Saturday, March 25, 2023

Thacker Pass lithium mine protest planned in Reno

Oral histories temper Native American opposition to mine

On January 15 of this year, the the Humboldt River Field Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued a Record of Decision (RoD) approving the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine proposed by Lithium Nevada Corporation. Activists opposed to the mine have occupied the remote mine site since that day, and this Saturday, the protest will expand to downtown Reno.

Daranda Hinkey is secretary of the group known in Paiute as Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu or People of Red Mountain, a group of Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribal members opposed to the mine in remote, north-central Humboldt County (see interactive map below). Hinckey said with the Tesla Gigafactory making batteries for electric cars just east of Sparks, Nevada, her group felt it necessary to bring their message to Reno.

“We’re hoping to bring the community voice from out here and the tribe’s voice from out here to Reno, and I think that there needed too be a connection from this community to Reno’s community.

“And also, a lot of people weren’t able to make it up here (at Thacker Pass), so we thought it would great to do it somewhere where they could make it,” Hinkey said by phone from the mine site. She added that holding a gathering in Reno provided opportunity for other Indigenous allies to more conveniently participate.

Saturday evening’s proceedings will be held at the Believe statue across from Reno City Hall. The program will run from 6 to 8 p.m. and feature an opening prayer and an autumn song from a young Yerington Paiute tribal member. There will be five or six speakers to be followed by an Indigenous Hip Hop artist who will perform a few songs. The protest event will end with a Round Dance.

Tribal members are concerned that the Environmental Impact Statement, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, doesn’t tell the whole story. The law requires a “Level III” archaeological survey and cultural inventory on the proposed mine site. That means a professional conducts a “continuous, intensive pedestrian survey of an entire project area aimed at locating and recording all cultural properties.” More than 12,000 acres were surveyed.

According to the cultural inventory appendix, there are 86 identified historical sites in and around the proposed mining area. Seventy-eight of them are marked prehistoric and related to Indigenous activity. Most of the sites qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, though 11 have not been evaluated. 

Far Western Anthropological Research Inc. conducted the inventory for the BLM and found no burial or sacred sites on or near the proposed mine site. 

For Daranda Hinkey and other members of Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu, there is a disconnect between the history of the land as written in the EIS cultural inventory and the tribe’s oral history.

According to a press release on the Protect Thacker Pass website, “Thacker Pass is named Peehee mu’huh in Paiute. Peehee mu’huh means ‘rotten moon’ in English and was named so because Paiute ancestors were massacred there while the hunters were away.

“When the hunters returned, they found their loved ones murdered, unburied, rotting, and with their entrails spread across the sage brush in a part of the Pass shaped like a moon. According to the Paiute, building a lithium mine over this massacre site at Peehee mu’huh would be like building a lithium mine over Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery,” the press release reads. 

Inelda Sam is a Fort McDermitt tribal member and visited the mine site in protest along with others from different tribes from around the region on Saturday April 10. She said the history of what happened at Thacker Pass is not written down but part of a collective tribal memory. 

“There was a bunch of people a long time ago that was killed here, and they were slaughtered, their stomach. They took their gut out,” Sam said and paused. “They took the gut out, and that’s how they were slaughtered here.”

The BLM approved the mine’s plan in January of this year, but the approval has been challenged in federal court, and on June 8, the US Bureau of Land Management and Lithium Nevada Corporation agreed on a court-enforceable stipulation. As part of the stipulation, the mining company agreed to not conduct any form of ground disturbance until July 29, when the federal court District of Nevada will rule on the motion for preliminary injunction, which asks that ground disturbance/construction of the mine be prohibited until the full case challenging mine site approval can be heard and considered by the Court.

According to the EIS, the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe was consulted regarding significant cultural sites, but the Ally cannot confirm that communication. Lithium Nevada said in an email last week that they are working to consult with the tribe.

Hear an audio interview with Pyramid Lake Paiute elder Dean Barlese. Barlese visited the mine site in protest on April 10, 2021 and described why Indigenous Peoples do not disclose the locations of significant historical sites to government officials or their appointees.


Where is Thacker Pass? Use this interactive map to explore north-central Nevada. The red dot marks the proposed mine site.