the tribes, the BLM will have to restart the consultation process. This process would need to include any tribes that wish to be included, and up to ten tribes in the region have demonstrable cultural ties to the Thacker Pass. The consultation process could easily take 1-2 years, during which time local, national, and international opposition may continue to build.

If the Judge rules in favor of Bartell and/or the environmental groups, the NEPA process may need to be revisited, which could similarly take years.

Meanwhile, Lithium Nevada also still needs air and water permits from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Eagle Take permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the ARPA permit from the BLM before construction can begin. The corporation also still needs the BLM to set the mining reclamation bond amount.

Conclusion

Contrary to statements made by Lithium Nevada and recent media coverage, this nefarious and ill-conceived lithium mining project still remains rather far from a reality. The fate of Peehee Mu’huh truly does still hang in the balance, and if any of the current plaintiffs win their cases, this mine could take many years to properly permit. It may never happen. It is essential that all people stand up against the destruction of the planet, poisoning of water, rampant colonialism, harm to local communities, and greenwashing represented by lithium mining projects like this.