Five New Historic Sites “Discovered” in the 11th Hour at Thacker Pass
By Will Falk
French Translation by Christine Prat
OROVADA, Nevada (August 9, 2022) — For over a year, Nevada and Oregon Indian tribes have been accusing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of rushing tribal consultation for Lithium Nevada Corp.’s planned Thacker Pass lithium mine and of failing to account for Native American sacred sites and the site of an 1865 massacre.
These allegations appear to be true as BLM has now informed area tribes that they have “discovered” five “new” historic sites in Thacker Pass, including the massacre site. BLM is now legally required to reopen tribal consultation about the new sites, which could suspend construction activities for months.
Meanwhile, in a recent letter to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Far Western Anthropological Research Group (which is responsible for the archeological surveys at Thacker Pass) revealed that they “were absolutely aware of this terrible event [the 1865 massacre] at the outset of our survey work.”
However, neither BLM nor Far Western included the massacre in public documents like the Environmental Impact Statement in what appears to be a blatant violation of the law. The massacre only became public when the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony discovered that BLM possessed records of the massacre in the agency’s own General Land Office records, which they were required by law to review prior to issuing permits for the mine.
Tribes have called this a “coverup” and alleged violations of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Tribal members have compared the destruction of Thacker Pass to bulldozing Arlington National Cemetery.
“BLM, Far Western, and Lithium Nevada knew about the September 12, 1865 massacre, but hid it from the public,” said attorney Will Falk, who represents the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in a lawsuit against BLM for permitting the mine. “We suspect that BLM recognized the controversy surrounding the decision to destroy the final resting places of dozens of Paiutes murdered by federal soldiers, and hoped they could sneak the mine in before the tribes or the public noticed.”
The planned Thacker Pass mine project would cover more than 17,000-acres and has been fiercely opposed by locals, regional tribes, and environmentalists. The open-pit mine would sever migratory routes for Pronghorn antelope, disrupt golden eagle breeding, bulldoze habitat for the threatened Greater sage-grouse, and suck up more than 4 million gallons of water a day. Local residents are concerned about pollution impacts and an influx of outside workers bringing drugs and sexual abuse to the community.
On September 12, 1865 the U.S. Army launched a surprise attack on a Northern Paiute camp on the east side of Thacker Pass, killing between 30 and 70 Native American men, women, children, and elders as they ran from their shelters. One survivor is known from written accounts, and two more are known from oral histories. Both fled northwest, deeper into the project site. No U.S. Army soldiers were killed.
The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe of Oregon, and the Winnemucca Indian Colony have all argued in federal court that they were never consulted about the Thacker Pass mine despite strong cultural, historical, and spiritual connections to the mine site. Because of BLM’s consultation failures, the tribes have contended, Lithium Nevada will destroy significant historic and traditional cultural properties when the corporation constructs the mine.
With the high concentrations of Native American artifacts, traditional campgrounds, an ancient obsidian harvesting district, sacred sites, and the 1865 massacre site, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony has requested that BLM designate all of Thacker Pass as a historic district eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation could force BLM to engage in a more substantial consultation process with Indian tribes and to re-evaluate the Thacker Pass project area.