Ancestors and Sacred Sites in the Firing Line
OROVADA, NEVADA (April 18, 2022) — Archeological procedures began at the site of the planned Thacker Pass lithium mine this week in what the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC) says is a violation of Native American rights.
"These procedures are desecrating the resting place of our ancestors in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act [NAGPRA]," says Michon R. Eben, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. "The Federal Government should be ashamed of the lack of government-to-government consultation by BLM Winnemucca and Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc."
Thacker Pass was the site of an 1865 massacre of Paiutes committed by the U.S. military.
In a letter the Tribe sent to the archeological firm conducting the dig, Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc., the RSIC demands "Far Western to immediately halt the planned archeological digs and refuse to participate in the desecration of Thacker Pass for corporate greed."
The Thacker Pass lithium mine has become an international scandal since January of last year, when protests began at the site of the mine. Environmentalists, tribes, and ranchers have filed suit against the proposed mine in federal court, alleging violations of various federal laws, and calling for Congressional investigations into the matter. The project was "fast-tracked" under the Trump administration.
Chairman Arlan Melendez asks, “How would you feel if your loved ones were massacred in a sacred, prayerful area with no closure to their deaths for the profit of stolen land, and now your sacred ancestral lands are being uprooted without proper federal consultation for the profit of the largest lithium mine in America? The consultation process with tribal nations must be adhered to.”
"This is a fight for justice, a fight for the planet, and a fight for what is right," said Will Falk, an attorney for RSIC. "We need everyone to help us in stopping this desecration."
SUMMARY OF 7-PAGE LETTER:
Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s (RSIC) outlined a letter of its perspective of the unprincipled proposed excavations that Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc. (Far-Western) is currently undertaking at the Paiute and Shoshone peoples' important Traditional Cultural Property, Thacker Pass. These archeological procedures include excavating Native American cultural resources, sacred objects and disturbing the resting place of Paiute ancestors massacred on September 12, 1865, Nevada Calvary.
Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project (Project) is the nation’s largest and most complex lithium mine. The Project become an international scandal in January of last year when protests began at the site of the mine. Environmentalists, tribes, and ranchers have filed suit against the proposed mine in federal court, alleging violations of various federal laws, and calling for Congressional investigations into the matter. The project was "fast-tracked" under the Trump administration.
If we don’t hold federal agencies, mining companies, and archeological contractors accountable for their unethical profitable tactics, then we will watch Nevada become a wasteland and ongoing exploitation of Indigenous people’s culture for future lithium mines. Federal undertakings, including mining projects, must include federally recognized tribes throughout the entire process.
BLM failed to meet its responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). BLM did not provide tribes who attach cultural and religious significance to Thacker Pass a reasonable opportunity to identify concerns about Native American cultural sites, advise on the identification and evaluation of traditional religious and cultural importance, articulate views on the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project’s effects on these Native American sites, and participate in the resolution of adverse effects as required by the NHPA. BLM and Far Western failed to include in their reports, the September 12, 1865 massacre. There are 100+ documented massacres in the Great Basin from 1864 to 1868. This is American History. It is Nevada history. The Paiute people are important, not just for the artifacts on and in the ground that may yield information and academic acclaim for archeologists.
Taking these artifacts and disturbing burial sites would constitute yet another shameful chapter in a long history of settlers trying to destroy or commit genocide on Native history and culture.
In the letter, the RSIC reminded Far Western of the archeological ethical principles and the Archeological Institute of America’s Code of Professional Standards. The RSIC further reminded Far Western that by excavating Thacker Pass, Far Western will be demonstrating that major contracts, money and academic papers are more important to its organization than approaching archeology in a moral way and respecting federally recognized Tribe’s legitimate concerns of the desecration of its ancestral’ s past lifeways including its sacred sites.
The RSIC requested Far Western to take all these objections into consideration and seriously recognize that we need to re-vision the relationship between Archaeology and Indigenous Peoples.
Central to this is the need for archeological firms to base their work and science on morality and ethics rather than the extraction of fast-tracked projects that forever negatively adversely affect Native American ancestors, sacred sites and knowledge. The RSIC requests that Far Western (and any other archeological firm that may be participating in unprincipled excavations) immediately halt the archeological digs and refuse to participate in the desecration of Thacker Pass for corporate greed.