Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

June 7, 2023

Ox Sam Camp Being Raided, Arrests Underway at Paiute Massacre Site

Breaking news from Ox Sam Camp, as defenders attempt to halt the desecration of the Paiute Massacre Site

Translated into French by Christine Prat
Censored News

BREAKING: First arrests underway and camp is being raided after land defenders halt excavator this morning at Thacker Pass.

OROVADA, Nevada — This morning, a group of Native American water protectors and allies used their bodies to non-violently block construction of the controversial Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada, turning back bulldozers and heavy equipment.
The dramatic scene unfolded this morning as workers attempting to dig trenches near Sentinel Rock were turned back by land defenders who ran and put their bodies between heavy equipment and the land.

Now they are being arrested and the camp is being raided.

Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people consider Thacker Pass to be sacred. So when they learned that the area was slated to become the biggest open-pit lithium mine in North America, they filed lawsuits, organized rallies, spoke at regulatory hearings, and organized in the community. But despite all efforts over the last three years, construction of the mine began in March.

That’s what led Native American elders, friends and family, water protectors, and their allies to establish what they call a “prayer camp and ceremonial fire” at Thacker Pass on May 11th, when they set up a tipi at dawn blocking construction of a water pipeline for the mine. A second tipi was erected several days later two miles east, where Lithium Nevada’s construction is defacing Sentinel Rock, one of their most important sacred sites.

Sentinel Rock is integral to many Nevada Tribes’ worldview and ceremony. The area was the site of two massacres of the Paiute and Shoshone people. The first was an inter-tribal conflict that gave the area its Paiute name: Peehee Mu’huh, or rotten moon. 

The second was a surprise attack by the US Cavalry on September 12th, 1865, during which the US Army slaughtered dozens. One of the only survivors of the attack was a man named Ox Sam.

It is some of Ox Sam’s descendants, the Grandmas, that formed Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokotun (Indigenous Women’s Camp) to protect this sacred land for the unborn, to honor and protect the remains of their ancestors, and to conduct ceremonies. Water protectors have been on-site in prayer for nearly a month.

On Monday, Lithium Nevada Corporation also attempted to breach the space occupied by the water protectors. As workers maneuvered trenching equipment into a valley between the two tipis, water protectors approached the attempted work site and peacefully forced workers and their excavators to back up and leave the area.

According to one anonymous land defender, Lithium Nevada’s action was “an attempted show of force to fully do away with our tipi and prayer camp around Sentinel Rock.”

Ranchers, recreationists, and members of the public have been allowed to pass without incident and water protectors maintain friendly relationships with locals. Opposition to the mine is widespread in the area, and despite repeated warnings from the local Sheriff, there have been no arrests.

Four people, including Dorece Sam Antonio of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe (an Ox Sam descendant) and Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass, have been targeted by court orders barring them from the area. They await a court hearing in Humboldt County Justice Court.

“Lithium Nevada is fencing around the sacred site Sentinel Rock to disrupt our access and yesterday was an escalation to justify the removal of our peaceful prayer camps,” said one anonymous water protector at Ox Sam Camp.

“Lithium Nevada intends to desecrate and bulldoze the remains of the ancestors here. We are calling out to all water protectors, land defenders, attorneys, human rights experts, and representatives of Tribal Nations to come and stand with us.”

“I’m being threatened with arrest for protecting the graves of my ancestors,” says Dorece Sam Antonio.

“My great-great Grandfather Ox Sam was one of the survivors of the 1865 Thacker Pass massacre that took place here. His family was killed right here as they ran away from the U.S. Army. They were never buried. They’re still here. And now these bulldozers are tearing up this place.”

Another spiritual leader on the front lines has been Dean Barlese, a spiritual leader from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Barlese led prayers at the site on April 25th (which led to Lithium Nevada shutting down construction for a day) and returned on May 11th.

“I’m asking people to come to Peehee Mu’huh,” Barlese said. “We need more prayerful people. I’m here because I have connections to these places. My great-great-great grandfathers fought and shed blood in these lands. We’re defending the sacred. Water is sacred. Without water, there is no life. And one day, you’ll find out you can’t eat money.”

The 1865 Thacker Pass massacre is well documented in historical sources, books, newspapers, and oral histories. Despite the evidence but unsurprisingly, the Federal Government has not protected Thacker Pass or even slowed construction of the mine to allow for consultation to take place with Tribes. In late February, the Federal Government recognized tribal arguments that Thacker Pass is a “Traditional Cultural District” eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. But that didn’t stop construction from commencing.

“This is not a protest, it’s a prayer,” said Barlese. “But they’re still scared of me. They’re scared of all of us elders, because they know we’re right and they’re wrong.”

BREAKING: 6/7/23 Lithium America’s heavy equipment operator saw our approach, sped up, and swung the excavator arm again, at Native American Protectors defending the Paiute Shoshone sacred site known as Sentinel Rock at Pee’hee Mu’huh (Rotten Moon) in Thacker Pass, Nevada.

To prevent the desecration of the site that sits within one of the project open pits, along with the Paiute Shoshone remains of the 1865 Thacker Pass Massacre acknowledged by the Bureau of Land Management and referenced in the several lawsuits of the Paiute Tribal Nations against the company.

This second attempt of the Corporation to skip several miles ahead of work to fast-track the construction is to justify the removal of the prayer camps, with trenching and bulldozing of critical areas of high volumes of cultural and historical properties at the base of the sacred site.

Ox Sam Camp occupies under our 1st amendment rights our right to assemble on the waterline to prevent the 1.7 Billion Gallons of water that will be robbed from the surrounding tribes, animals & local ranchers for the next 40 years.

The Paiute Shoshone Tribal Nation members and all other American Indian protectors under the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act and Executive Order 13007 have an inalienable right to maintain access and determine through our rights of assembly the prevention of desecration that would irreparably destroy our sacred sites of prayer and worship, maintaining our access by preventing its destruction.

Furthermore, besides the Paiute Shoshone people's human rights to determine what does and doesn’t happen to their lands, the inalienable right to hold ceremony at the base of the sacred site and throughout Pee’hee Mu’huh comes at a time when the spirits of the fallen from the massacre and spirits of the animals and powers of the land are to be acknowledged and supported through prayer.

If these American Indian rights are violated here they are violated everywhere. If this sacred site falls victim to the open pit of the mine, all our sacred sites are vulnerable. If the bones of the Paiute Shoshone people are desecrated, then all Native Peoples ancestors could be.

Come to Camp! Bring Deb Haaland! Stand with Ox Sam!

No comments: