February 29, 2024

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From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Tribes won’t appeal Thacker Pass case; lithium strip mine threatens sacred sites, water

6 min read
Chairman Arlan Melendez characterized the Biden administration's promises as "words that really don't mean anything." Officials also expressed disappointment that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland did not meet with tribal nations affected by the lithium mining boom.

After a judge rejected their legal challenge to a lithium mine near the Oregon border, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony expressed disappointment in the Biden administration. At a press conference Dec. 5:

Tribal Chairman Arlan Melendez (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony): As you know, we’ve been in litigation on the Thacker Pass, the lithium mine for some time now, and with the recent decision, we were disappointed in the outcome.

We didn’t lose the lawsuit because we were wrong. We lost the lawsuit because the law favors mining, especially in this state.

[00:00:34] We are not going to pursue an appeal at this time. The cost of appealing, to attorneys and everyone else, is probably not worth it. It would be in the best interest if the mining was put on hold, but by the time you would get through to appeal, they would have already desecrated all of the sacred sites. So there’s no sense trying to do that now.

[00:00:58] But we’re not giving up the fight either. We’re just changing our strategy and our tactics as to how to go about it. And most of it’ll be public opinion, trying to convince people of the detrimental effects of mining throughout the state.

[00:01:14] We are still concerned about the effects that are going to happen up at Thacker Pass. You know, we’re concerned about all the different crime that comes along when you bring people into a certain area, especially a small rural town like McDermitt and the reservation there, and how it affects their way of life and all those things, the roads, it’s really concerning.

[00:01:38] We’ve been real concerned about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. And as you know, with the man camps and all those different things that we’ve heard about, there has to be some type of working together, so that the protection of the reservation women that are in close proximity to where these mines occur is to the forefront.

[00:01:58] And, as you know, there’s going to be a tremendous boom of lithium mines throughout the state of Nevada. The boom that’s going to happen here, almost like the goal rush of a long time ago, it’s going to happen here because of lithium. Now, this is the first mine that has really affected that region. But as we’ve read in the news, you know, there’s lithium mines all the way in eastern Nevada, all the way to the South. So the whole state has lithium deposits.

[00:02:27] John Q: The lithium deposits also extend north into Oregon. Speaking at a press conference on Dec. 5:

[00:02:36] Tribal Chairman Arlan Melendez (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony): Tribes have never received a dime from mining when you really look at it over the years, whether it was the silver, gold mines, you know, in the original territories that mining took place.

[00:02:49] The 1872 mining law has to be changed. It means that mines can come anywhere within the state. And even if you were to go to court, the best you’re going to get out of that is you won’t be able to stop the mine. The only thing you’re going to be able to do is maybe mitigate a few small things. Or maybe if you’re lucky, to put a temporary hold on it.

[00:03:12] And as you know, there are over 28 tribes and bands throughout the state of Nevada, and they’re bound to be affected. Not only that, there are sacred sites so part of our strategy will be to try to mobilize tribes so that we speak with a louder voice as we’re organized together.

[00:03:32] And the better we can do that, I think the more influence we have. And the more influence not only on the mining company, but more influence on the general public opinion to everybody throughout the state as to the detrimental effects that this is going to have on the state.

[00:03:49] So we’re just at the beginning stages of organizing with the tribes to basically address probably the lithium impacts right now to try to get them on board. And to try to stand with a larger voice, I think, and as you know, there’s a number of activists out there, too, that are real concerned about this, too.

[00:04:04] They’re concerned about compensation from the mining industry. You know, they were talking about trying to acquire a certain percentage of the mining tax for reservation economies, those type things.

[00:04:24] We’re trying to mobilize in a way that we can have a protest, you know, to a certain extent that really are peaceful protests, but that mobilize a number of people that we can really make an impact as the general community knowing that it’s an issue that’s worth marching for, it’s an issue worth assembling and talking about and speaking to the media or whoever will listen—mobilizing not just within the state of Nevada, but with the people from South Dakota and even reaching out further to other countries where Indigenous people are impacted also the same as here in the United States.

[00:05:06] So, I think it’s a broader vision and a broader effort that we’re going to have to do. And I think it starts by really focusing in, and assembling people together so that we can brainstorm and kind of determine: How do we move forward from here? So I think it’s just at the beginning stages of really mobilizing our Native American Indigenous people to recognize that these laws are out-of-dated, no different than the Dawes law, back in the 1800s, those laws of the 1800s that are still in place, they need to be changed. They’ve hurt us, and I think that’s what we’re going to be advocating for.

[00:05:42] John Q: He said he was disappointed in the Biden administration.

[00:05:47] Tribal Chairman Arlan Melendez (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony): We’re concerned about the consultation process that never occurred with the Bureau of Land Management up in that area. And we have the massacre site that took place up there, also. That wasn’t included in some of the documents.

[00:05:59] We actually invited the secretary of the interior to come out and meet with the Nevada tribes, but they failed to do that…If the President of the United States says he’s going to enhance consultation and…they don’t do anything about it, well, it’s just words that really don’t mean anything to us.

[00:06:16] So I think from Nevada tribes, we are very disappointed that they didn’t live up to the word ‘consultation,’ especially in this project here, where consultation would been the only thing that we could actually do. And they failed to do that.

[00:06:32] So we end up not even participating on the front end, and that’s where you need to be, is, consultation has to happen in the early stages. If they give you consultation after the project’s already rolling, it doesn’t do you too much good at that point. So we’re a little bit disappointed in them really doing anything to help the Nevada tribes here.

[00:06:58] And so, unfortunately, Nevada has been a mining state. We all know that. And it may be a little challenging for them to fulfill their responsibilities out here, but they still have to make the effort to come out here and talk with the tribes about what they can do, so it’s no different than the DAPL pipeline where they made a big effort to try to at least meet with them.

[00:07:24] And I know, but they failed to do that here on this, 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.

[00:07:40] John Q: At Thacker Pass, strip mining for lithium is already destroying historic and sacred Indigenous sites. The coming man camps and the mine’s future water needs pose further threats. To get involved, see PeopleOfRedMountain.com, ProtectThackerPass.org, or visit the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony website at RSIC.org.

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