Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

December 19, 2022

In the Quechan battle against lithium mining at the Salton Sea, songs carry sacred origins

Preston Arrow-weed led the battle against gold ming here on Quechan sacred land, and now battles a new monster, lithium mining, driven by corporate greenwashing for electric vehicles

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

It is a sacred place for Quechan, where obsidian burst from the earth, their sacred stories come from here. When the U.S. government and county targeted the sacred place for lithium mining, they did not tell the Quechan Nation.

Preston Arrow-weed, who has just fought gold mining at Indian Pass, began the battle to protect the sacred here near the Salton Sea, in Imperial Valley, and where the borders of California, Arizona, and Mexico meet.

Arrow-weed said, "We must learn from the past. What good is it to replace dirty oil with dirty mining? The toxic cycle will continue. Indigenous communities will continue to be sacrificed for the 'greater good.'"

Quechan songs carry the story of their journey, and the sacred place now targeted for lithium mining near the Salton Sea, where the obsidian burst from the earth, and here are the remains of a powerful snake.

"We have a belief that something sacred happened there," Arrow-weed said at the recent Western Mining Action Network Conference in Reno, Nevada.

Arrow-weed describes the successful fight to stop a gold mine at Indian Pass, halted by the World Court. Then, the gold mine was back again, and there was another successful fight that stopped gold mining in the sacred place.

Now, lithium mining is planned and there was no consultation with the Quechan Nation.

Speaking at the recent conference in Reno, Arrow-weed said, "Our leaders wouldn't come, so I can," he said, thanking Earthworks for making it possible.

Sharing the history of the fight by the people he told how twenty years ago they stopped the gold mining in the World Court.  In the beginning of the fight, Arrow-weed told the tribal chairman about the threat of the gold mine and nothing happened. So he took a filmmaker out for interviews, then the tribe stepped in.

In Reno, he said, "When I saw the people here fighting lithium, I thought we're not the only one."

Lithium mine drilling underway near Salton Sea.

Arrow-weed said that people don't know the dangers because of the lack of communication, and part of the problem is people are losing their language.

The songs are proclamations, proclaiming this is our land, he said. "This is what we live by, and this is what we have to tell young people."

Today, young people are not being told by their grandparents, he said, describing how he was tutored by a healer, singer, and orator.

"The media is the strongest thing we've got," he said, urging the use of the internet to tell their story.

"America as great as it is -- is not that great. They stole the land."

Now, three companies in the Imperial Valley are threatening Quechan sacred land with geothermal lithium extraction.

"We have a belief that something sacred happened there." He shared how obsidian came out erupted there.

"We just got through fighting the gold mine at Indian Pass," he said, adding that the government didn't even tell our tribe about the lithium mining. Imperial County never met with their tribe.

"They never talked with us."

The Torres Martinez tribe has been involved with the government, but they have not discussed the lithium mining with the Quechan, he said.

"To this day they haven't communicated with us."

"They know that we will stand up and fight."

"They never talked to us," he said. "Lithium snuck up on us."

Across the country, he said, "Some tribes have given in, they want the money."

When people warned him that he would lose the fight against lithium, he said, "I like to fight, the bigger the better."

The fight for what right often turns inward.

"Instead of fighting the enemy, they start fighting each other."

It is happening a lot and it slows us down."

"It happens because we don't know our tribal ways," he said, describing how talking together and finding solutions was once a way of life.

Remembering his fights to protect ancestral lands, he said there was a time when he went in and took the land back, and he wasn't made a hero.

"They hated me even more," he said. "Of course, they took the money."

In these struggles to protect sacred lands, he said it is the outcasts, the rejects, that backed him up. He told them not to expect money for what they are doing.

"Where are the good people? They are not here because they can't do it."

Speaking of the songs as proclamations, he said, "I'm trying to bring it back."

Listen to all his comments in Reno:

   Western Mining Action Network, Reno, Nevada 2022

Mining Comes from the Snake's Blood

'Who Are my People?' film by Robert Lundahl

"Mining comes from the snake's blood and the snake's blood is powerful," Preston Arrow-weed says in the film, "Who Are My People?" by Robert Lundahl. In the Mojave Desert of Southern California, the world's energy companies converge to produce power. They've destroyed ecosystems, migrating birds, tortoises, and sacred places from ancient civilizations. Asked if development is taking away their culture, Arrow-weed said, "They are not taking it away, they are destroying it."

The Journey from Spirit Mountain

The spiritual trails from southern Nevada to their current homeland -- the songs carry the story of their journey, the swaying of the creosote bush in the wind, the sound like a coyote howling of the seal lion in the ocean, and the lightning arrows in the sky, the places Quechan lived on their journey. "They say we were pretty primitive, but they had a civilized life, they told it in songs," Preston Arrow-weed said. Sharing the songs, he shares the words about the clouds and lightning, the sun rising and setting. "When you see the lightning flash across the sky, you will know I shot this arrow across the sky."

Watch film:

Journey From Spirit Mountain is a 35-minute film documentary that informs the general public about the southern Colorado Desert's sacred lands and about the importance of desert ecology to Hokan-speaking peoples. It tells the story of the Quechan Lightning Songs as narrated by Preston Jefferson Arrowweed, Kamya/Quechan, the last singer who knows the songs and knows the language of the Songs.

Below: Letter to Lithium Valley Corporation from Ahmut Pipa Foundation, President Preston J. Arrow-weed

A new 'gold rush' for lithium at the Salton Sea could hurt Native lands, as mining often does
By Preston Arrow-weed, Desert Sun Commentary

We must learn from the past. What good is it to replace dirty oil with dirty mining? The toxic cycle will continue. Indigenous communities will continue to be sacrificed for the 'greater good.'"

According to the Quechan creation story, gold comes from the blood of a giant snake. It is said that digging up this gold can only bring death, so we try not to mess with it.

The Biden administration has said over and over that we must reform federal mining laws to end the toxic cycle of sickness in Indigenous communities, where we have disproportionately high rates of cancer and birth defects. A report by MSCI found that among US energy transition metals “97% of nickel, 89% of copper, 79% percent of lithium and 68% of cobalt” are located within 35 miles of Native American reservations and tribal lands.

Read the full statement

Quechans Fight Gold Mining at Indian Pass

"More than 20 years after the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe successfully halted a gold-mining proposal in the Indian Pass area, it is mobilizing against another proposed project on the land the tribe considers sacred, Holtville Tribune reported in Nov. 2021.

"The area, located on federal land in the southern part of the Chocolate Mountains and north of the tribe’s reservation, contains multiple cultural artifacts, including a trail that connects to the tribe’s mythic birthplace, Spirit Mountain, in Nevada.

"Much like he did decades ago, Quechan Tribe member Preston Arrow-weed finds himself front and center in the current effort to prevent the new mining proposal by Imperial Gold from becoming operational.

“When you see the danger coming, don’t be diplomatic,” Arrow-weed said. “Stop them, say something, do something. The best way to do that for young people coming up is to learn your language, learn your songs, learn your story.”

Forbes: California's Lithium Rush Depends on Taming Toxic Brine

"Three companies — Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Controlled Thermal and EnergySource Minerals — think they know how to pull lithium out of the 600-degree brine."
Clean Power at a Steep Price

Controlled Thermal Resources is based 100 miles east of San Diego, California, "in creosote-stubbled Imperial County, near the human-created Salton Sea. There, a reservoir a mile beneath the surface seethes with scalding-hot brine rich with dissolved lithium."

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