Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 7, 2021

Federal judge allows digging to begin at Paiute Shoshone massacre site at Thacker Pass

Photo by Max Wilbert

Federal judge allows digging to begin at Paiute Shoshone massacre site at Thacker Pass

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
French translation by Christine Prat

In the race for lithium for electric car batteries, a federal judge has given a lithium company in northern Nevada the go-ahead to begin digging in a Native massacre site at Thacker Pass.

The judge's ruling, siding with Lithium American Corp., is significant because of the violations of federal laws which protect Native sacred sites, and the failure of the Bureau of Land Management to consult Native Americans.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du denied tribal leaders' bid to temporarily block digging for an archaeological study required before construction can begin at the Nevada lithium mine.

Judge Du refused the tribes' request for a preliminary injunction blocking the trenching planned to collect samples near the Oregon state line at the site of the largest known lithium deposit in the United States, Reno Gazette reports.

Judge Du ruled, “Primarily because the Tribes have not shown they are likely to prevail on their claim that BLM’s decision not to consult them on the Project was unreasonable or made in bad faith, have not presented sufficiently specific evidence of irreparable harm that will likely occur if the HPTP proceeds, and as further explained below, the Court will deny the Motion. However, this order does not resolve the merits of the Tribes’ claims. Moreover, in considering the Tribes’ equitable relief request, the Court is not unpersuaded by the Tribes’ broader equitable and historical arguments, but the Court must operate within the framework of the applicable laws and regulations.”

The ruling is at:

Brian Oaster, member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, reports 'Federal judge allows excavation work on Native massacre site," in High Country News.

"The Reno Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain), members and descendants of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes, want to halt mining at Pee hee mu’huh, or Thacker Pass, a massacre site in northern Nevada."

"U.S. District Court Chief Judge Miranda Du ruled Friday to allow excavation work to move forward for mining in Northern Nevada, siding with Lithium Americas Corp."

"As other Indigenous communities like the Hualapai Tribe continue their battles with energy behemoths over resource extraction, Du’s ruling could set a dangerous new precedent."

On September 12, a commemoration will be held to honor the victims of this massacre.

Native People, Supporters Will Gather on September 12th to Commemorate an 1865 Massacre

By Protect Thacker Pass

Opponents of the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine in northern Nevada will gather on Sunday, September 12th, to commemorate a massacre of at least 31 Northern Paiute people on that day in 1865 with prayers and songs.

Sunday’s gathering will begin at 10:30 am at “Sentinel Rock,” a culturally significant rock outcrop on the east side of Thacker Pass, and conclude at the protest camps further west in the pass. Protesters have been on-site since January.

“Our remembrance event is a special event to honor our ancestors and this sacred place we call Peehee Mu’huh [the Paiute name for Thacker Pass],” said Daranda Hinkey, a tribal member from People of Red Mountain, one of the groups opposing the Thacker Pass mine.

“One hundred and fifty-six years after this massacre, we gather to honor our ancestors in a good way. We feel it’s our responsibility to protect these burial grounds and sacred places.”

The 1865 massacre, part of what historian Gregory Michno describes as “a summer-long hunt for renegade Indians,” began when soldiers departed their camp near Willow Creek, less than a mile east of Sentinel Rock. On September 12th, 1865 at one am, the 1st Nevada Cavalry moved to surround a nearby camp of northern Paiute people west of Willow Creek in Thacker Pass, but were discovered.

The Cavalry moved in with guns blazing, and the camp was all but wiped out. In his book “The Deadliest Indian War in the West,” Michno writes that the massacre “lasted three hours and stretched out for several miles.”

Many Paiutes were also believed to be wounded. One cavalryman was wounded, but none killed. There were three survivors: two infants who were taken by a soldier, and one young man who fled on horseback.

Opponents of the Thacker Pass mine believe that the massacre took place within the boundaries of the planned Lithium Nevada project, and historical documents corroborate this. The Bureau of Land Management and Lithium Nevada Corporation have consistently denied that any massacres took place in Thacker Pass, evidencing the inadequacy of their consultation with tribes, the inadequacy of their historical research about the site, and their intent to bulldoze forward despite this.

The massacre took place in the context of “The Snake War,” a guerrilla war which officially lasted from 1864 to 1868, but came after over a decade of tension and rising violence. Throughout the 1850’s and 60’s, settlers from the eastern United States poured west, crossing lands of the Northern Paiute, Shoshone, and Bannock tribes, appropriating springs and water sources, and over-hunting game. Settlers felt entitled to the land, while natives viewed settlers’ actions as disrespect, trespass, and directly injurious to their survival. Violence was inevitable, and by 1864 the Snake War, which would officially claim 1,762 casualties, was underway.

The ideological force underlying The Snake War was “Manifest Destiny,” the Catholic church doctrine under which the United States seized land from native people. This bred a pervasive racism, as evidenced by the Owyhee Avalanche newspaper stating after the 1865 massacre that the death toll amounted to “thirty-one permanently friendly Indians.”

Attendees of the September 12th commemoration are invited to wear the color teal or turquoise in honor of the fallen.

Honor our Ancestors - Peehee Mu'huh Remembrance

People of Red Mountain's ancestors fought in countless battles; one battle was dated Sep 12th, 1865 in which many Natives were brutally massacred by the U.S. Cavalry near Peehee Mu'huh.

156 years later, Paiute and Shoshone people will honor their ancestors in a good way. They feel it's their responsibility to protect these burial grounds and Sacred places.

Wear teal for Peehee Mu'huh Remembrance.
Sunday, September 12th, 2021
11am Sentinel Rock
12pm Peehee Mu'huh Camp

Opening Prayer. Honor Songs. History of Sep 12th, Peehee Mu'huh name, and Colonel McDermitt. Lunch Provided. Free Raffle.
For information, questions, or ideas, visit Protect Peehee Mu'huh on Facebook, or email
Everyone Welcome, COVID Protocols, Safe Travels.
#ProtectThackerPass #ProtectPeeheeMuhuh

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