Editor’s note: Today’s post is an interview with Will Falk discussing his work on the Protect Thacker Pass campaign with Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Lakota), host of First Voices Radio. Falk co-founded Protect Thacker Pass with Max Wilbert and is representing the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in a Federal court case alleging violations of tribal consultation laws.
Tiokasin’s guest is Will Falk, who gives an update on Thacker Pass in northern Nevada. In January 2021, Will and Max Wilbert launched an occupation of a proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass. Will is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today.
Activism has taken Will to the Unist’ot’en Camp — an Indigenous cultural center and pipeline blockade on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in so-called British Columbia, Canada, to a construction blockade on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, and to endangered pinyon-juniper forests in the Great Basin.
Production Credits: Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Lakota), Host and Executive Producer; Liz Hill (Red Lake Ojibwe), Producer; Malcolm Burn, Studio Engineer, Radio Kingston, WKNY 1490 AM and 107.9 FM, Kingston, NY; Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Audio Editor
1. Song Title: Tahi Roots Mix (First Voices Radio Theme Song); Artist: Moana and the Moa Hunters; Album: Tahi (1993); Label: Southside Records (Australia and New Zealand) (00:00:22)
2. Song Title: Mother Earth; Artist: Karliene; Single: Mother Earth (2019); Label: N/A (Available on YouTube) (00:24:40)
3. Song Title: Single Pride of Man; Artist: Quicksilver Messenger Service; Album: Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968); Label: Capitol Records (00:28:45)
4. Song Title: Revolution; Artist: SOJA; Album: Peace in Time of War (2002); Label: DMV Records (00:32:34)
5. Song Title: Bo Bo’s Groove; Artist: Tom Principato Band; Album: Raising the Roof (2008); Label: Powerhouse Records (00:37:30)
6. Song Title: Mother Earth; Artist: SOJA; Album: Peace in Time of War (2002); Label: DMV Records (00:37:30)
7. Song Title: Through the Eyes of Love; Artist: Walter Trout and the Radicals; Album: Notodden Blues Festival – The Best of People and Blues – Nbf, Vol. 3 (2004); Label: Bluestown Records (00:46:45)
8. Song Title: American Dream; Artist: J.S. Ondara; Album: Tales of America (The Second Coming) (2019); Label: Verve Forecast / Universal Music Canada (00:55:00)
AKANTU INSTITUTE: Visit Akantu Institute, an institute that Tiokasin founded with a mission of contextualizing original wisdom for troubled times. Go to https://akantuinstitute.org/ to find out more and consider joining his Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/Ghosthorse.
On Friday, August 27th at 2pm Pacific, attorneys for Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) will hold a virtual press conference updating supporters and media members on the lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management and Lithium Nevada Corporation.
Earlier that morning, there will be a hearing in Federal District Court. Judge Miranda Du will hear arguments from Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) on their motion for a preliminary injunction. If Judge Du grants the injunction, she is recognizing that these plaintiffs have a good chance of succeeding in their lawsuit which argues that the Bureau of Land Management violated federal law when they permitted the Thacker Pass lithium mine by not properly consulting with tribes. The full lawsuit will be heard later in 2021 or early 2022.
Friday’s hearing will be open to the public via video conference, but not in-person. We encourage anyone who is interested to attend. **But legal hearings can be hard to understand if you are not a lawyer, which is why we are planning to hold this virtual press conference that afternoon to explain what is happening in the case.**
Questions will be accepted and members of the press are invited to join.
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.
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.
Editor’s note: The FPIC (Free, prior and informed consent) and UNDRIP (UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are international standards, that some companies have adopted into their policies. The FPIC is an international human rights principle that protect peoples’ rights to self-determination. UNDRIP delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Both of these are important principles that improve the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. However, neither of these are legally binding, which has disastrous outcomes.
Companies and countries alike are bypassing these principles in favor of profitable ventures, most recent of which are clean energy projects.
Right now, companies that advance the “clean” energy transition are threatening the land and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and peasants. Demand for minerals like copper and lithium is skyrocketing, as every economic sector is being transitioned towards the fourth industrial revolution. But indigenous peoples need to have their right to a say in decisions affecting to their land. Ecosystems and people living with the land are being victimized to serve an economy that is desperately trying to save itself from collapsing.
When Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, spoke at the 22nd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, last week, he listed clean energy projects as some of the most concerning threats to their rights.
“I constantly receive information that Indigenous Peoples fear a new wave of green investments without recognition of their land tenure, management, and knowledge,” said Calí Tzay.
His statements — and those made by other delegates — at what is the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous peoples, made clear that without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people, these “green” projects have the capacity to seriously impede on Indigenous rights.
Free, prior and informed consent — known as FPIC — has always been an important topic at the UNPFII, but this year it’s taken on a renewed urgency.
Mining projects and carbon offsets put pressure on indigenous groups
“The strong push is because more and more of climate action and targets for sustainable development are impacting us,” said Joan Carling, executive director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an Indigenous nonprofit that works to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide.
Indigenous peoples around the world are experiencing the compounding pressures of clean energy mining projects, carbon offsets, new protected areas and large infrastructure projects on their lands as part of economic recovery efforts in the wake of Covid-19, according to The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs 2023 report.
Green colonialism threatens ecosystems
As states around the world trend towards transitioning to “clean” energy to meet their national and international climate goals, the demand for minerals like lithium, copper, and nickel needed for batteries that power the energy revolution are projected to skyrocket. The demand could swell fourfold by 2040, and by conservative estimates could pull in $1.7 trillion in mining investments.
Although Indigenous delegates say they support “clean” energy projects, one of the issues is their land rights: more than half of the projects extracting these minerals currently are on or near lands where Indigenous peoples or peasants live, according to an analysis published in Nature.
This can lead to their eviction from territories, loss of livelihoods, or the deforestation and degradation of surrounding ecosystems.
“And yet […] we are not part of the discussion,” said Carling. “That’s why I call it green colonialism — the [energy] transition without the respect of Indigenous rights is another form of colonialism.”
Companies and governments don’t abide by communities
Because of this, delegates are calling on countries and companies to create binding policy and guidelines that require FPIC for all projects that affect Indigenous peoples and their lands, as well as financial, territorial and material remedies for when companies and countries fail to do so.
However, there is some push back. The free prior, informed consent process can lead to a wide variety of outcomes including the right for communities to decline a highly profitable project, which can often be difficult for countries, companies and investors to abide by, explains Mary Beth Gallagher, the director of engagement of investment at Domini Impact Investments, who spoke at a side event on shareholder advocacy.
Indigenous Sámi delegates from Norway drew attention to their need for legally enforceable FPIC protection as they continue to protest the Fosen Vind Project, an onshore wind energy complex on Sámi territory, that the country’s Supreme Court ruled violated their rights.
“We have come to learn the hard way that sustainability doesn’t end colonialism,” said a Sámi delegate during the main panel on Tuesday.
Across the globe indigenous peoples face eviction
In the United States, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the People of Red Mountain and members of the Fort McDermitt Tribe filed lawsuits against the federal Bureau of Land Management for approving the permits for an open-pit lithium mine without proper consultation with the tribes. In the Colombian Amazon, the Inga Indigenous community presented a successful appeal for lack of prior consultation from a Canadian company that plans to mine copper, molybdenum and other metals in their highly biodiverse territory.
While delegates put a lot of emphasis on the lack of FPIC, they put equal emphasis on FPIC as a crucial part of the long-term sustainability of energy projects.
“FPIC is more than just a checklist for companies looking to develop projects on Indigenous lands,” said Carling. “It is a framework for partnership, including options for equitable benefit sharing agreements or memorandum of understanding, collaboration or conservation.”
The focus at this year’s conference has emphasized the growing role of FPIC in the private sector. Investors and developers are increasingly considering the inclusion of FPIC into their human rights due diligence standards. Select countries such as Canada have implemented UNDRIP in full, although First Nation groups have pointed out irregularities in how it is being implemented. The European Union is proposing including specific mandatory rights to FPIC in its corporate sustainability due diligence regulation. Side events at the UNPFII focused on topics like transmitting FPIC Priorities to the private sector and using shareholder advocacy to increase awareness of FPIC.
Gallagher of Domini Impact Investments said companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, which includes FPIC: “If they have a human rights commitment or they have a commitment in their policies not to do land grabs, we have to hold them to account for that.”
Indigenous leadership at the center of negotiations
In 2021, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, published an expectation that companies “obtain (and maintain) the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for business decisions that affect their rights.” Large banks like Credit Agricole have included FPIC in their corporate social responsibility policy. But in most cases, even when companies have a FPIC policy it doesn’t conform to the standard outlined in UNDRIP and is not legally binding.
“It doesn’t do the work it’s supposed to do to protect self-determination,” said Kate Finn, director at First Peoples Worldwide. “It becomes a check-the-box procedure that’s solely consultations and stakeholder consultation instead of protection of rights and self-determination.”
“If communities aren’t giving their consent, a company has to respect that,” said Gallagher, who added “There’s obviously points of tension where investors have different agendas and priorities but ultimately, it’s about centering Indigenous leadership and working through that.”
Not properly abiding by FPIC can be costly to companies in countries that operate where it is a legal instrument. It comes with risks of losing their social operation to license, and financial damages. According to a study by First Peoples Worldwide, Energy Transfer and the banks that financed the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline, lost billions due to construction delays, account closures, and contract losses after they failed to obtain consent from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the United States.
Ultimately, Indigenous people need to be part of decision-making from the beginning of any project, especially “clean” energy projects mining for transition minerals on their territories, said Carling. “For us, land is life, and we have a right to decide over what happens on our land.”
Banner by Carolina Caycedo. Lithium Intensive, 2022. Color pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Editor’s Note: The following are two press releases by Ox Sam Camp. As communities get more radical against corporations, corporations use their power against them. This is not the first time that this has happened and it will not be the last. As activists, it is necessary for us to understand the risk associated with any action against the system. The earlier we understand this, the better we can strategize.
The article is followed by a short reflection piece by Elisabeth Robson on the need for the environmental movement to put our allegiance with the natural world, as is demonstrated in this fight to protect Thacker Pass.
Ox Sam Camp Raided by Police at Thacker Pass
One Arrested as Prayer Tipis Are Dismantled and Ceremonial Items Confiscated
THACKER PASS, NV — On Wednesday morning, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s department on behalf of Lithium Nevada Corporation, raided the Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun (Ox Sam Indigenous Women’s Camp), destroying the two ceremonial tipi lodges, mishandling and confiscating ceremonial instruments and objects, and extinguishing the sacred fire that has been lit since May 11th when the Paiute/Shoshone Grandma-led prayer action began.
One arrest took place on Wednesday at the direction of Lithium Nevada security. During breakfast, law enforcement arrived. Almost immediately without warning, a young Diné female water protector was singled out by Lithium Nevada security and arrested, not given the option to leave the camp. Two non-natives were allowed to “move” in order to avoid arrest. The Diné woman was quickly handcuffed and subsequently loaded into a sheriff’s SUV for transport to Winnemucca for processing.
While on the highway, again without warning or explanation, she was transferred into a windowless, pitch-black holding box in the back of a pickup truck. “I was really scared for my life,” the woman said. “I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. I know that MMIW is a real thing, and I didn’t want to be the next one.” She was transported to Humboldt County Jail, where she was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest, then released on bail.
Just hours before the raid, Ox Sam water protectors could be seen for the second time this week bravely standing in the way of large excavation equipment and shutting down construction at the base of Sentinel Rock.
To many Paiute and Shoshone, Sentinel Rock is a “center of the universe,” integral to many Nevada Tribes’ way of life and ceremony, as well as a site for traditional medicines, tools, and food supply for thousands of years. Thacker Pass is also the site of two massacres of Paiute and Shoshone people. The remains of the massacred ancestors have remained unidentified and unburied since 1865, and are now being bulldozed and crushed by Lithium Nevada for the mineral known as “the new white gold.”
Since May 11th, despite numerous requests by Lithium Nevada workers, the Humboldt County Sheriff Department has been reticent and even unwilling to arrest members of the prayer camp, even after issuing three warnings for blocking Pole Creek Road access to Lithium Nevada workers and sub-contractors, while allowing the public to pass through.
“We absolutely respect your guys’ right to peacefully protest,” explained Humboldt County Sheriff Sean Wilkin on May 12th. “We have zero issues with [the tipi] whatsoever… We respect your right to be out here.”
On March 19th the Sheriff arrived again, serving individual fourteen-day Temporary Protection Orders against several individuals at camp. The protection orders were granted by the Humboldt County Court on behalf of Lithium Nevada based on sworn statements loaded with misrepresentations, false claims, and, according to those targeted, outright false accusations by their employees. Still, Ox Sam Camp continued for another week. The tipis, the sacred fire, and the prayers remained unchallenged for a total of twenty-seven days of ceremony and resistance.
The scene at Thacker Pass this week looked like Standing Rock, Line 3, or Oak Flat. As Lithium Nevada’s workers and heavy equipment tried to bulldoze and trench their way through the ceremonial grounds surrounding the tipi at Sentinel Rock, the water protectors put their bodies in the way of the destruction, forcing work stoppage on two occasions.
Lithium Nevada’s ownership and control of Thacker Pass only exists because of the flawed permitting and questionable administrative approvals issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM officials have refused to acknowledge that Peehee Mu’huh is a sacred site to regional Tribal Nations and have continued to downplay and question the significance of the double massacre through two years of court battles.
Three tribes — the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and Burns Paiute Tribe — remain locked in litigation with the Federal Government, challenging the BLM’s permit process from the beginning. The tribes filed their latest response to the BLM’s Motion to Dismiss on Monday. BLM is part of the Department of the Interior, which is led by Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo).
On Wednesday, at least five Sheriff’s vehicles, several Lithium Nevada worker vehicles, and two security trucks arrived at the original tipi site that contained the ceremonial fire, immediately adjacent to Pole Creek Road. The one native water protector was arrested without warning, while others were issued with trespass warnings and allowed to leave the area. Once the main camp was secured, law enforcement then moved up to secure and dismantle the tipi site at Sentinel Rock, a mile away.
There is a proper way to take down a tipi and ceremonial camp, and then there is the way Humboldt County Sheriffs proceeded on behalf of Lithium Nevada Corporation. Tipis were knocked down, tipi poles were snapped, and ceremonial objects and instruments were rummaged through, mishandled, and impounded. Empty tents were approached and secured in classic SWAT-raid fashion. One car was towed. As is often the case when lost profits lead to government assaults on peaceful water protectors, Lithium Nevada Corporation and the Humboldt County Sheriffs have begun to claim that the raid was done for the safety of the camp members and for public health.
Josephine Dick (Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone), who is a descendent of Ox Sam and one of the matriarchs of Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun, made the following statement in response to the raid:
“As Vice Chair of the Native American Indian Church of the State of Nevada, and as a Paiute-Shoshone Tribal Nation elder and member, I am requesting the immediate access to and release of my ceremonial instruments and objects, including my Eagle Feathers and staff which have held the prayers of my ancestors and now those of Ox Sam camp since the beginning. There was also a ceremonial hand drum and medicines such as cedar and tobacco, which are protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
In addition, my understanding is that Humboldt County Sherriff Department along with Lithium Nevada security desecrated two ceremonial tipi lodges, which include canvasses, poles, and ropes. The Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun has been conducting prayers and ceremony in these tipis, also protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. When our ceremonial belongings are brought together around the sacred fire, this is our Church. Our Native American Church is a sacred ceremony. I am demanding the immediate access to our prayer site at Peehee Mu’huh and the return of our confiscated ceremonial objects.
The desecration that Humboldt County Sherriffs and Lithium Nevada conducted by knocking the tipis down and rummaging through sacred objects is equivalent to destroying a bible, breaking The Cross, knocking down a cathedral, disrespecting the sacrament, and denying deacons and pastors access to their places of worship. It is in direct violation of my American Indian Religious Freedom rights. This violation of access to our ceremonial church and the ground on which it sits is a violation of Presidential Executive Order 13007.
The location of the tipi lodge that was pushed over and destroyed is at the base of Sentinel Rock, a place our Paiute-Shoshone have been praying since time immemorial. After two years of our people explaining that Peehee Mu’huh is sacred, BLM Winnemucca finally acknowledged that Thacker Pass is a Traditional Cultural District, but they are still allowing it to be destroyed.”
Josephine and others plan to make a statement on live stream outside the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in Winnemucca on the afternoon of Friday, June 9th around 1pm.
Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th which led to Lithium Nevada shutting down construction for a day, and returned on May 11th to pray over the new sacred fire as Ox Sam camp was established.
“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”
Land Defenders Arrested, Camp Raided After Blocking Excavator
First arrests are underway and camp is being raided after land defenders halted an excavator this morning at Thacker Pass.
OROVADA, NV — This morning, a group of Native American water protectors and allies used their bodies to non-violently block construction of the controversial Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada, turning back bulldozers and heavy equipment.
The dramatic scene unfolded this morning as workers attempting to dig trenches near Sentinel Rock were turned back by land defenders who ran and put their bodies between heavy equipment and the land.
Now they are being arrested and camp is being raided.
Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people consider Thacker Pass to be sacred. So when they learned that the area was slated to become the biggest open-pit lithium mine in North America, they filed lawsuits, organized rallies, spoke at regulatory hearings, and organized in the community. But despite all efforts over the last three years, construction of the mine began in March.
That’s what led Native American elders, friends and family, water protectors, and their allies to establish what they call a “prayer camp and ceremonial fire” at Thacker Pass on May 11th, when they setup a tipi at dawn blocking construction of a water pipeline for the mine. A second tipi was erected several days later two miles east, where Lithium Nevada’s construction is defacing Sentinel Rock, one of their most important sacred sites.
Sentinel Rock is integral to many Nevada Tribes’ worldview and ceremony. The area was the site of two massacres of Paiute and Shoshone people. The first was an inter-tribal conflict that gave the area it’s Paiute name: Peehee Mu’huh, or rotten moon. The second was a surprise attack by the US Cavalry on September 12th, 1865, during which the US Army slaughtered dozens. One of the only survivors of the attack was a man named Ox Sam. It is some of Ox Sam’s descendants, the Grandmas, that formed Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokotun (Indigenous Women’s Camp) to protect this sacred land for the unborn, to honor and protect the remains of their ancestors, and to conduct ceremonies. Water protectors have been on-site in prayer for nearly a month.
On Monday, Lithium Nevada Corporation also attempted to breach the space occupied by the water protectors. As workers maneuvered trenching equipment into a valley between the two tipis, water protectors approached the attempted work site and peacefully forced workers and their excavator to back up and leave the area. According to one anonymous land defender, Lithium Nevada’s action was “an attempted show of force to fully do away with our tipi and prayer camp around Sentinel Rock.”
Ranchers, recreationists, and members of the public have been allowed to pass without incident and water protectors maintain friendly relationships with locals. Opposition to the mine is widespread in the area, and despite repeated warnings from the local Sheriff, there have been no arrests. Four people, including Dorece Sam Antonio of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe (an Ox sam descendant) and Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass, have been targeted by court orders barring them from the area. They await a court hearing in Humboldt County Justice Court.
“Lithium Nevada is fencing around the sacred site Sentinel Rock to disrupt our access and yesterday was an escalation to justify removal of our peaceful prayer camps,” said one anonymous water protector at Ox Sam Camp. “Lithium Nevada intends to desecrate and bulldoze the remains of the ancestors here. We are calling out to all water protectors, land defenders, attorneys, human rights experts, and representatives of Tribal Nations to come and stand with us.”
“I’m being threatened with arrest for protecting the graves of my ancestors,” says Dorece Sam Antonio. “My great-great Grandfather Ox Sam was one of the survivors of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre that took place here. His family was killed right here as they ran away from the U.S. Army. They were never buried. They’re still here. And now these bulldozers are tearing up this place.”
Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese, a spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th (shutting down construction for a day) and returned on May 11th.
“I’m asking people to come to Peehee Mu’huh,” Barlese said. “We need more prayerful people. I’m here because I have connections to these places. My great-great-great grandfathers fought and shed blood in these lands. We’re defending the sacred. Water is sacred. Without water, there is no life. And one day, you’ll find out you can’t eat money.”
The 1865 Thacker Pass massacre is well documented in historical sources, books, newspapers, and oral histories. Despite the evidence but unsurprisingly, the Federal Government has not protected Thacker Pass or even slowed construction of the mine to allow for consultation to take place with Tribes. In late February, the Federal Government recognized tribal arguments that Thacker Pass is a “Traditional Cultural District” eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But that didn’t stop construction from commencing.
“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”
In the past couple of weeks both The Economist and Mother Jones have published covers showing people embracing industrial objects and exhorting “environmentalists” to get on board with the green building boom.
The Economist cover shows a man hugging a massive steel electric grid pylon and says “Hug Pylons Not Trees: The Growth Environmentalism Needs.” The Mother Jones cover shows a woman hugging an excavator, and says “Yes in Our Backyards: It’s time for progressives to fall in love with the green building boom.”
The latter is made even worse by the fact that it is Bill McKibben saying this. We expect relentless pro-industry, pro-growth propaganda from The Economist. But Mother Jones? Bill McKibben? McKibben begins his article in Mother Jones, Getting to Yes, by saying “I’m an environmentalist” and then proceeds to spend multiple pages telling us exactly how he is not an environmentalist but rather a pro-technology industrialist. To solve our “biggest problems” he pleads with us to “say yes” to “solar panels, wind turbines, and factories to make batteries and mines to extract lithium.”
Max Wilbert, co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass, climbed on top of an excavator on April 25, 2023 to protest the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine, currently being constructed in northern Nevada by Lithium Nevada Corporation. He was there with about 25 other people including Northern Paiute Native Americans Dorece Sam and Dean Barlese, who spent the day blocking mine construction and saying prayers to this land considered sacred by their people.
In Max’s book, Bright Green Lies, he describes “environmentalists” like McKibben as “bright greens”. These “environmentalists” understand that environmental problems exist and are serious, but believe that green technology and consumerism will allow us to continue our current lifestyles indefinitely. As Max writes: “The bright greens’ attitude amounts to: ‘It’s less about nature, and more about us.’”
In his Mother Jones article, McKibben illustrates how he’s less about nature, and all about us (meaning humans, our technologies, and our lifestyles). “Emergencies demand urgency,” he writes, and what he urges us is not to stop destroying nature, the source of all life on planet Earth, but rather to destroy more of it, by building more industry and mining more, for “electrons… a crop we badly need.”
McKibben acknowledges that “repeating the mistakes of our history” by building “a lithium mine on sacred territory in Nevada” is “truly unforgivable,” but then immediately dismisses the concerns of regional tribes by saying that “if we can’t make a quick energy transition, then the impact of that will be felt most by the poorest.” Does he not understand that for many traditional cultures and traditional spiritual practitioners, everywhere is sacred? Does he not understand that everywhere not already destroyed by industry is home to someone — sage-grouse, pronghorn, endangered spring snails, swallows, endangered trout, old growth sagebrush, and so many more? Apparently he does not, or perhaps he doesn’t care, because his article is all about promoting industry, nature be damned.
“So there’s one general rule you could derive: If something makes climate change worse, then we shouldn’t do it,” McKibben writes. I agree. Does McKibben think the 150,000 tons of CO2 the Thacker Pass lithium mine will emit per year don’t count? Clearly those emissions will make climate change worse. Does he think that the carbon emissions caused by digging up thousands of acres of ancient soil at Thacker Pass don’t count either? And what about the 700,000 tons per year of molten sulfur trucked into Thacker Pass from oil refineries; where will that molten sulfur come from if it doesn’t come from oil refineries, and do those oil refineries and their CO2 emissions not count? If we use McKibben’s rule, then clearly the Thacker Pass lithium mine should not be built, and yet he urges us to support more lithium mining.
McKibben and those pursuing the “electrify everything” agenda promoted by The Economist and Mother Jones are stuck in blinders about climate change. McKibben exposes these blinders when he writes: “slowing down lithium mining likely means extending the years we keep on mining coal.” He believes that this is our choice: lithium mining and batteries and electric vehicles, or coal and CO2 emissions. To him and the “electrify everything” crowd those are the only two options.
But there is another option: we can resist industrial culture and work to end it. We can block construction equipment rather than embracing it. We can dramatically lower our profligate energy use — no matter how it’s powered. We can protect the land and the natural communities, including human communities, that depend on unspoiled land, unpolluted soil, clean air, and clean water. We can be real environmentalists, deep green environmentalists, who understand that we must live within the limits of the natural world, and work to transform ourselves, our culture, our economy and our politics to put the health and well-being of the natural world first.
We can be more like Max and Dorece and Dean and the other activists who stood their ground to protect the land at Thacker Pass. We can block excavators, not hug them. Our very lives depend on it.
Editor’s Note: Over the past two years, we have brought you news about the fight for Thacker Pass, and how destruction will affect the indigenous people and the natural community. The destruction of Thacker Pass has already begun. Despite that, those who were fighting against the ecocide have not stopped. This is a call for action to support them in any way that you can.
On March 23, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda M. Du ruled against the tribes — the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and the Burns Paiute Tribe — who argued that the Bureau of Land Management violated several laws when it permitted Lithium Americas on Jan. 15, 2021 to mine Thacker Pass. The tribes also alleged that the permission violates their access to historically and culturally significant sites.
The region is considered sacred by the tribes, who call it Peehee Mu’huh, or Rotten Moon in the Paiute language, because in 1865 the U.S. Federal Cavalry killed more than 30 men, women and children and then left their bodies to rot.
The full-scale destruction of Thacker Pass, Peehee Mu’huh, this sacred and wild place, has begun. This video was submitted to us anonymously several days ago.
As you read this, life and biodiversity is being bulldozed and destroyed. Ancient artifacts and the remains of ancestors are being crushed into dust. Water is being poisoned and the once-clean air is being fouled with toxic fumes.
And yet, despair is only for those who see the end beyond all shadow of a doubt. We do not.
This fight is not over. There are still court cases ongoing. Residents are rising up. Protesters are gathering. In times of darkness it is most important to look deep into your heart and walk with your head held high.
Never forget, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and… when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
MY ECO LIST
Previously published in The POET (UK)
By David Sparenberg
This is not lifeless Saturn
or Jupiter, the Moon, Venus, or Mars.
Because a neighboring planet is
named for a Roman goddess
does not mean that
women originate there as if from
an unearthly temple of extraterrestrial love.
Because another is named
for a Roman god
does not prove that men are
hard wired and destined for war.
Here is Earth.
Earth is a Life Place.
We live here, only, always
within a context of
others also living.
to live appropriately with
of the changing Earth.
Clear your head
(if you cannot
blow your mind) open your heart
reintroduce your suffering
soul to the intricate
complexities of creation.
Buy less, yes.
Possess less, use less.
the Prosperity of Appreciation.
Do not regret
what you give up
in who you save.
One imminent need is
to democratize our
ability to respond to
discern difference between
false and genuine needs.
Another imminent necessity
is to advance “mustard seeding.”
Transition from the solitude of awakening
into a solidarity of commitment. Note
that instead of transcendence
I am favoring imminence and
the dynamic constancy
of transitional movement.
An ancient modality.
Don’t let the garden you
cultivate become overly tame!
Magic of the here and now
is participatory art and natural science.
Magic of the metamorphic
empowers dreams and reverent
dread as well as excitation
of awe-inspiring wonder.
that are Acts of Beauty
choices for seven generations.
Embody delight. Be amorous
with circles. Consciously, conscientiously
joyously: evolve! evolve! evolve!
a Council of All Beings.
like a mountain or
at least your favorite
busy working bees.
Sing with whales. Whales
are profound singers!