The History Of Thacker Pass [Dispatches from Thacker Pass]

The History Of Thacker Pass [Dispatches from Thacker Pass]

Upon completion of forty days of launching a protest camp in the proposed site for lithium mining in Thacker Pass, Max delves into the history of the area.

Featured image: Max Wilbert

By Max Wilbert/Protect Thacker Pass

Forty days ago, my friend Will Falk and I launched a protest camp here at Thacker Pass.

Situated between the Montana Mountains and Double H Mountains in northern Nevada, Thacker Pass is part of the “sagebrush ocean.” Big sagebrush plants, the keystone species here, roll away to the south and east of the camp. Stars light up the night sky. Often, the only sound we can hear is the wind, the chirping of birds, the yips of coyotes.

The seasons are unfolding. When we arrived, the mountains were auburn in the evening sun. Now, they shimmer bright white after winter storms. Cliffs and sagebrush protrude through the snow and provide habitat for wildlife: bobcats, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, sage-grouse, pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, and countless others.

We are here in the bitter cold wind to oppose the destruction of this place. Lithium Americas Corporation, and their subsidiary Lithium Nevada Corporation, plan to blow up this pass, extract millions of tons of stone, and build an array of infrastructure to process this into lithium with harsh chemicals like sulfuric acid. Along the way, they will build vast mountains of toxic tailings, leaching heavy metals and uranium into what groundwater will still remain after they pump nearly 1.5 billion gallons per year into their industrial machinery.

For weeks now, I have been researching the true history of this place. I have struggled with how to tell these stories. There are many perspectives on Thacker Pass, and many ways the story can be told.

Where to begin? There are no true beginnings or endings here, where water cycles endlessly from sky to mountain to soil to river to sky, and back again; where human existence passes as fading footprint in the soil, as bones sinking into land, as a whisper on the `breeze. Only stories upon stories, legends and myths, layers of soil and stone. But there is a beginning.

Nineteen million years ago, a column of magma deep within the mantle of the planet arose under the continental plate. Heat and pressure built through miles of stone, liquifying it. Superheated water forced its way to the surface, and geysers appeared. Pressure kept building, and one day, the first volcanic eruption tore open the crust, spewing ash across half the continent.

This was the birth of the Yellowstone Hotspot, an upwelling of heat from deep inside the planet that even now, after migrating hundreds of miles northeast, powers the geysers of Yellowstone National Park.

After a time, the magma was spent. Vast chambers once filled with magma, miles underground, were now empty, and the weight of the stone overhead pressed down. Soon, the ground itself collapsed across an area of more than 600 square miles, and the McDermitt Caldera, of which Thacker Pass is a part, was formed.

The new caldera attracted water. Rain fell and flowed downhill. With wind and water and ice, rich volcanic stones became pebbles, then sand, then clay. Sediments gathered in lake basins, and one element in particular — lithium — was concentrated there.

In one version of the story of Thacker Pass — the version told by Lithium Americas — geologic conditions created a stockpile of valuable lithium that can be extracted for billions of dollars in profits. In this version of the story, Thacker Pass is a place that exists to fuel human convenience and industry — to store power for the wealthy, the consumers of gadgets and smartphones and electric cars, for the grid operators.

In this story, the lithium in the soil at Thacker Pass does not belong to the land, or to the sagebrush, or to the water trickling down past roots and stones to join ancient aquifers. It belongs to the mining company which has filed the proper mining claim under the 1872 mining law, which still governs today.

In another version of this story, this land called “Thacker Pass” is part of the Northern Paiute ancestral homeland. I do not know the Paviotso name for this place. Wilson Wewa, a Northern Paiute elder, says that “the world began at the base of Steens Mountain,” a hundred miles north-northwest of here. Wewa tells that the people emerged from Malheur Cave, a 3,000-foot-deep lava tube near the modern town of Burns.

Northern Paiute have lived on these lands since time immemorial. Scientists have dated nearby petroglyphs as perhaps 15,000 years old — the oldest in North America. Obsidian from Thacker Pass has been gathered, worked into tools sharper than the finest modern scalpel, and traded across the region for thousands of years. There are even burial sites in the caves nearby, directly adjacent to the mine site, according to a Bureau of Land Management Ranger who visited us at camp this week.

I am told that Sentinel Rock, which stands over the Quinn River Valley at the eastern end of Thacker Pass, was an important site for prayer historically. If the mine is built, Lithium Americas’ water pipeline will skirt Sentinel Rock, pumping out billions of gallons of water. I cannot help but think: how much more can the colonizers take?

I cannot tell the story of the history of this place from the perspective of the Northern Paiute, but it would be wrong to not at least summarize what I know. Too often, the invasion of these lands by European settler-colonialists is ignored. When we ignore or minimize genocide, we make future genocide easier. As the Czech writer Milan Kundera said, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

In the 1850’s, colonization of these lands began in earnest. The coming of the white colonizers and their cattle meant the overgrazing of the grasslands and the cutting of the Pinyon Pine trees; the damming of the creeks and rivers; the trapping of the beavers and the killing of the wolves.

In 1859, the discovery of the Comstock lode marked the beginning of the mining explosion. Thousands of people flocked to Nevada, and their axes and cattle and saws devastated the land. Smelting the ore from the mines required every bushel of firewood that could be found.

Ronald Lanner, in his book The Piñon Pine: A Natural and Cultural History, writes that “the furnaces of Eureka [Nevada], working at capacity, could in a single day devour over 530 cords of piñon, the produce of over 50 acres… After one year of major activity, the hills around Eureka were bare of trees for ten miles in every direction… by 1878 the woodland was nowhere closer than fifty miles from Eureka, every acre having been picked clean… The significance of the deforestation around Eureka can be appreciated by realizing that a fifty­-mile radius from that town approaches to within a few miles of Ely to the east and of Austin to the west. Both of these towns were also important mining centers with large populations, and their demands for woodland products probably rivaled those of Eureka itself.”

Lanner continues: “The deforestation of their hills and the destruction of their nut groves often brought Indians into conflict with white settlers and miners. As early as 1860, Paiutes gathered at Pyramid Lake to decide how to cope with the white men who were encroaching on their lands, killing their game, and cutting down what the settlers derisively referred to as the Indians’ ‘orchards.’”

My friend Myron Dewey, who lives on the Walker River Paiute Reservation, told me the piñon pine are to his people as the buffalo are to the nations of the Great Plains: a sacred relative, source of life, an elder being.

Wilson Wewa also tells of how European colonization dispossessed the Northern Paiute. “Pretty soon our people were having to compete with miners and settlers for food. They were killing all the deer, and the antelope, and their cattle were chomping up and destroying all the root digging grounds we relied on for food.”

The scale of ecological devastation unleashed on Nevada by the mining industry is hard to comprehend. With forests gone, soils eroded, biodiversity collapsed, and streams dried up. The damming of creeks and mass trapping of beavers were another nail in the coffin of the hydrological cycle. From the north to south, east to west, colonization destroyed the waters of the region. And what are people to do when their source of life is destroyed? This devastation played a large role in the Paiute War in 1860, the Snake War of 1864-8, the 1865 Mud Lake massacre, the Modoc War of 1872-3, the Bannock War in 1878, the Spring Valley massacres of the 1860’s and 1897, and many other conflicts.

To this day, the results of this destruction are still playing out, from Winnemucca Lake — once a wildlife refuge, home to the previously mentioned oldest petroglyphs in North America, now dry — to Walker Lake, the level of which has fallen more than 181 feet over the last 139 years, causing the extirpation of the Lahontan cutthroat trout. The nearby Walker River Paiute tribe — the Agai-Dicutta Numu, trout eaters — can no longer fish for their namesake.

The piñon pine are still being destroyed, too — this time under the guise of “restoration.” Myron Dewey, who I mentioned earlier, and many others, have long been fighting to protect the “tubape” pine nut trees.

And the war footing remains as well. The largest ammunition depot in the word, the Hawthorne Army Depot, sprawls across 226 square miles just south of Walker Lake.

Back here at Thacker Pass, the same Lahontan cutthroat trout (a federally listed threatened species) hang on in nearby Pole Creek. Will they survive the mine? Or will their creek shrink smaller and smaller as the water table drops, eventually leaving them with nothing? I cannot help but feel there are similarities between the experience of the Paiutes — land stolen, waters destroyed, marched to reservations — and the trout. Perhaps Wewa would agree with a Dakota friend, who told me “I am part of the land; what happens to the land happens to me.”


The 1872 mining law is law under which Lithium Americas Corp. has “claimed” the land here Thacker Pass, under which they have been permitted to destroy this place. A one hundred- and fifty-year-old law, a legal justification for colonial extraction, a law created to make extraction orderly. That is the legal authority which Lithium Americas claims.

In September of 2019, the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, which is made up of 27 tribal, band, and community councils from the Western Shoshone, Goshute, Washoe, and Northern and Southern Paiute nations passed a resolution, which called for reform of the 1872 mining law. The resolution states that “the Great Basin tribes believe the 1872 Mining Law poses a serious threat to the Great Basin tribes land, water, cultural resources, traditional properties, and lifeways.”


I circle back to that name: Thacker Pass. “Who was Thacker,” I wonder, watching the first Dark-eyed Junco of the spring migration flit from sagebrush to ground.

Basic research found nothing, so I called the Nevada Historical Society and the Humboldt County Museum, and started combing through archives looking for prominent people named ‘Thacker’ in the history of the state and of Humboldt County. Digging through old copies of the Reno Evening Gazette, I find a match: John N. Thacker, who was elected sheriff of Humboldt County on November 3rd, 1868, and held the post for many years before becoming the head of the detective service for the Southern Pacific Company and Wells Fargo express through the 1870’s and into the 1880’s.

Thacker was an enforcer and lawman in the Wild West of train robberies and outlaws hiding in canyons — and the laws he enforced were in large part designed to protect the mining industry. Throughout the late 1800’s, Nevada mines produced an incredible amount of wealth – the equivalent of billions of dollars annually. Gold and silver from the mines were transported by stagecoach and train by well-paid mining and banking employees, and this made a tempting target for thieves. Thacker had at least one shootout with bandits who had absconded into the hills.

In other words, Thacker acted as a protector of mining revenues and an economy based on colonial mining. He worked for the state, the bankers, and the railroad company – the trifecta of institutions creating the conditions for mining to thrive, financing mining projects, and moving ore and raw materials to bigger markets. And, of course, profiting handsomely.

Many people forget the importance of railroads in this era before paved roads. The first transcontinental railroad passed through Winnemucca, operated by Southern Pacific. As Richard White writes in his book Railroaded, the massive land grants given to railroad companies — a total of more than 175 million acres between 1850 to 1871, more than 10 percent of the land mass of the United States — and easy transportation of both people and goods kicked off a massive influx of settler-colonialism to the interior of the American west.

Railroad companies were notorious in this period for corruption, environmental devastation, and mistreatment of workers. Interestingly, Southern Pacific was the defendant in a landmark 1886 Supreme Court case that massively extended the power of corporations in the United States. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, Thacker’s employer successfully argued that the Fourteenth Amendment – originally established to protect formerly enslaved people in the aftermath of the Civil War – also applied to so-called “corporate persons,” striking down various regulations that would have reigned in their power in the West.

Since this unanimous decision, corporations have relied heavily on the Fourteenth Amendment for protection from the public. As my friend and attorney Will Falk writes, “between 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and 1912, the Supreme Court ruled on only 28 cases involving the rights of African Americans and an astonishing 312 cases on the rights of corporations, it is easy to conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment has done a better job protecting the rights of corporations than that of African Americans.”

Dana Toth at the Humboldt County Museum helps solve the rest of the mystery: an 1871 newspaper shows that John Thacker owned a 160-acre ranch in the King’s River Valley, just to the west of Thacker Pass. That is most likely the origin of the name Thacker Pass.


A cold north wind has been blowing all morning at Thacker Pass. It was 16 degrees this morning, without the wind chill. The frigid air bites my fingertips and my nose. Our banners flap in the breeze.

And at the headquarters of Lithium Americas Corporation at 300-900 West Hastings Street in Vancouver, Canada, men and women plan how to blow this place up, to shatter the mountainside, to crush the wild integrity of this place under churning bulldozer treads, and turn it into money.

I look out across a landscape named after a man named John Thacker, a man who worked to protect mining industry profits for decades, and I cannot help but feel that not much has changed. Like in the 1850’s and 1860’s, men with explosives, backed by the armed power of the state, are coming to destroy the mountains, the sagebrush steppe, the grasslands, and the waters of Thacker Pass.

What value is there in history, except in guiding our thoughts and actions in the present? As Barbara Ehrenreich writes, “To know our history is to begin to see how to take up the struggle again.”

For more on the issue:

The Impacts Of Thacker Pass Mine

The Impacts Of Thacker Pass Mine

In October, DGR conducted an on-the-ground fact finding mission to the sites of two proposed lithium mines in Nevada. In this article, we look at the facts regarding the plans Lithium Nevada company has for mining and processing lithium (mainly destined for making electric car batteries) in northern Nevada, at Thacker Pass.

The company, now with shares owned by a Chinese mining company, claim their open-pit strip-mine will be a “green mine.” Much of this material comes from Thacker Pass. Special thanks to Aimee Wild for collating this material.

Why Lithium?

Lithium is the lightest metal on the periodic table of the elements. It is cost effective. It is an excellent conductor. Lithium batteries power cell phones, laptops and now cars. The batteries are rechargeable and last longer than other batteries. Lithium is also used in heat-resistant glass, ceramics, aircraft metals, lubrication grease, air treatment systems and some pharmaceuticals.

Interest in the mining of lithium as an important commodity is soaring. Lithium is located in the earth’s crust, oceans, mineral springs and igneous rocks. To be able to extract it economically an area, concentrated lithium is needed, hence the interest in the Nevada site.  Thousands and thousands of tons of lithium are extracted, processed, transported and utilized every year.

Thacker Pass Mine

Thacker Pass Mine is owned by Lithium Americas. They have a mining project in South America (The Cauchari-Olaroz Project) which is currently under construction, and of course in Nevada, the proposed Thacker Pass mine. Ganfeng (a chinese based mining company) is one of the largest shareholders of Lithium America. This increases the potential for mining and  processing to be shipped overseas.

Local communities have struggled to get to the bottom of the plans for the mines. The brochures are complicated and convoluted. What is clear is that the local people have been chosen as a guinea pig. Most Lithium mines in South America involve pumping saltwater brine on barren salt flats where the lithium slowly floats to the top, is skimmed off, and is then purified for use in batteries.

​In Australia they use spodumene ore, which is higher quality than the product Lithium Nevada plans to use. There are concerns linked to  how the poorer quality lithium will be processed and the transport of chemicals into the processing areas. There are concerns regarding the transportation of refinery waste by rail cars, and shipping.  The plans include transporting waste sulfur, by truck to the mine site, where it will be burned and converted to enormous quantities of Sulfuric Acid on a daily basis. Processing (burning) elemental sulfur, creates sulfur dioxide, sulfur trioxide and ultimately sulfuric acid—all of which are toxic and harmful to life.

Radioactive Waste?

There are concerns that the processing of lithium could ‘accidentally’ expose naturally-occurring uranium. Of course there have been promised by the company to ensure that any radioactive waste will be contained by a “liner.” This seems wholly inadequate when considering there is a water source nearby, and  processing plants can have accidental fires or explosion. We know from global disasters (Fukoshima and Chernobyl) that the impact environmental disasters involving radioactive waste can devastate human and non-human communities. Transporting chemicals to or from processing plants increase the risk of accidents, and the smell of sulphur in nearby neighborhoods is likely to be overwhelming at times.

Clarity Needed On The Impact Of Thacker Pass Mine

Opposition to these plans are likely to strengthen when the public understand the plans and the potential impact, and when the information is not shrouded in convoluted documents. In short, the mines almost certainly will be destructive to water fowl, to any life in the rivers and lakes nearby, and impact on the water table.

The air quality is likely to reduce, and the storage and transportation of toxic chemicals increases non-intentional leakage/accidents. If understood correctly the plans to dispose of some waste include a tailing pond, which could contain a) toxic solids, b) harmful discharges c) could impact air quality, and d) could leach into ground water. The mining and processing of lithium is destructive to people, non-human life, the land, the water and the air.

Is It Carbon Neutral?

Burning sulfur does not create carbon, so in that respect the facts are correct. However, as with all green capitalist extraction plans this is a small percentage of the whole picture. The whole picture (or the fact based plans) are obscured with overly complex plans and emperors-new-clothes type scenarios. The process of burning sulfur creates harmful (toxic) chemicals and removes oxygen from the atmosphere.

A conservative estimate is that the processing plant will require over 10,000 gallons of diesel per day to run. In additional to this is the fuel needed to transport the sulfur from the refinery (yes; it comes from an oil refinery) to the mine site. You also have the fuel needed to transport the workers and the electricity needed to keep the plant functioning.

There are concerns that the lithium from this project could be shipped to China for processing in the future. Lithium Americas has been loaned substantial amounts of money from Ganfeng and Bangchak. The Chinese Mining company already own shares in Lithium Nevada and could intentionally own more rights if the loan is not paid back.

So, carbon neutral—no. Friendly to the environment—no. There is not much difference between mountaintop removal coal mining and mountaintop removal lithium mining. Both are exceptionally destructive.

You can read more about lithium mines here: Join our newsletter for more info on lithium mining and greenwashing.

Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Press Conference on Thacker Pass

Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Press Conference on Thacker Pass

November 29
For Immediate Release

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.


Protect Thacker Pass and several named defendants are fighting a lawsuit filed against them by Lithium Nevada Corporation. We are seeking monetary donations to their legal defense fund. You can donate via credit or debit cardPayPal (please include a note that your donation is for Thacker Pass legal defense), or by check.

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

First Voices Radio: “Protect Thacker Pass” with Author, Attorney, and Activist Will Falk

First Voices Radio: “Protect Thacker Pass” with Author, Attorney, and Activist Will Falk

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.

By First Voices Radio

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.

Will’s first book, “How Dams Fall: Stories the Colorado River Told Me” was published in August, 2019 by Homebound Publications.

For more information, visit Look for Will’s poetry on his Facebook page at For more information about Will, visit

With Guest Will Falk

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

Music Selections:

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 to find out more and consider joining his Patreon page at

Photo by Max Wilbert: Will Falk surveys native Pinyon-Juniper forests and BLM clearcuts near Ely, Nevada. To learn more, see

Update from Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass

Update from Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass

This story first appeared in Protect Thacker Pass.

By Max Wilbert

It’s been 10 months since I first arrived at Thacker Pass and began work to protect the land from a proposed open-pit lithium mine in earnest. Today I share this video reporting from the land and sharing reflections on where the movement to protect this place is at right now and where we are going. When we do fight, winning is not guaranteed. It takes a lot of people and a lot of hard work to even begin to have an impact.

But if we don’t fight, we will never win. We guarantee failure. Choosing to fight is important. So is fighting intelligently. Many battles are won or lost before there is any actual conflict. The preparation, planning, training, organization, logistics, and other behind-the-scenes work is where the magic happens.

I hope this video speaks to you and you find some inspiration. 🌎

Full transcript:

Hello, everyone. For those who don’t know, I’m here at a place that’s known today as Thacker Pass. The original Paiute name for this place is Peehee Mu’huh. The history of this land has really come to light since we’ve been here.

It was January 15, that my friend Will Falk and I set up camp on this land. It was just two of us; we didn’t know if anyone would pay attention or if anything would come of it. And we still don’t know; we still don’t know if we’re going to win, we still don’t know if we’re going to protect this land, because a company called lithium Nevada plans to turn this entire landscape into an open pit lithium mine. They want to blow it up and turn it into a mine to extract the lithium and turn it into batteries.

There’s a huge booming demand for batteries–for everything from electric cars to grid energy storage to electric power tools and smartphones. Partly, this is a consequence of industry and forces that are beyond our control: powerful individuals and corporations like Tesla, Elon Musk, this company with him Nevada, and many others. And partly it’s a result of our consumer culture. Of course, these are inseparable. There’s a book called Manufacturing Consent that talks about the media, about advertising, and analyzes these systems and how they create demand.

So this entire place is under threat, and it has been under threat for a long time now. We’ve been fighting since January. We’ve been fighting in the realm of public opinion, talking to the media, making videos, writing articles, discussing the issues, educating people about the harms of this type of mining.

Mining is one of the most destructive industrial activities that humans have ever undertaken, and in fact, it goes back further than the Industrial Revolution. There are mines from the Roman Empire that are over 2000 years old, which are still toxic and poisoning the land around them. The air pollution that was released by Roman mines across Europe can still be measured in the ice in Greenland.

There’s no way around the base fact of mining: that you’re blowing up the land, destroying it, breaking into pieces, scooping it up, and taking it to turn it into products. To turn it into money ultimately.

This mine, according to the mine’s supporters, is a green mine, because this lithium will be used to build electric cars, and to build batteries to support so called green energy technologies like solar and wind. Now, I used to support these things. I used to think they were a great idea. I don’t anymore. It’s not because my values have changed. I still value the planet, I’m still very concerned about global warming, and the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in. And in fact, that’s the reason why I oppose mines like this.

Because those stories that tell us that mining a place like this will save the world are lies. They’re lies and they have been told to us in order to facilitate businesses taking land like this and destroying it and turning it into profit. This is a story that we have seen again and again, throughout the generations. The substance that’s being pulled out of the ground might be different, but for the creatures who live here, for the water, the air, the soil, the surrounding communities of humans, whether or not to oppose a mine like this is really a question of courage. Because the truth is, this is not a green mine. The Earth does not want this mine. The land, the water, the non-human species who live here–they don’t want this mine. Humans want it. And humans who are from a consumeristic, first world, wealthy nation want it, so that they can benefit from the consumer goods that would be produced.

A lot of people want to live in a fantasy and tell themselves that we can solve global warming and reverse the ecological crisis by producing millions of electric cars, and switching en masse from coal power to solar and wind and so on.

This is a lie.

And it’s the best kind of lie. Because it’s very convincing. It’s very convincing. It tells people that they can have their cake and eat it too, that they can still live this modern high energy lifestyle, that life can continue more or less as we have known it. And yet, we can fix everything, we can save the world. It’s not true, but it’s very convincing. It’s very comforting to many people.

So sometimes I feel like I’m out here just bursting people’s bubbles. A lot of people don’t want that bubble burst–they want to hang on to it. They want to hang on to it at all costs, and they will delude themselves, they will lie to themselves repeatedly. And they will lie to others to continue to have that fantasy. Because the truth is not so easy to face.

The truth is that over the last 200 years, and far longer, this culture has laid waste to the ecology of this planet. The natural world is crumbling, under the assaults of industrial culture, civilization, colonization, capitalism. Whatever terms you want to define the problem with, the issues are the same. The world is being destroyed for future generations, and nonhumans are living through an ecological nightmare right now. And it’s a nightmare of our own making. It’s a nightmare that this culture has created and perpetuates every day.

So we have to face this, like adults, like elders with wisdom, with the ability to not shy away from difficult situations. And that takes courage. It takes courage because you’re going up against not just the capitalists and the businesses, you’re going up against–in many cases–your own friends and family. You’re going up against the mainstream environmental movement. You’re going up against the Democratic Party and the progressives, and much of the socialist movement. You’re going up against a large portion of the culture. And of course you’re going up against the fossil fuel oligarchs and the old industrial elite as well.

You know, I’ve felt pretty lonely out here. It’s felt pretty lonely at times throughout this fight, when we’ve had trouble getting people to join us on the ground, when we’ve had trouble getting support. At other times that support has come and has been very strong, and people have joined us here. I hope more people will continue to join us not just here but start their own fights.

We’ve seen the fight against the lithium mine down in Hualapai territory in what’s now called Arizona ramping up after Ivan Bender came up here and visited this place and talk to us and we had some great conversations about how we’re doing it here and how we’re fighting. That’s what I want to see. That’s That means a lot to me to see that.

So it’s a beautiful night here, the sun setting, and I’m thinking about all the people who’ve worked on this campaign; the hundreds and thousands of hours that have been poured into trying to protect this land. Because if this mine goes in this place is ruined for generations. I don’t know how long but hundreds of years, at least, if it’ll ever come back, if it’ll ever be like it is now.

The Bureau of Land Management is the federal government agency that manages this land here. They’ve been lying throughout the process. They’ve been acting unethically. They’ve been harassing people, they’ve been misrepresenting the situation; misrepresenting the facts, and we think they’re violating multiple federal laws. Those laws aren’t that strong. The laws to protect this planet are not as strong as I wish they were. But they’re violating even those weak laws.

So we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting to protect this place. We’re going to keep fighting for this land. We’re going to keep fighting for what’s right. Because if you don’t, then what is your soul worth? Where’s your self respect?

You know, those are questions, we each have to ask ourselves. I can’t answer it for you. I don’t know what your life is; your situation. It’s so easy to defeat ourselves in our minds.

And the first step to any resistance; to any organizing; to any opposition like this–is to believe that we can do something about it. And the truth is we can. It’s the simple truth we can. We can change things. But if we don’t try then we’ll lose every time.