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Protest highlights ongoing fight over Northern Nevada lithium mine

Miles Brady

The fight over Thacker Pass, a lithium-rich area in Northern Nevada, has been raging for months.

The state and Lithium America, the company that would be the primary mine investor, say the mine could operate without hurting the environment. The state approved licensing in February 2022.

But the people of the Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe tribes have been protesting because of the area’s spiritual and historical significance.

A big decision is coming in federal court after those opposed to the mine say approval was fast-tracked without a complete environmental review.

As cases for and against the mine were laid out in U.S. District Court in Reno last week, Indigenous people and supporters protested outside.

Nevada Public Radio’s indigenous affairs reporter Miles Brady was there.

Outside the federal courthouse, people lined up on this cloudy, chilly Northern Nevada day with a clear message: No lithium mining at Thacker Pass.

Thacker, or Peehee Mu’huh, they say is not only a sacred spiritual and historical site; they say it will spell environmental disaster for Indigenous lands.

Those supporting the mine said it’s needed to help bolster a non-fossil fuel economy while spurring new industry in Nevada.

And as the legal arguments were made inside, outside they songs rang out, broken only to allow elders and tribal leaders to speak.

“And I told him, this wasn't my plan to be out here. I would like to be home with my family, my children, like everybody else. I said that, you know, in a white man's Bible, they talk about so many events that occurred. I tell him like, you guys need to understand the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Because that's here again. Because there's even people sent out to this country to save you. To save you.”

That was Apache activist Wednsler Nosie, who’s been fighting a similar battle to protect Oak Flats in Arizona.

The protest was organized by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Bethany Sam, public relations officer for the colony, said this fight is for the protection of sacred spaces.

“It's a massacre site,” Sam said. “There was a massacre, September 12, 1865. So we know our ancestors, their spirits are still in that area. … It's also a gathering and a ceremonial use area. Because it has our traditional medicines, traditional foods. The obsidian is there that we collect, obviously. So it's just a special place, a sacred area. And Lithium America had found that there's lithium minerals there. And now they want to dig it up and mine it out of there for the green rush that's going on in the world.”

We also talked to Dallas Cummings, who was at the protest with the American Indian Movement, about the vital role that Native activism plays.

“... It's a beautiful thing to sit there and see all these Indian people come together as one, standing up and doing what we're supposed to be doing. Less fighting for our sacred sites for our water, or land, or even our own natural human rights that get denied as well … There's probably 150 here-plus … there's been a lot of support and a lot of things and hopefully, these brothers and sisters can take a piece of this home with them, maybe they can stand up for their rights, wherever they're at, with or without the media attention. We did this amongst a prayer. And because of that prayer, it's become this, we became momentum.”

A final decision won’t happen for a while. The court delayed its decision on whether the mine can be permitted until the spring. Lawyers for the Reno Sparks Indian colony addressed the crowd after they got news of the delay.

“This is powerful. It’s powerful to have you all here. It’s also powerful when you have a lawsuit that brings together environmentalists, tribes and ranchers. That’s pretty unique. So that sends a powerful message that people don’t want this project.”

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(Editor's note: Miles is no longer a member of our staff, but you can still enjoy their contributions here.)
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