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Tribes file new federal lawsuit in Thacker Pass dispute

By Kristen Hackbarth

Northern Nevada Tribal communities this week filed an amended federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in an ongoing dispute over the planned Thacker Pass lithium mine.

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the “People of Red Mountain”—a Northern Paiute group called Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu—allege the BLM violated more federal laws in permitting the mine than had previously been known.

The lawsuit alleges the BLM violated five laws in permitting the mine and that BLM officials lied about consultation with Tribal parties regarding the significance of Thacker Pass, a remote area just northwest of Winnemucca. The revelations, Tribal attorneys said, came from new documents received through the Freedom of Information Act.

Tribal members have repeatedly argued that the BLM failed to consult with them regarding their connections to Thacker Pass.

The Tribal parties’ attorney Will Falk said new evidence shows the BLM was notified of the significance of Thacker Pass to Tribal communities as early as 2009.

“For months, BLM has been pretending they had no idea that Thacker Pass was culturally significant,” says Falk. “These new documents show this is a blatant lie. BLM has no excuse for not knowing that Thacker Pass is incredibly important from a religious and a historical perspective, and yet they are still planning an illegal for-profit archeological dig.”

Among the laws attorneys allege the BLM violated are the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The lawsuit is the latest in an ongoing battle by Tribal parties to protect the land at Thacker Pass which they say has spiritual and historical significance.

The Tribes have failed in court several times already this year in stopping preliminary work at the mine site, including excavation for archeological surveys. In early November U.S. District Judge Miranda Du called Tribal claims about the land “too speculative” and said evidence presented “does not definitely establish that a massacre occurred” at the site.

Development of the lithium mine, spearheaded by Lithium Nevada Corporation, has also been opposed by a number of environmental groups, ranchers and Tribal interests. Some opponents have gathered at the site in a ceremonial camp to protest the mine, resulting in a $50,000 fine levied against attorneys Falk and Max Wilbert for placing latrines on site for use by Tribal elders.

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