By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, Dec. 5, 2023
Translation into French by Christine Prat
The struggle to protect Peehee Mu'huh, Thacker Pass, from lithium mine links the global struggles of uncontacted Indonesians battling nickel mining, child slaves in Congo's cobalt mines, and the peoples' battles against lithium mining in Serbia and Argentina. They are all battling the greenwashing of the false solution of electric vehicles for climate change.
The desecration of the sacred Paiute Massacre site by Lithium Americas of Canada is proceeding because federal laws do not protect massacre sites. Further, a man camp of lithium miners threatens the rural communities of Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Nation, and the town of Winnemucca with crime, specifically sex trafficking.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Chairman Arlan Melendez called for a new mobilization of peaceful protests that will bring awareness to the public about the ongoing desecration to the sacred place and the damage to the environment. He called for support from South Dakota and elsewhere to bring this desecration to the forefront.
"We lost the lawsuit because the law favors mining, especially in this state," Chaimrnan Melendez said.
"Without water, there is no life," said Dean Barlese, Pyramid Lake Paiute, who offered the opening traditional prayer honoring all created things, all sacred creation. "We're teaching our young people these prayer songs."
"Our songs are still out there on the land."
Chairman Melendez said they are concerned about the crime that the mine will bring to Fort McDermitt region, in a rural area, including man camps, especially with the concern for missing and murdered women.
The lithium boom is like the gold rush, the whole state has lithium deposits, and Nevada's 28 bands and tribes are sure to be affected. Already, sacred sites are being desecrated by lithium mining.
Chairman Melendez said the strategy is to mobilize tribes to speak with a louder voice so that the people will understand the devastation.
Speaking on the failure of the United States to engage in meaningful consultation, Chairman Melendez said the Secretary of Interior was invited to meet with Nevada Indian tribes but failed to do so.“We actually invited the Secretary of Interior (Deb Haaland) to come out and meet with the Nevada tribes, but they failed to do that,” Melendez said. “The largest lithium project in the United States and they don’t even have the time to come out here and meet with the tribal nations here in the state of Nevada when we’re affected so drastically.”
Consultation was the only opportunity to affect the outcome, and the United States government did not come out and meet with the tribes, he said.
"Tribes have never received a dime from mining," Chairman Melendez said, adding that the mining law must be changed.
Michon Eben, tribal historic preservation officer for Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, described the historical significance of the homeland, and how bands were named after the foods they gathered and their cultural ways. Eben described the Massacre of Paiutes here, reading from historic accounts, and how the people still go here to pray.
US federal soldiers in the 1st Nevada Cavalry carried out the massacre of the people on September 12, 1865, across Peehee Mu’huh.
Eben said there were three survivors, and today the area where the lithium mine is under construction is an unmarked burial ground where the people remain.
"This is where our ancestors are," Eben said.
Eben said the risk of the man camp in Winnemucca poses great risks, especially the risk of sex trafficking, at a time when Indigenous women are missing and murdered across Indian country.
Eben said the U.S. government's Bureau of Land Management failed to carry out genuine consultation with Native Americans.
Will Falk, an attorney for Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said federal laws do not protect massacre sites from mining, and the federal mining law of 1872 must be changed by Congress to protect sacred sites. Falk said there are more than 1,000 sacred sites here in the area of the open-pit lithium mine.
Falk said the only aspect that the tribes were allowed to ask for in federal court, by law, was for consultation regarding projects destroying their ancestral land. Tribes are not able to say to say to the federal government: No, you are not doing that here.
When there is mining on public lands, Native people are forbidden to go there and pray for their massacred ancestors, Falk said.
"This is a human rights violation," said Falk, pointing out that this is part of the United States government's ethnic cleansing.
Falk said wealthy corporations are prepared to fight changes to the 1872 federal mining law and this change will require massive civil disobedience.
The extraction method for lithium depends on the fossil fuel industry, and is not going to save the planet, he said.
"I don't know what part of blowing up a mountain is green."
Max Wilbert, who spent months living on the land, described how the struggle here links the people with the global struggles against the greenwashing for batteries for electric vehicles.
Wilbert said what is happening at Thacker Pass is not just a small dispute in a remote corner of the world, but is a "new frontier in the extraction economy."
It is the canary in the coal mine.
The Hongana Manyawa – which means ‘People of the Forest’ in their own language - are one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in Indonesia. They are now battling the devastation of nickel mining for electric car batteries destroying their jungle homeland.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children as young as four are being forced to slave for 12 hours a day in Congo 'horror mines,' extracting cobalt for the manufacture of mobile phones. For this, they receive just ten cents per day and are constantly threatened with violence.
In Serbia, there are mass protests in opposition to Rio Tinto’s plans to build a huge lithium mine. In Argentina, the people are speaking out and opposing lithium mining.
Wilbert, cofounder of Protect Thacker Pass, said there are currently more than 21,000 lithium claims in Nevada. Wilbert said electric vehicle emissions do pollute, and electric vehicles are a distraction, not a solution to climate change.