The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has cleared the way for an archaeological survey at the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mining site 35 miles south of the Oregon-Nevada border in Humboldt County.
Organizers at the Protect Thacker Pass protest camp are calling people to join their ranks, and the Tribal groups fighting the mine in court intend to file a “Motion for Reconsideration” in federal court.
The motion, said the Tribes’ legal counsel, will present Judge Miranda Du with arguments showing that an 1865 massacre means there are human remains present in Thacker Pass.
Du denied a request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt work at the mine site on Sept. 3. It was the second injunction request the Tribes filed since they joined an existing lawsuit against the BLM.
Tribal members from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC), the Burns Paiute Tribe and People of Red Mountain—a group of Indigenous people from the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe—applied in July to intervene and join in the existing case brought against the BLM and Nevada Lithium, a subsidiary of the Canada-based lithium mining company Lithium Americas.
The original case was brought by four environmental groups and was already combined with a separate suit brought by a rancher near the project area. BLM officials confirmed that a permit for a survey has been issued, as is required under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
The survey is expected to include the digging of “between two and 25 holes by hand at each of the 21 precontact historic sites and digging seven mechanical trenches (presumably by backhoe) at some of the sites—of up to a few meters deep and 40 meters long.”
Digging can commence as soon as a BLM field manager signs off on the fieldwork authorization.
Will Falk, legal counsel for the Tribes, said the survey permit was issued with a disregard for “new evidence that human remains of Paiute ancestors massacred by the U.S. Cavalry in 1865 can be found in Thacker Pass.”
He alleged that issuance of the permit violates the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the National Historic Preservation Act.
“We have presented BLM Winnemucca with an abundance of significant new evidence showing that the Sept. 12, 1865, Thacker Pass Massacre happened within the proposed mine area,” Falk said in a statement. “BLM Winnemucca has ignored this new evidence and will likely destroy the remains of massacred Paiute people with the archaeological digs. So, not only did the federal government perpetrate this atrocity—now, it plans to destroy the physical evidence that it even happened.”
Earlier this month, the BLM fined Protect Thacker Pass protest camp organizers Max Wilbert and Falk $49,890 for alleged violations of public land regulations related to temporary latrines built at the camp to give Native elders engaging in ceremonial practices at Thacker Pass a place to use the facilities.
“We’re asking for people to come to Thacker Pass immediately,” said Wilbert. “We’re also asking the BLM, Department of the Interior, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to put a halt to this right now.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.