On Saturday, Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu or the People of Red Mountain held a gathering in downtown Reno, across from City Hall to oppose the proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass. Local organizers Daranda Hinkey, Autumn Harry, Beverly Harry, and Jolie Varela brought Native American tribal members together from across the region to oppose the mine.
Well over six feet tall, Ray Bacasegua wore a wide, checkered, cloth headband. A braided pony tail hung down his back to his waist. While speakers stood on a podium in front of the Believe sculpture across from Reno City Hall and spoke against the lithium mine proposed at Thacker Pass in north-central Nevada, Bacasegua would occasionally raise a war staff festooned with brown fur, red cloth, feathers, the white-knuckle claw of a large bird of prey and let out a yell of support.
He wore the vest of a formal dress suit with a patch for the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians sewn over his heart. A four-inch-wide American Indian Movement (AIM) emblem hung around his neck on a beaded lanyard in the AIM colors of red, black, yellow and white.
“We’re here to protect Thacker Pass, that land, ultimately our mother, our Mother Earth. We’re hear to stand against those big corporations that are going to destroy our mother,” Bacasegua said.
Bacasegua is the director of the northern Nevada chapter of the American Indian Movement.
Roughly 100 people gathered in opposition to the mine, but the AIM contingent of a dozen or so stood together with several carrying the AIM flag on a pole. As the gathering got underway, members of the cohort hugged each other in greeting and shook hands. Bacasegua said that people from different regional tribes were there and many were represented under the AIM umbrella.
“I know a lot of the people whether they’re part of our chapter or not, and they know that we’re a prayerful movement. We’re spiritual and we pray for all people. There’s that union, if you will.
“It’s the prayer, man. It’s powerful. It’s gonna shift this. It’s not gonna happen. We’re gonna stop it through the prayer. We’ve done it before for other issues and we’re going to do it again, so in coming together in that way, we can shift it. We can shift the energy. Create some awareness and find some other alternatives.”
Melissa Robles-Dyer is a “patched in” member of northern Nevada AIM. She said she was there in support of the Fort McDermitt tribal members who would be affected by the mine and added that the Thacker Pass mine has become a rallying point for Indigenous rights, and though the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement has been approved, Indigenous resistance to the mine has thus far been successful.
“They were proposed to break ground on June 23rd, just two weeks from now. That has been pushed back to July 29th because of the lawsuits and like things happening today is being brought to the forefront.
“They’re on the run right now (Lithium Nevada). They’re scared. And they should be because we’re not taking any more of this. After Covid last year, why should we. We have to protect everything, and it starts with me and it starts with you,” Robles-Dyer said.
She pointed to the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in derailing the Dakota Access Pipeline. She said opposition to the pipeline galvanized Indigenous Peoples across the continent and that standing up for Indigenous rights is gaining momentum.
“Everyone gathered at Standing Rock to fight the pipeline at Standing Rock, and that pipeline is now shut down. The black snake is dead,” Robles-Dyer smiled.
When asked about society’s need for minerals, especially to reduce carbon emissions, Ray Bacasegua reflected for a moment and said he isn’t opposed to mining and is a realist regarding society’s challenges, but Indigenous rights can’t be kicked to the side in the process he said. Society and political leadership have to do better said Bacasegua.
“We’re in the 21st Century, so we’re all moving with modern transportation. We’re all using that, so how can we have a safer way?
“But the ‘clean energy’ concept is misinterpreted,” Bacasegua continued. “The current administration is deceiving the community and the public about that. They’re not telling them where lithium comes from. Why they need it, and how that can affect the planet.”
Bacasegua described with a seeming sense of pride that the northern Nevada chapter of AIM is sanctioned with a larger group and accountable to the other chapters and the Grand Council. He said AIM and Indigenous rights have seen a resurgence in recent years. A two-foot long sword in a scabbard hung from his belt, a big silver and turquoise ring on each hand.
“We’ve been around a long time. This is nothing new. The causes may have changed, but today, ultimately, we’re protecting our Mother for the next generation. Many of us made those commitments to do that. We’re unconditional. The American Indian Movement is unconditional. We put our lives on the line.”